Since the team was founded in 2007, Toronto FC and its passionate fan base have been at the forefront of North American soccer support and in many ways, have elevated Major League Soccer to international respectability and been instrumental in the health of the league as it stands today. MLS commissioner Don Garber once said, “TFC has helped teach Americans how to be soccer fans. Everything from how they travel down to away games, to how they cheer, to their passion for their club, to their commitment to the club.”
For all the successes of the fans in spreading football fan culture to North America, the team has been largely disappointing on the pitch, having never yet qualified for the MLS playoffs until the 2015 season. And despite modest success in the Canadian championship, and one decent North American Champions’ League run, fans began to grow tired of mediocrity. Eventually, management responded, and, using the deep pockets of the organisation (MLSE, who own cash-cow NHL club Maple Leafs), went out and signed international superstars Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe. Defoe’s arrival, in particular, was highly anticipated. So heavily did TFC invest in the English footballer’s signing, that they sprung for a fleet of London Routemaster buses painted in a commemorative colour scheme to ply Toronto’s transit routes. Defoe eventually got injured, missed most of the season, and was sold to Sunderland, ending a brief and disastrous spell in Toronto.
Management knew they needed to rebound so they quickly moved on signing an A-grade international star to compliment the solid play of Michael Bradley. The team actually got two; Jozy Altidore from the Premier League, and Italian sensation Sebastian Giovinco. Along with Bradley, the international trio have lit up BMO Field and ignited the fans as they push ever closer to the first playoff berth.
All the while, BMO Field is being entirely rebuilt from the ground. There have been constant expansions on a small scale throughout the stadium’s short history but now, a complete transformation is being undertaken. Currently in progress as the season is played, new improvements come on board all the time. By next year (2016), the stadium will be covered and will seat up to 40,000 for big events. It will also begin next summer to host the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts. Now and into the future, it is one of the very best grounds in MLS, offering a spectacular experience for fans.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
BMO Field has offerings for everyone, including a deep roster of gourmet options along the concourses. At the north end is the BBQ Pit (there is also a location at the southeast corner), where favourites include fresh smoked brisket and pulled pork. Grab a cold one next door at the King Club and soak up the pre-match atmosphere. Taco FC is another popular new option, serving up Mexican street foods with beef, pork, or bean fillings. Taste of Italy is also at the north end and their Porchetta sandwich is well-loved. Canadian staple Poutine, consisting of French fries, cheese curds, and meaty gravy is on offer at Smoke's on the west side of the ground, as well as most other concession stands.
Other popular options include Frites, for Belgian-style French fries with unique toppings, or Panini for unique sandwiches like Vietnamese Banh Mi. Both of these locations are on the east side of the stadium. There are craft beers on offer around the stadium, but most of these are around $11. Budweiser is heavily promoted and is available for the relatively affordable $9.75. Pop is from Coca-Cola, and 500mL bottles cost just under $5.
Originally, BMO Field was built as a relatively cheap and simple aluminium ground. Now, it is all being upgraded to a more complex, English-style covered stadium. The first round of improvements have brought about, in addition to a towering new upper deck for the side, a new high-quality video board, smaller LCD displays and ribbon boards throughout, and a continuous concourse encircling the ground. There is the lowest concourse level, surrounded by a wrought iron fence, then higher levels atop the first tier of seating, and another concourse for the new upper deck.
Along the west side is the Wall of Honour, featuring the kits of cult hero Danny Dichio, who still is sung about every game, and Jim Brennan, Toronto's first signed player and first captain. Seats are all steep and feel atop the pitch - CFL fans excited about the move to the stadium next year speak highly of how intimate it feels. That move in mind, the north and south ends will be heavily renovated this winter to allow for retractable seats and the large CFL field.
The only knock right now is that the field is still open and exposed to heavy winds off the lake as well as rain during the autumn, a problem that will be rectified by next season, under the roof.
BMO Field is well located just west of the downtown core, in the expansive Exhibition neighbourhood. The area plays host to the Canadian National Exhibition in the late summer, but is also home to the Toronto Marlies hockey club of the AHL and a host of event, touristic, and convention centres. Hotels, condominiums, and a rebuilt Ontario Place theme park round out the immediate proximity to the stadium, but there are excellent and popular pubs and restaurants just north in the Liberty Village area, which is packed with TFC supporters before and after the match. The most popular pub in this case is the Brazen Head, while Football Factory offers a neat experience.The central business district is close by, and on a nice day can be reached with a half-hour walk along the waterfront promenade or Queen's Quay, a grand boulevard along the harbour. Otherwise, public transit is excellent and there is a train and streetcar hub just north of the stadium.
Toronto FC fans quickly achieved legendary status in MLS and continue to impress. The most vocal supporters groups are all now concentrated next to one another in the South End, which is the place to be for non-stop singing and chanting, plenty of smoke, and flags and banners. The expanded stadium is still frequently sold out or close to, and fans are vocal and familiar with soccer. TFC fans are known for their impressive away support but love to come together at home where they can join together to make the opposition struggle mightily under the noise, smoke, and banners.
Recently, thousands of fans found out when Sebastian Giovinco was arriving in Toronto and flooded Pearson Airport to welcome him, showing the levels of support that have given them their reputation as some of the best on the continent.
Big credit goes to the fans who have stuck with the team through almost a decade of mediocrity in MLS and who have not diminished their support at all, in fact, they only get better. A highlight came in 2012, when TFC hosted Los Angeles Galaxy. The match was moved to the larger Rogers Centre due to high demand, where the 50 000 in attendance created a memorable atmosphere...
Today, Toronto FC supporters are known for being a real difference maker and spurring on their team to one of the best home records in MLS, and if you are a visiting player taking a corner kick, then expect to have everything from streamers to beer to seat cushions thrown at you. But still, to visiting fans, there is very rarely any hostility and fans are welcoming and friendly.
