Anybody who follows the Toronto FC soccer team and/or any of the other Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment’s (MLSE) pro franchises, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) and Toronto Raptors (NBA), must surely realize by now that they’re among the worst teams in all of professional sports. In fact, Toronto FC is so bad that MLSE will be reducing the price of season tickets for next season. It didn’t really have a choice since about 66 per cent of the fans were arriving at BMO Field dressed as empty seats.
The club will be reducing the cost of tickets back to the prices of the 2007 season, which was the year the team entered Major League Soccer (MLS). This means the price of a top-level season ticket will be $1,007 next season. It cost $1,292 this year. In addition, the lowest-priced season ticket will drop to $190 from this year’s price of $361. Tom Anselmi, the new president of MLSE, said the company will take a hefty financial hit with the price reductions, but didn’t give any specific details.
When Toronto joined MLS, the team had a record of 6 wins, 17 losses and 7 ties in its first season and is even worse this year with a record of 5-20-7. In addition, the club tied a record of futility at the start of the current season by losing their first nine games of the campaign. The team hasn’t made the playoffs once since joining the league and this has resulted in thousands of empty seats throughout the season. Also, numerous season ticket holders are refusing to renew their seats for next season.
The club has had seven different managers since its inception with Paul Mariner being the current boss. Unfortunately, he’s no better than the half dozen men who preceded him. MLSE may be able to get away with charging the highest prices in the league for its NHL team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, but soccer fans are a different breed and the organization quickly found that out. While the Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, the Air Canada Centre is still usually filled to capacity on game nights. But soccer fans are fed up with the ownership and simply stay at home.
As of Oct. 19, Toronto FC sat in last place in the MLS and hadn’t won a game in 12 outings. They were officially eliminated from playoff contention with six weeks to go in the season, but realistically were out of the running about six weeks into the season. The team, like the other MLSE franchises, has become a laughing stock. But when you consider how low the bar has been set in Toronto, the soccer club must be particularly brutal for the owners to spring into action.
Also, for the money-hungry MLSE to cut its profits, fans realize that this is one franchise that is in very deep trouble. Of course, cutting the costs of tickets to games is a start, but how does it improve the on-field product? The answer of course is that it doesn’t in the slightest way. Toronto FC will still be the worst team in MLS next season, but it won’t cost the fans as much to be bored to death. That of course, is assuming that any of them return for more torture next year. In a sense, MLSE realizes it’s run out of options and the fans refuse to be shafted any longer. They can see the team turning into the same hapless bunch as the Maple Leafs and aren’t prepared to wait 45 years for success.
Lowering ticket prices just goes to show that MLSE is clueless when it comes to putting a decent soccer team on the field. Anselmi admitted to the press that his company hasn’t done its job and has made mistakes, but didn’t offer up any solutions to halt the ineptness of the freefalling team. MLSE really only has about five months to do something about the situation as the 2013 MLS season gets underway in March.
The franchise needs to start out by naming a president who has a strong background in soccer, can provide solid leadership, and has a clear plan in place on how to improve the team. With seven coaches in six seasons it’s obvious that the wrong people have been hired to run the club so far. What makes the Toronto situation look even worse, if that’s possible, is that other Canadian expansion teams like the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact have surpassed them already, even though they haven’t been around as long as Toronto. But if the team isn’t competitive, they could give tickets away and nobody would be interested in attending games unless they’re in town to see the opposition.
The club hasn’t really been fan friendly in other areas either. The scheduling leaves a lot to be desired as well. With Toronto’s geographical location, the weather can be brutal in March, April, May, and October. The best months of the season are July and August, but many of the team’s home games are scheduled in the colder months. Also, most weeknight home games kick off at 7 pm, making it almost impossible for out-of-town fans to reach the stadium in time due to the city’s ridiculous traffic problems. Starting games at 8 pm would certainly enable supporters to at least have a chance of making the kick off.
The team also doesn’t know how to spot talent as it has had several top players on the club and have inexplicably let them go. The case of Dwayne de Rosario is especially baffling since he’s a hometown boy. De Rosario is one of the top all-time scorers in MLS and has won numerous awards and all-star selections. He was also named the league’s MVP the year after Toronto decided he wasn’t good enough for them.
Many fans feel that season ticket prices are still way too high even after the rollback with many seats still costing an average $53 a game. For that price they could see top-level soccer in Europe and still have some change left over. The only deal at BMO Field appears to be the south-end seats, which can be had for as low as $10 per game next season. The new cost of tickets applies to past and current holders of season tickets with newcomers paying a little bit more.
However, it’s hard to imagine fans buying season tickets to a stadium that’s half empty. They don’t see the need to commit themselves to every game when they can easily buy a seat at the box office if they feel like going. And that’s where MLSE is shafting fans again. When buying tickets at the box office they will have to pay between $77 and $89 for the top-priced seats, depending on who the opposing team is.
MLSE doesn’t deserve any credit at all really for this public relations move. The company has been ripping fans off for far too long. If Toronto fans really want to show team owners how they feel, they should simply stay away from the stadium for the entire 2013 season, no matter how much tickets cost. And just maybe then, something will be done about the awful product it puts on the soccer pitch week after week.