In officially announcing next year's season-ticket price increases Tuesday, Toronto FC owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has clearly decided to hit the hard-core fans the hardest.
The all-singing, all-dancing denizens of BMO Field's south section - whose pictures are being used by TFC in its season-ticket promotional material - face a 34-per-cent increase for next year, to $433 from $323. Those season tickets retailed for $200 in the team's inaugural 2007 season.
That extra $110 gives fans four more games for their money - including a ticket to the Major League Soccer Cup final in November - boosting the per-game price to $19.68 from $17.94, a rise of 9.7 per cent. However, fans seem less than impressed at having no choice to opt out of the ticket to this year's championship match, with the portents of TFC taking part in the festivities looking unlikely at best.
"The fan that goes to BMO Field and supports Toronto FC should have the option to go to that final or not," said Phil Tobin, vice-president of the Red Patch Boys supporters group, "because, most likely, and I might be wrong on this, the team is not going to make the final this year."
With a top season-ticket price already averaging more than the majority of the English Premier League teams, fans of one of MLS's best-supported clubs might have been expecting something more palatable for next season, especially given the seemingly backward step the team has taken on the field this year. The playoffs are once again a long-shot with just five games to play in MLS regular season.
The dismissal last week of both director of soccer Mo Johnston and head coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic has given fans reason to hope for the future, although MLSE vice-president and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi denied those changes had anything to do with season-ticket renewals. Those changes at the top should help TFC stave off widespread fan apathy in the near future, according to Tobin.
"I would feel more comfortable in the prediction that that tipping point is next year," he said, although a fan poll on the Red Patch Boys website Tuesday had a number of people determined to drop their tickets, "because a lot of optimism was bought with the idea that there is a change in coaching, that there is a change in general manager."
In addition to the rising prices, MLSE will also benefit from the increase in season-ticket base to 18,000 from 16,000, with the majority of those extra tickets being sold in the new north stand, built last winter but which was far from full on many occasions this season. Those tickets are on sale at a renewal price of $1,011, more than double the $433 being charged to sit in the south stand although offering a similar vantage point.
"There's obviously a sense from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment that there's still this incredible demand and maybe they do," Tobin said of MLSE's claims of a season-ticket waiting list of close to 20,000, "but I haven't seen it this year. I've seen empty seats a lot of the time at games, and not just at the beginning and the end, but throughout the entire game."
These changes come at a time when MLSE is already making increased profit after the switch to the 13-per-cent harmonized sales tax on sports tickets instead of the 15-per-cent entertainment tax. Though the MLS salary cap is increasing by $127,500 (remaining currency U.S.) for next season - raising the overall number to $2.68-million - salaries, other than those to afforded to designated players such as Julian de Guzman and Spanish striker Miguel Angel Ferrer Martinez, are paid by the league, with teams chipping in a third of their ticket revenues to help offset those costs.
TFC's season-ticket packages are certainly among the most expensive in MLS. While the Los Angeles Galaxy exceed TFC with a top-price season ticket of $3,750 for next season - in comparison to $1,999 at BMO - those prices are skewed slightly with David Beckham's $6.5-million salary on their books. A more realistic comparison would be the Chicago Fire, whose top ticket to sit in the stands is $999, which comes with free parking and discounted concessions, as well as the option to pay for the ticket in instalments.