Bill Manning – One Job To do
Bill Manning will be officially unveiled to Toronto FC supporters this week as the new President of the club. Leave it to the primarily American brain trust at Toronto FC to announce a crucial hiring late in the afternoon on Canadian Thanksgiving Day eh?
After being linked to many candidates to step into the Club President role that has been empty since the sacking of Kevin Payne back in 2013, (Tim Lieweke of course did a lot of this work in the interim) Manning this week steps into a position that Sportsnet’s John Molinaro says was also discussed/offered amongst others to an eclectic mix of people like Italian Exec Umberto Gandini, Former Canadian Mens’s National Team Gold Cup winning coach Holger Osiek, and Garth Lagerway – who turned them down to start this season in the same role in Seattle.
Other than what I have read I don’t know much about the new guy other than the fact that he had an excellent reputation at Real Salt Lake as part of the troika (him, the aforementioned Lagerway and Jason Kreis) that saw RSL enter MLS in 2006 and secure their first MLS Cup in 2009 along with a first ever MLS Champions League final berth in 2011. He also was apparently a key driving force in the development and building of RSL’s Rio Tinto Stadium.
Bill Manning will be of course the boss that Tim Bezbatchenko will have to report to and along with Masai Ujiri of the Raptors and Brendan Shanahan of the Maple Leafs, be TFC’s voice and advocate at the MLSE Board level.
Manning will without any doubt have a full plate to deal with when he gets started at TFC. Amongst many items he will have to shepherd through are the currently way behind stage one of BMO Field renovations to completion, try and make sure that stage two reno’s (more on them later!!) get done. He will have to be the decider on the scale of what will likely be a price increase for tickets and season seats in 2016, and work on all of the myriad commercial and business issues a CEO has to deal with.
But make no mistake Bill Manning will make his mark (or dig his grave) in this job on how he gets this Toronto Argonauts business settled. Succeed and he can move this club forward – fail and he will enter the pantheon of former TFC employees (Anselmi, Mo, Payne, Cochrane, etc.) who have covered themselves collectively in shame and failure.
If you are reading this you already know that the die is sadly cast and that the Toronto Argonauts will be (at least temporarily) saved by BMO Field, ironically the very building that came into existence only after the Argos walked away from a done deal with the Canadian Soccer Association to partner with them to build a home they would share and be used for the FIFA Under 20 World Cup in 2007. When the time for the Argos to cut a cheque came to build this new stadium they walked away and re-upped at the Rogers Centre. MLSE then stepped into the breach and put up most of the cash to build BMO Field and applied successfully for a MLS expansion franchise as an anchor tenant. The history we ALL know.
All of this (the Argos moving in – the 2016 Grey Cup at BMO Field recently announced as well) brings me back to what Mr. Manning’s most important job will be in my opinion. That is finding out a way to make sure that ABOVE EVERYTHING ELSE that the Argo games will not impact the integrity of the grass surface and that there is a committment to fulfill the PROMISE previously made to the Toronto soccer faithful that they will never have to play on FieldTurf or that CFL football lines won’t happen and 300 lb linemen wont rip the field to shreds.
Don’t let the doubters fool you dear reader. There ARE ways to make this happen successfully. Wembley Stadium in London (ironically THEIR National Soccer Stadium too!) also now hosts regular NFL games and other events as diverse as Monster Truck and huge music festivals and is an excellent example that Manning and company can look to for an innovative solution. What they currently do at Wembley is to place a sophisticated type of cover above the grass surface that then can have a FieldTurf surface rolled onto top of it. Once the football game is over then they can remove it and have the field soon ready for soccer with next to no damage to the grass. Is this the least exensive solution? Probably not.But I strongly feel that this is the best solution to what is a bad situation. Having the Argos play on grass leads to gridirion lines and a destroyed pitch – and likely some regressive cost saving move BACK to FieldTurf at some point in the future. The Argo’s players themselves are not going to want part of their pitch made up partially of grass and what could be a FieldTurf portion that will be added under the current south end of BMO Field (that will be knocked down and will be replaced with some sort of convertible stand to accommodate the longer CFL field dimensions). No player is going to want to play on a field that has two types of surfaces.
Up to this point in the history of Toronto FC MLSE has (to their credit – a credit many of us do not grant their due on as often as we should!) stepped up to the plate and has spent cash when they needed to. The stadium, the training ground, the Academy, the expansion/renovation of the stadium AND most importantly hig
h end players who cost Millions to acquire and to employ in wages all add up to a massive investment. Not doing this one thing (getting the playing surface issue sorted out to make sure that soccer is not impacted) will in my opinion lead to over the long run many of the tens of millions the ownership has spent to this point might all end up being for naught. FieldTurf drives the most ardent day one supporters (like me!) away. Great players in the future will think twice about coming here. The style of soccer on display will be much much worse than what we see now. Ask yourselves if Seba for example would have come here this year if a natural grass surface was not in place at BMO Field?
Right now MLSE, and Manning, their new TFC point man, have a simple choice ahead of them. They can either double doiwn on their investment – take the harder and probably somewhat more expensive approach to guarantee as best they can the integrity of the soccer playing surface. Or they can choose not to. If they do this the right way – and with no plans finalized to date on how this issue with the field will be addressed, the issue i
s still to be decided – Bill Manning will get a lot of the credit if this is done right.
If they do not do this the right way all of the good works yet to come from Mr. Manning (and I hope his good works are many and myriad!) will not be what supporters will judge him on. He will be judged in retrospect simply as the exec that let the ownership destroy the soccer club all because one of the owners needed to throw a lifeline (a lifeline that STILL might not save the Argos) to a moribund CFL club who need to move in or die.
Get this right Mr. Manning. Please PLEASE get this right!