The public financing of BMO Field debate

The following article shows some of the sentiment of Toronto’s sports fans prior to BMO field being built. Many people assumed that because the Toronto Lynx drew small crowds at Varsity and Centennial Fields, an MLS franchise in Toronto would not be successful.

Q: Why should taxpayers be footing the bill for a new stadium? Is MLSE not rich enough? And where is the demand for this, outside of a small hardcore of fans? This makes no sense. If they want to build it, let them use their own money. I can guarantee you this building will become another Rexall Centre, a looming white elephant that is barely used, for a sport that has failed countless times on a professional level. 

But it won’t only be used for soccer. It could be used for other sporting events such as Rugby or even CFL football. Reality is that there is no large open air stadium with a suitable playing surface in eastern Canada that can be used for these two sports. The late Toronto Blizzard soccer franchise of the NASL used to average just fewer than 11,000 over its 5 year tenure from 1979 to 1984. And they didn’t even win a championship. They did however make the finals in 1984, and a crowd of over 17,000 watched the second game of a best of two series at Varsity Stadium.

Q: The Toronto Rock gets more people out to their games than professional soccer (Toronto Lynx) in this town. I didn’t even know Toronto had a team at all, and honestly, I don’t care.

The Toronto Lynx are a “Division 2” soccer club, meaning that they’re essentially a “farm” team. It’s what the Marlies are like to the Maple Leafs. The Lynx play at a derelict stadium tucked away in the corner of the city. Centennial Stadium is old, in need of major upgrades and has really poor public transportation links. It’s the US equivalent of a high school stadium – How professional is that? That’s why the crowds have been only averaging around 2,000 during the past several seasons. When the Lynx played at the now demolished Varsity, the crowds used to be much higher,  even though the stadium was old and dilapidated.

The other reason is that the Lynx finish dead last every year. Who wants to support a club that hardly wins? At least with the MLSE on board we will have an organization running the new MLS franchise, and they will have a better record at winning games. The Lynx ownership tried hard, just never had the resources available to them to make the team a success.

Besides, countless of times over the past 30 years there have been international soccer friendlies in this town drawing thousands of spectators to the cavernous Skydome, and in the old days Exhibition place and Varsity Stadium. The attendance numbers in some years can be quite impressive.

Q: Why will this stadium succeed when Lamport Stadium, literally a stone’s throw away, sits unused and derelict?

Lamport Stadium generates money for the city. I guess you haven’t looked into your facts because during the spring, summer and fall seasons the stadium is used for soccer, football, field hockey, caribana, reggae festivals and other events. Lamport stadium has an Astroturf surface, and virtually no public parking. The idea of renovating Lamport has been tossed around several times and a lot of local sports organizations opposed the idea.

Q: If this is so popular, so needed, why was it tossed around from one place to another, never settling on one place, and even then only due to promises of heavy government involvement? It’s an unwanted child because people know that aside from the youth tournament, it will lapse into obscurity, an obscurity with money that the city could have used for something else. This thing will only be used for what, a few months of the year? Then what?

It can be used year round with the addition of a “bubble” around the playing area. Ottawa’s Frank Clair Stadium (28,000 capacity) has successfully implemented this. I’m sure the MLS franchise will be able to draw 15,000 per game, at the minimum. There is enough interest in top quality soccer in the city to justify an MLS team, otherwise the MLSE would not have thought about the idea of bringing in the MLS into the city.

Q: If you think the spin offs will generate equivalent revenue, you’re dreaming.

They absolutely will. The stadium will be the centrepiece of hosting the 2007 World Youth Championships which will draw potentially thousands of people into the city. The benefits to the local economy will be huge.

Q: This is not about promoting or developing soccer, it’s about throwing money down the drain, period.

How can it not be about promoting or developing soccer? The Canadian Men’s national team hasn’t played a game in Toronto for over five years – because there is no suitable place to play. The last time they did play during the summer against Trinidad & Tobago, a game which they sold out Varsity stadium. If Toronto is granted an MLS franchise, Vancouver and Montreal will follow. This is what the game needs in order to be competitive with the regional soccer powers such as USA and Mexico; otherwise we’d never qualify for the World Cup.

Since its launch, Major League Soccer has propelled the USA into being one of the best teams in the world. They are ranked 7th in the world.

Canada is ranked 86th and falling. Hard to believe considering that only 20 years ago we were light years ahead of them. How quickly the tables have turned.