This morning I was a guest on the Naz and Wally Sportshour on AM740, Sunday mornings from 9-10 am. They are good guys (despite their hockey addictions), but I feel that I was unable to establish the case for TFC and the love felt for a proper home ground for Canadian soccer fully. The protection that soccer fans are seeking when talk of throwing the Argos into what has been for many a year the national soccer stadium - BMO Field is connected to many things. Trust, investment, awareness and pride come into play. Soccer requires a quality surface to be a quality product. It is also unfair to say that TFC requires to be a great team on the field in order to deserve a proper playing surface. Nobody ever says that about any other team on the planet.
I have tried to fill out some of the topics that came up on the radio, but hope it is comprehensive enough that listening in to the show is not required.
Why is hiring the right TFC President important?
In recent times Tim Leiweke has been the unofficial TFC president. He has signed the big player contracts. He came to Toronto on the strength of his LA Galaxy experience. He met with interested season ticket holders in March 2014 to introduce the stadium expansion. He promised that he would protect the soccer experience, keep BMO Field a soccer first facility.
When Leiweke leaves (this June) who maintains that promise? Some TFC fans never trusted Tim L in the first place, but a new hire TFC President will take on that role. The fear is that TFC will no longer have the attention of MLSE and suffer due to internal politics
When Mayor John Tory toured the facility recently (with Tim Leiweke) soccer fans listened carefully for the Tory pro-CFL bias. Tory said all the right things concerning a soccer first facility, but was that due to Leiweke? Too many Toronto politicians (Mark Grimes, Norm Kelly, and that obscure Ford fellow) have a pro-Argo bias and are too keen to trample over soccer fan concerns.
Why is MLSE not to be trusted?
They are split. The Rogers side wants a thriving Blue Jays selling tickets and strong baseball TV ratings. The Bell side owns TSN, so they want a thriving Argos because they have the exclusive contract to televise CFL games. However the Argos on their own lose money, so Bell (and/or Larry Tanenbaum) have not been in a hurry to buy the Argos.
TFC has been profitable, but spending on big contracts has squeezed that. Big name TFC is a gamble that bigger profits await with turning around the loser TFC history. TFC tv ratings have been miniscule.
Saving the Argos
Canadian football has fallen off the map in Toronto. I will gladly bet 99% of Ontario sports fans could not name the head football coach of the U of T Blues or the York U Lions. Toronto football fans follow US College and NFL. They would rather travel cross the border to tailgate than go to an Argo or Canadian university game
It has been a series of bad decisons that has constantly lowered the Argos. Putting the Argos in BMO Field is not a standalone solution to Argo fortunes. The Alouettes may play in a small stadium, but Quebec junior football and university football (Laval, UofMontreal, Sherbrooke, McGill, Bishop’s) are all thriving. It is possible to want Canadian football to both survive and thrive AND see plopping the Argos at BMO as a short sighted move.
Argos and TFC at the same stadium has the potential to be a lose - lose proposition. Wreck the playing surface (or go plastic) and you lose the purist soccer fan. Have the Argos dropped in and have to play second fiddle is not a help to them. The Blue Jays have given the Argos the short end of the scheduling stick for decades. What if they shift to this outdoor stadium and it is not the magic solution? The Argos need leadership and vision. Present Argo ownership is part of the problem - not part of the solution.
What are the big issues about CFL games in that stadium?
Length of playing field and a cheap tenant
Right now the playing field at BMO is not long enough for any style of North American football. It is 115 yards in length- NFL football needs 120 (field 100 yds+ 2x10 yard end zones) CFL football needs 150 yards (field 110 + 2x20 yard end zones).
So either the BMO Field north stands and/or south stands have to somehow make way for a larger field. Retractable stands that would keep fans close to the soccer action and pull back for CFL are a solution that has both mystery engineering questions and mystery costs.
How can you have Braley trying to sell the Argos, concerned about losing money for years AND have the same guy able to finance a huge money investment in what would be the world's FIRST soccer stadium that could also house a CFL team.
The Argos have a history of not investing in facilities. If they care little about presenting their own product in the best light (in the dome since 1989, prior to that they played in the “Mistake by the Lake), how can you expect them to care about soccer concerns?
Schedule conflicts will chew up real grass, doubts about other styles of playing surface
Internet rumours say that MLSE is trying to get future Grey Cups, the surefire CFL moneymaker, as part of a deal that sees both new Argo ownership and Argos at BMO
TFC fans see this as a field condition train wreck in the making. MLS has playoffs throughout November and the team in the finals for the MLS Cup with the best regular season gets to host. Trying to schedule an Argo playoff game, followed by a Grey Cup around two MLS playoff games and an MLS Cup in crummy November weather (actually MLS Cup shows up in early December) is going to be a huge mess. Leiweke has talked about replacing the natural grass of BMO Field with a hybrid product (plastic fibres wrapped around real grass to strengthen) and says that it has worked at Wembley in London, England. But Wembley hosts one NFL game per year and is the home ground of no club team.
Why can the Blue Jays evict a tenant to protect their field, but TFC has to sacrifice their field as a result?
The X factors
TFC fans also fear that all this soccer vs Canadian football squabble is a sideshow. That MLSE will compromise both of those sports because their prime goal is outdoor Maple Leaf NHL games.
TFC fans also see the example of the Foxboro stadium in Massachusetts as a nightmare. The New England Patriots and the New England Revolution are owned by the same man and play in the same stadium. The soccer team is clearly the second class one by a mile. The playing surface is NFL friendly, soccer be damned.