Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tom Anselmi had a little chat with TSN during last week’s unveiling of Toronto FC’s new kit for the 2009 season.
And it wasn’t about shoulder stripes and proper collars with the words “All for One” embroidered on the back.
While not committing to any particular timetable, Anselmi confirmed that expansion of BMO Field is being considered.
“If you’re still in a place where you’ve got 20,000 every night and 13,000 on a wait list, obviously it’s something we’re going to have to look at,” he said. “We’re really, really bullish on where this can go. We think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”
Anselmi also talked about installing a grass field at TFC’s waterfront playground … but said it was a “long-term” interest.
There’s quite a lot to consider here. Let’s start with the turf:
The vast majority of TFC fans are dying to tear up the hated Field Turf inch by inch, patch by patch, lay a ragged plastic path of shredded green stretching from the beer tent to the CN Tower, then stand back – cheering – as a stiff south wind off Lake Ontario blows it all away forevermore.
There was much talk last season – particularly from general manager Mo Johnston – that $3-million from Maurice Edu’s Glasgow Rangers transfer fee could pay for the pitch. Maybe they should just play soccer on the actual money. It would probably be easier on the players’ knees and ankles.
But despite supportive outbursts from Mayor David Miller, the City of Toronto quite correctly believes it is the owner of a year-round athletic facility. Provincial funding was, in fact, contingent on a plastic pitch, and when our stadium is bought entirely by the public purse, this is something we are going to have to endure until both levels of government can be persuaded otherwise.
(Be my guest. Let me know how I can help.)
As for stadium expansion:
Apparently, last year’s 16,000 season ticket holders have served up a 95-per-cent renewal rate. That means just 800 names are getting in from the waiting list, which in turn means building more BMO is, indeed, a viable option.
I’ve always thought the east grandstand – the single-deck bleacher that catches all the in-game camera angles – was a bit of a flimsy structure. But if competent architects can draw up enough new supporting steel to hold up an upper deck, that would be wonderful. New seats in the north end would also jack up the noise level, actually making the expanded stadium cozier and more intimate than it is now. (And there’s no present shortage of either.)
But what I really want to see – what is most crucial to BMO Field’s survival as a soccer shrine:
Merge the supporters’ section into the main grandstands on either side. Just one curving section here, another there, linking the whole Red Nation together into a single encircling wall of noise. Not only would that be an awe-inspiring backdrop for a new grass pitch, it would also:
Keep the Toronto Argonauts out forever.
I’ll be first to admit BMO Field would be a gorgeous place to watch a CFL game. But docking the Boatmen in our happy little pond would either make plastic pitch a permanent problem, or utterly destroy whatever gleaming grass might one day be installed.
We have seen, all over North America in recent years, that the era of the multi-purpose outdoor sports stadium has come to an end. Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the unbelievably small and awful Kingdome in Seattle are all gone, replaced by new, separate, gorgeous stadiums for Major League Baseball and the NFL.
Oh, right. Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.
BMO Field is a soccer stadium, and must remain a soccer stadium. A huge CFL playing field – and the grinding, gouging cleats of rampaging CFL behemoths – must never be allowed to shred, stretch or diminish it. Whenever you find yourself lobbying for a bigger BMO, don’t forget those two simple, all-important words:
That’s the spiel that seals the deal.