Sunday, May 27, 2012

Special Events? Results on the Pitch Are Pretty Special

Mood: Irritated
State of Mind: Wishing for the "good old days"
Location: Suspicious supporter's couch

I don't like this ongoing war between my two selves - the positive, optimistic one that loves my team and enjoys nothing more than cheering them on each and every game day and the cynical, unhappy one that gets more and more disenchanted with each new shiny distraction that MLSE hauls out of it's ill thought bag of tricks.

I've touched on this a bit recently in regards to the "special events" that are becoming more and more prevalent at BMO field and my dislike for them. You hear talk of how this will draw in new fans and help build the eroding fan base. Guess what - it won't - no matter what your research from other sports markets around North America tells you, this will not fix things for MLSE. For one this is not your typical sports market and should not be treated as such. This is supposed to be something different; not the same old watered down, if I closed my eyes I wouldn't know what sport I'm watching experience.  

If Anselmi (the Teflon Tom) & Co. want to boost ticket sales and bring back the fans, then they should consider respecting the long suffering yet loyal existing fans by a) ceasing with the ticket price gouging (TFC fans pay some of the highest prices in the entire league; sound familiar?) and b) focus on the product on the field. Amazing how the number of fans renewing their tickets and sitting in the stands each week started to drop as prices continued to go up at outrageous rates and the rotating door for coaches, players and the behind the scenes drama increased. When has a fan base been so casually tossed aside as the dollar signs loomed larger & larger? Give us tickets we can afford and a stable team that can perform and you'll see full stands. Give us thundersticks and a mascot? Dream on.

As for attracting new fans; I'm a new fan - not a new fan to the sport (everyone knows how much I love football) but new to having a team to truly call my own - one that I get to support each week. I haven't spent years growing up supporting a team so I have no other true football experiences to compare it to other than years of watching footy from around the world. However, one of the things that I have loved about watching and supporting TFC in person (from the very beginning) is that it was free of all the extra "stuff" that I had witnessed at other sporting venues. No scoreboards imploring everyone to make noise, no music being played as the team brings the ball up the court (or the field), no sirens and whistles as "Free Stuff" is blared all over the place while peppy, attractive folk pelt the crowd with shirts and souvenirs (oh wait...) - just the noise of the fans and the players on the field - bliss. In fact MLS touted TFC and its fans as the new wave of football experience; want authentic? Go to BMO. 

But things are slowly changing at BMO and not for the better to my eyes. We'd already had Cinco de Mayo night, which elicited a lot of "why are there Mexican flags up there" comments from those around me - I could not find one person who either knew they were celebrating Cinco de Mayo or had come out to the match especially because of that. Now included in the latest email from TorontoFC (ostensibly celebrating the Cup win) is what's upcoming on the event schedule (it's no longer just a games schedule); Canadian Armed Forces Night, Caribbean Carnival Night and most exciting of all, Oktoberfest. Aside from the obvious pandering that is the Armed Forces Night (look at how we care!) what exactly is the point of these theme nights? How do they in any way add to the experience? Does it change the product on the field if there's a steel drum band on the patio; would a polka band somehow get the fans pumped up?  What's next? The dreaded cheerleaders (sorry, dancers) on the sidelines or performing during the half? Exhortations to do the wave, a pipe organ? Anything to provide an "experience" (read: distraction) for these mythical folk who are just waiting for the right event to draw them down to BMO and hey suddenly they're fans!

It angers me that the owners of the team I love are increasingly turning to gimmicks and theme nights to fill the empty seats and "add value" to the experience. I love my team and I'm there each and every game day cheering them on and that's all that I want to do. I want to watch the game, with my fellow fans, period. I don't need theme events and giveaways. Want to ensure my ongoing attendance? Bring ticket prices back down (or at the very least stop raising them) and give us a stable, competitive club on the pitch. It's simple - I wonder why no one has thought of it.

For another take on this please read Duncan's piece at Waking The Red (required reading as far as I'm concerned) and The Yorkies take on it in their game preview.


  1. Your cynicism is making us proud!

    Have you ever known this conversation to exist?

    Buddy 1:Hey man, wanna go to the soccer game tonight?
    Buddy 2:Umm, I don't know, aren't they kinda crap?
    Buddy 1:They're struggling but tonight is Caribbean festival night!
    Buddy 2:Oh, in that case, what time is kick-off?

    (end of scene)

    Yeah, me neither. I don't go to the movies for the trailers, I don't go to a restaurant for the appetizers, and I certainly don't take a flight for the check-in line. If I go to a sporting event, I'm going FOR the sporting event.

    1. I've got excellent teachers.

      That conversation only takes place in Anselmi's office.

      The only special days that I don't mind are the Food Bank drives and the one for Right To Play. That is giving back to the community and adds value to someone else's life outside of the game. Otherwise; just keep it all away - let us just all be together and watch our team.

  2. Footy Wolverine Go BlueMay 26, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    Excellent article, as is Duncan's. My feelings exactly. I have stopped going to Raptors games because of the noise and gimmicks, not because of the lousy team. Of course all that B-Ball jazz is mandated by the NBA. I hope MLS never goes that far.

    As for MLSE, it is beyond comprehension as to why they don't understand that only Footy fanatics, who like their game experience to be pure and reasonably priced, will continue to follow a losing team playing in a mid-to-low-level league.

    I am a recent reader of your blog . Really enjoy it. Thanks, from another West Side Stander.

    1. Thanks - I'm glad you enjoyed both my and Duncan's take on the situation. Basketball is the worst - just visual & noise pollution - the last Raptors game I went to was painful.

      It is rather astounding that they don't see it - the signs are there - those empty seats and almost non-existent SSH wait list should scream it louder than any words. Sadly corporations do not ever understand this sort of thing; this is a business for them, nothing more.

      I'm glad you're enjoying my ramblings and rants. Please continue to visit and comment! :)

    2. Footy Wolverine Go BlueMay 27, 2012 at 11:06 PM

      Thanks for sharing my B-Ball pain.

      I think it's the " almost non-existent SSH wait list" that is causing MLSE to pull these stunts, figuring that a special night will help sell the remaining tickets. If it doesn't take too long for the Reds to start winning regularly, maybe the nonsense will stop.