What's Happening in Toronto? (Pt. 1): Paperbag PassionToronto FC lose the game and its fans lose their heads; part one of two on the struggle between The Stands versus The Man(s)
by Sonja Missio | Monday, October 08, 2012
On Saturday, Oct. 6, Toronto FC lost its 12th-straight game (adding to the team’s 20 losses overall) to DC United in front of a deflated Toronto home crowd. The United goal, scored by Hamdi Salihi, came in the 88th minute, an occurrence so common that it’s now comical.
Well, it would be if it also wasn’t so tragic.
The truth is, Toronto played well against United, as it created a few good chances on set pieces, as well as in front of the goal. The chances just weren’t enough to hold onto the point.
However, what happened on the pitch is not the storyline.
Rather, it is the civil unrest that has been growing all season in the stands that overshadowed the game. I want to look at what’s happening in Toronto in two parts: The first giving the background of why Toronto fans are so angry (in this article) and the second, giving a (possible) point of view from upper management (next week, during a brief International break).
I am not apologizing or making excuses for either; rather, I am just trying to explain what the hell is going on in Toronto.
To understand the unrest, it is important to understand TFC’s background. The club is owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Inc. (MLSE), the same group that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Marlies.
Recently, MLSE was bought into by both Rogers Communications Inc. and Bell Canada, Canada’s two largest communication companies. Currently, ownership of MLSE is as follows: Rogers Communications (37.5%), Bell Canada (28%), Kilmer Sports (25%, a holding company owned by MLSE Chairman, Larry Tanenbaum), and BCE Master Trust Fund (9.5%, an independent trust managing pension fund investments of Bell Canada Enterprise Group).
Rogers and Bell are also the leading television and Internet companies in Canada, owning most sports channels across Canada (the Toronto Blue Jays, if you are wondering, are owned by Rogers Blue Jays Baseball Partnership, a division of Rogers Communications).
Basically, by buying into any sports team in Toronto – whether by attending games, watching on television or streaming online – you’re giving money, one way or another, to MLSE and/or Rogers and Bell. And there’s not really any other way around it.
Which would be fine, if Toronto teams didn’t suck.
But they do. And for what the fans give into the teams, they are not getting much in return.
Last season with the Leafs, when standing-room-no-alcohol-allowed tickets began in the low $100 (if you can find them), fans showed their displeasure by wearing brown paperbags on their heads in protest of the team’s 35-37-10 (W-L-OT) season, which ended so badly that MLSE actually took out pages in Toronto newspapers apologizing.
TFC fans picked up the “Paperbag Practice” during Saturday’s game, with a select group of “supporters” not only covering their heads in paper, but their bodies too (I use the word “supporters” loosely, since there’s some argument on exactly what they’re supporting when they cheered after the Toronto defeat).
If the early Halloween costumes of bagged groceries weren’t bad enough, there was also an alleged confrontation between Toronto fans and coach Paul Mariner, who (according to much Twitter speculation) offered to meet fans “outside the gate” after much heckling from the stands. While this “threat” seemed like empty Twitter rumours, it did not stop fans from continuing to verbally attack Mariner online, including taking shots at his shorts.
That’s right, Toronto fans are now taking their anger out on Adidas 100% polyester mesh.
The truth is, fans have lost faith. If you’re in Toronto, it’s hard not to. You keep giving more and more money, for worse and worse results. TFC fans have seen a rise in the cost of season tickets, without much coming back from the club.
To make matters worse, TFC just offered to wave service fees on single game tickets for the remainder of the season, while the season-ticket faithful continue to pay full price. While 2012 to 2013 ticket prices have yet to have been announced, many Toronto fans are already threatening not to renew over rising costs and poor play (and, to add insult to injury, Montreal Impact just offered a discount on their season tickets).
The frustration is understandable, and, for the most part, deserved. However, there are two sides to every story, but you’ll have to wait until next week to find out (my take on) management’s side.
Until then, have a Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!
NEXT UP: Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact (last home game of the season) at BMO Field on Oct. 20 at 1:30 p.m. EST.