As with most places in Toronto, driving to BMO Field is difficult and likely to be quite time consuming. Thankfully, though, there is excellent public transportation to the field. TTC streetcars operate frequently from Union Station at the heart of the region's transportation network, as well as to Bathurst Station on the main east-west subway line. The streetcars enter a loop just north of the stadium and there are always plenty of trams available as fans leave the match.
Connected to this loop is the Exhibition GO station. GO trains are the regional express trains and are an excellent choice for fast, direct service to Union. Otherwise, cycling is immensely popular, as is walking up to the pubs of Liberty Village or spots along the Harbourfront. If you are driving, there is still a decent, but shrinking parking area surrounding the stadium, where spots can be had for $15. These are unavailable during late August and Labour Day weekend as the Canadian National Exhibition takes over the entire area.
Within the ground, washrooms are clean and plentiful and new concession areas flow quickly due to wide and well-staffed counters. Concourses are sufficiently wide and traffic flow is no problem.
The atmosphere of a Toronto FC game is great to be a part of, but not necessarily cheap. Soccer is definitely a mainstream sport in Toronto and ticket prices reflect that, with the cheapest possible seats beginning at $25, and working to around $200 during the regular season. And up until now, Toronto FC have been mediocre at best in MLS. Historically, the team have fared better at Canadian Championships, but now things in the league side appear to have turned around. Regardless, every seat offers an excellent view and many feel as though right atop the pitch.
An extra mark for the loyalty and passion of the fans, who have raised the bar in MLS and are credited with the league's growth and stability.
An extra also to these fans for singing about Danny Dichio still to commemorate his goal, the first in team history. At 23:14 in every match, fans commemorate the moment when Dichio put home the first club goal and fans spontaneously threw all the seat covers in the stadium onto the pitch, delaying the match for a long time in a delirium of joy.
An extra mark for the massive commitment to TFC by the management, springing for international A-level talent and building a world-class stadium, as well as the internationally renowned Kia Training Ground, where the team and other players from around the globe have their practice sessions.
BMO Field has become a hotbed of football in its short history and already, not even ten years into its life, it is being completely rebuilt to cater to the ever-growing popularity of Toronto FC. The fans make the experience in this North American centre of the sport, but the top-quality trio of Giovinco, Altidore, and Bradley ensure the action on the pitch lives up to the spectacle off it. We can't wait to go back and review BMO Field again next year when renovations are complete. Of course by then, TFC may have grown so much another round of expansion will be needed!
In only its fifth season in Major League Soccer, Toronto FC has taken the crowded Toronto sporting scene by storm. Owned and operated by sports giant Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), Toronto FC has seen unprecedented success at the gate and on television. In what was once thought to be a dead sport in Toronto, life has been recreated, capturing the interest of the vastly international city of Toronto.
Home for the Reds is BMO Field. Owned by the City of Toronto and operated by MLSE, BMO Field is located at Exhibition Place. What is significant about this location is that it is the former site of Exhibition Stadium; the original home of the Toronto Blue Jays. Also serving as the National Soccer Centre, BMO Field is a soccer-specific stadium that has seen such success that in its short lifespan, it has already been expanded by 2,500 seats.
Simply put, Toronto FC has very little history. What it lacks in history, it makes up for with some of the greatest fans in sports today!
Over the past 6 years, MLS has seen an influx of wildly successful expansion teams. Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, Vancouver and Montreal have been immensely successful at the gate. Major League Soccer is no doubt hoping for similar success when they move into New York City in 2015. The blueprint for all of these franchises was written north of the border where Toronto F.C. have enjoyed great success at the gate and on television. However, six years into the venture, TFC has yet to have a sniff of playoff action and the locals are getting restless. In a trendy city like Toronto, not being the hot commodity can have a catastrophic impact. TFC suddenly has unexpected competition. With the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL coming off of a Grey Cup victory in 2012 on home soil, and renewed interest and excitement in the Toronto Blue Jays, one must wonder if the honeymoon is over for TFC.
The challenges continue for the Reds, as they are affectionately known. The 2013 season, which was short on expectations to begin with, has been marred with late game collapses that make fans want to pull their hair out. As a result, there is something that feels just a bit off at a TFC game now. The energy that was once there is a bit muted. This should be a signal to the parent company, MLSE, that the on-field product needs to improve quickly.
In January of 2014, new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke made a huge splash on the North American Soccer scene. In a crowded sports market, the soccer team that was teetering on falling to the forgotten side of the local consciousness was given a much needed shot in the arm. Toronto FC signed former English Premier players Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe. Toronto followed that with a loan agreement to get Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar. These moves led to their very successful ad campaign claiming that Toronto FC was now "A Bloody Big Deal."
It was just the previous season that we at Stadium Journey asked if the honeymoon was over for Toronto FC. Going into their 8th year, Toronto FC had not yet made the playoffs and truthfully have not even come close with an 11th place finish as the high water mark. Tim Leiweke needed to re-energize the local fans as attendance was dipping below 20,000 on average. The beginning of the 2014 season has shown that Toronto FC has made a solid investment in their new players, with the team getting out to their best start in their team history. There is also excitement about a planned expansion of BMO Field that could possibly include a new home for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. Overall, the injection of life into Toronto FC has made it a bloody big deal, indeed!
I visited BMO Field in August 2014 when Toronto hosted Chicago Fire. Tickets were quite hard to get and expensive but the Toronto skyline made this stadium visit very worthwile. Good fans and the beer stand at the other end seemed great. Good programme and a lot of different merchandise available.
I'll give the extras for the skyline view.
165 E Liberty St
Toronto, ON M6K 3K4
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