David Miller is right about BMO Field: turning it into some artificial turf Frankenstadium to cater to the Toronto Argonauts is a matter of grave concern to the city’s soccer fraternity.
It’s also lousy social policy, since soccer is the world’s most popular sport, is played by more men and women in this country than football, and by most measures teaches all those good lessons derived from sports without breaking as many bones or ruining as many brains.
Soccer deserves a national home in this country. It deserves a jewel, and that jewel needs to be in Canada’s largest city, without being sacrificed to appease a team that – under previous ownership, admittedly – misplayed its hand politically and financially when people were interested in putting up a new facility that might have been conducive to football. So the Argonauts were left with the Rogers Centre, a place that doesn’t much like them and wants to get rid of them in order to install natural grass for the Toronto Blue Jays, and a place that their fans hate.
So let’s get that out there: Miller, the former mayor of Toronto and a long-time Toronto FC fan who was a champion for a soccer-only facility at City Hall and helped ensure that natural grass be installed, made news when he penned an open letter to the club saying he was returning his season tickets because he was tired of management turnover and half-truths and lousy, soul-sapping soccer. He also expressed concern – properly, it says here - about recent suggestions by Tim Leiweke, the president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd., that MLSE was looking at renovating BMO Field for football, against the backdrop that MLSE might buy the Argonauts. Such a move would, out of necessity, involve the installation of artificial turf. To TFC fans, who like soccer fans throughout the world view artificial turf as the Devil’s spawn, this is akin to turning TFC into second-class citizens; to giving a CFL team precedence over their beloved Reds.
Is there an element of sports NIMBYism here? Absolutely. A little bit of snobbery? Quite likely. But here’s the real issue: Toronto FC has gone from being the hottest ticket in town to a give-away and the simple fact is that there is no real difference, now, in crowd size between TFC and the Argonauts. Consequently, while for many of us the soccer team still owns the moral high ground, it’s easy to see why whatever financial high-ground was once held by TFC has gradually diminished. If the trend continues, it’s going to be hard to make the case that it should be a soccer-only facility and that has to be galling for Miller and other TFC fans because this is none of their doing. It’s down to MLSE’s track record of misguided faith in soccer snake oil salesmen and an inability to bring in players of consequence – it’s on the suits, in other words.
Toronto FC played to a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night in front of Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and sections of empty seats, and later, coach Ryan Nelsen’s hackles were raised by the Miller story.
There is a sense that it’s all reached a tipping point, yet Toronto’s soccer-only fans might have some reason for hope. First, Leiweke is a soccer guy; he’s the man who brought David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy, and he understands the game. Second, there would be some interesting internal politics should MLSE buy the Argonauts. Bell Media, which is the dominant media partner for the CFL through TSN, would certainly be keen. But what about Rogers Communications, whose Blue Jays fight for summer-time TV audiences with the CFL? How would they feel about a life-line for the Argonauts?
At any rate, the point is that the ground has shifted under everyone’s feet. No sport has burnt as much currency and goodwill in this country as soccer – for a variety of reasons – and TFC and BMO Field may be the next chapter in that sorry history.