G-20 Fallout & Security Issues Still Angering Some Fans
Professional sports clubs the world over, with a very few exceptions, are not community owned entities or non-profit organizations. They are businesses that exist to make money for the owners. Some owners are so rich to the point that profits are secondary (Mark Cuban and George Steinbrenner come to mind), but again they are the exception to the general rule. Everything these clubs do or say or plan is done with one eye at least on the bottom line and on long term sustainable profit.
Toronto FC is a business. It exists to make money. Fans need to remember this.
Now unlike for example a car company or a coffee shop chain, the customers of sports teams like TFC often have a viscerally emotional attachment to their club that is much more personal and tangible then any feelings they may have for Chevrolet or Tim Horton’s. It is this attachment that the most loyal of fans/customers have with a team that leads to clashes between what the club feels it needs to do to make a profit and what the fans feel they are owed for their support and loyalty.
Two recent issues have come up that to me show that TFC still has a ways to go in finding the balance between business sense and doing what is right for their most loyal customers.
With the G-20 Summit last weekend causing a certain level of chaos in Toronto on Saturday past, TFC made the decision to compensate fans that did not attend the match this past weekend with complimentary tickets to the Champions League game upcoming in late July. The front office claimed they made this decision based on the fact that they chose to not re-schedule this game originally and that apparently some fans decided not to come downtown because of the G-20 chaos. On its merits this was a pretty cool thing for the club to do and I am sure it was done with the best of intentions. For sure some fans stayed away due to the security concerns and it would be a good gesture to at least try and make amends. However the implementation and scope of whom was rewarded with additional tickets left a lot to be desired to a lot of fans.
Even with commuter trains on shutdown or diversion, some surface transit routes cancelled or diverted, highways gridlocked due to motorcades and security shutdowns, almost 19,000 fans (according to club attendance figures) still managed to get to the stadium and cheer on their Reds, even though a lot of them got there after kickoff. Many of these fans made personal sacrifices of time, effort and even significant cash to get to the ground for the game on time. I know of fans coming from the west that had to take a $40 cab ride to get to the stadium after their commuter train was halted outside of the city due to security concerns, yet they still made it. And they had to do the same for the return journey. Should they not be rewarded for their loyalty as much as someone who was not able to get to the game or chose to stay at home?
A fellow supporter emailed me that he was unable to get to the stadium because of the commuter train issues so he was able to send his ticket electronically to a fellow supporter who did not have a ticket for the game and who attended. He gave his ticket away free of charge because he felt it important that it at least be used and that the seat be filled with a supporter. Upon hearing about the issuing of complimentary tickets for the Champions League game he called the club and was told that he was not eligible because his ticket was used. He felt angry that individuals who may have made less of an effort than he did to see his seat used were rewarded when he was not. And part of me does not blame him. The handling of this entire episode strikes me as knee jerk. As I stated at the outset of this blog many fans have a strong loyalty to their club and would have walked if they had to get to the game on time. Does not rewarding the loyalty of those that did come and rewarding those that did not come (individual circumstances aside for a moment) strike you as a good thing to do?
The other big issue that has been the talk of the supporters groups is stadium security and some recent friction between them and some of the fans in the south end.
On my post game video blog from the Galaxy match on the weekend I brought up the issue that supporters in section 112 (primarily home to the Red Patch Boys) had on Saturday past with security officials allegedly enforcing non existent rules of behaviour, threatening to eject fans for trying to keep the peace and even allegedly on one occasion a security official taunting fans by giving a group of them a middle finger salute.
From day one there have been issues that fans, particularly in the supporters sections, have had with security. And there have been occasions when some fans have indeed crossed the line and have been ejected/banned/charged. Supporters groups it is fair to say from my experience have often self policed their sections and have worked with the club to resolve issues as they come up.
But it seems to me, based on last week at least, that each and every season there is a flare up of friction between supporters and security for one simple reason… a lack of consistency.
99.9% of fans will do the right thing and will not cause problems if the rules are clearly known and fairly enforced. When security chooses to change how rules are enforced on a whim or when security staff turnover or poor training impacts the fan experience negatively something has to be done.
Paul Bierne, the TFC Director of business operations said this on a fan message board yesterday in response to being notified of what happened:
…suffice to say I agree with your outrage at the story … and the pattern that seems to be emerging. We will fix this, probably not overnight, but we will. You guys continue to do your part…
With all due respect in the world Paul this is a “pattern” that you have the power to break. Get your security staffed trained, get them to understand that supporters culture is different than what exists in other parts of the stadium, get them boned up on the rules of fan conduct and most importantly of all MAKE ENFORCEEMENT OF THE RULES CONSISTENT.
It’s pretty hard to hit a moving target and the security staff in the south end keep moving it. This is fixable and fixable pretty fast! Please get it done sooner rather than later.