Well it’s going to be a real big day down at BMO Field! And there are lots of things going on that are exciting for Soccer in Toronto. For those of you who don’t know:

• Don Garber will announce today that BMO Field will be hosting the MLS Cup Final game this season, fulfilling a promise made to TFC a number of years ago.

• The grass surface installation is scheduled to be completed today and with 20+ degree weather on the horizon for the weekend the new turf surface will probably be quite lush between now and the home opener on April 15th.

• And reports coming out of England this week state that Manchester United could be very well appearing in Toronto this summer to play a friendly against Toronto FC as part of a North American tour that will see them take part in the annual MLS All Star Game. (EDIT (10:07 AM): Paul Bierne is reporting that Man U are not playing TFC due to scheduling conflicts… I guess we will have a different large club playing for the Carling Cup this season.

These developments comes on top of the Under 20 World Cup, Aston Villa, Pachuca, Independiente, Benfica, West Ham, Real Madrid, World Cup Qualifiers and the MLS All Star Game as significant events that have taken place on the BMO Field calendar. Heady days indeed to be a footy fan in Toronto.

These two most recent developments (MLS Cup and the possibility of Man U coming) to me speak to the maturity of the Soccer market in Toronto but also point to a larger issue ahead.

Problems on the horizon??

The Toronto soccer fan is a sophisticated soccer consumer that knows the sport well and knows what a good team is supposed to look like. We have three channels on cable dedicated to nothing but footy 24/7 in this town and just about every European game of any significance can be caught from the comfort of your own living room in Toronto. I know of fans going to South Africa this season to see the World Cup. A good friend of mine just came back from seeing Liverpool and Arsenal play in their home stadiums. And these guys are also TFC season ticket holders. They are the TFC consumer base.

We know what good soccer is supposed to look like in Toronto and the unfortunate reality is that entering our fourth season it would be hard to call Toronto FC a good entertaining soccer team, not just by European standards, but most importantly by MLS standards.

The shine is off the rose. The new car smell has worn off TFC and even though we may see some wonderful special events in this city in this and future seasons, the market will never truly become as “footy mad” as it can be unless Toronto FC becomes more of a finished product.

If this team does not make the playoffs this season and do well in the Voyageur’s Cup/CONCACAF competition there are going to be significantly more upset TFC fans than there are right now. And there are a lot of them out there already!

7 comments

  1. Yeah, well, we know what good hockey looks like, too, but that’s not really helping us 😉

  2. Thanks for the comment “Beach”. Yes I agree, we know our hockey here too. The point I am trying to get at is that MLSE may be underestimating the sophistication of the fanbase and overestimating the fans patience with the on field product that is TFC.

    People sitting on the west side of the ground for exampleare not going to continue to pay big money indefinitely for a team that is not delivering results on the pitch. They will do so for the Leafs but not for TFC. No way. No how.

  3. Well, given their history with other teams, yes, it is very likely they will overestimate the fans’ patience. But then what will they do? It’s not like they aren’t trying as hard as they can to win the Stanley Cup and the NBA Championship. If they knew of some way to win, they’d have done it years ago with those teams.

    The difference here is that MLS isn’t yet as strong as the NFL and NHL and these owners rely on fans’ interests in the league more than the team. Torontonians want to be a part of whatever’s big, so they’re not going to give up on the NBA as long as it’s big in the US.

    If MLS continues to grow in popularity in the US, the west side of BMO will stay full and corporate sponsorship will stay. It’s like the Blue Jays, the bleachers may empty out a little, but that’s all. TFC can find its place along with the other MLS teams at 10-12,000 tickets sold (the original projections) and that’ll be good enough for these owners – it’s a freakin’ pension fund afterall, they’re all about slow and steady, not big risks for big payoffs.

    And, if MLS doesn’t continue to grow and if it turns out there really isn’t a very big market for local soccer in the US then, again, the pension fnd mentality comes into play and they won’t have spent a lot of money.

  4. I think it comes down to not that they are afraid to spend money (far from it actually). It is just that it can be argued that the individuals hires to spend the money (i.e. Mo Johnston) may not necessarily be the right people to spend it correctly.

    Each of the three major clubs that MLS owns operate in a salary cap league that does not allow them to outspend competitors on the court/rink/pitch. They require a smart person at the helm that can spend cap dollars wisely.

  5. I don’t think that ThisIsAnfield is representative of the average Toronto FC fan. Agree with the rest though.

  6. Oh, I agree, but I think the “helm” is higher up and new people are definitely needed.

    What MLSE have is a system that is somewhat immune to middle management by design, like all corporate structure. Think of the teams as McDonalds franchies – sure, some franchises have better or worse managers than others, but the corporate strategy is really what determines success. They are also immune to critisism. Did this ownership give the order not to sign players until the CBA was settled and did they lose potential signings because of it? Does Seattle send Sigi to South America for a week to scout, or do they have scouts there on the payroll? No one even asks.

    That’s because the biggest mistake fans in Toronto make is focusing too much on the individuals in the jobs – those individuals will change but the circumstances they do the job in doesn’t. Cliff Fletcher can win the Cup with Calgary but not Toronto – I’ll take bets now that Burke could win with Anaheim but not Toronto.

    In fact, focusing on the individuals plays perfectly into ownerships’ hands – and likely is the plan. Keep turning over managers, coaches and players at just the right rate to keep people interested and hopeful is a lot easier than winning champinships. Certainly it’s what these owners have become very adept at doing.

    Sadly, we fans always play our part perfectly.

    the only exception was the Blue Jays under Pat Gillick, where instead of firing him the team allowed him to try a completely different approach and go from Stand Pat to Trader Pat, and let him move Cito Gaston to manager, a bold move that MLSE would never do (there was talk of what’s-his-name, the Swedish guy becoming GM, but they’ll never go outside the old boys club).

  7. bafanabafana

    I agree Tim. While not making the playoffs will not affect season ticket sales to 10-12K of the hardcore, there would be a loss of many seats, not to mention tv viewership. This is a club that sells out every game but cannot outdraw the Argos on tv. While tv viewership should rise (with a competently managed club), not making the playoffs again would be quite a hit to the team’s growth in popularity. I would like to think that would be enough to make the Pension Plan realize the failure of your favourite GM but not sure if TFC is a sizable enough investment in their overall portfolio to make them act in a timely fashion.

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