In the shadow of the $1 billion Olympic Stadium, sits modest Stade Saputo. The inaugural season of the Montreal Impact in 2012 has brought new life to Montreal's Parc Olympique, which has been fairly quiet since the Montreal Expos moved to Washington D.C. to play at Nationals Park.
In 2012, the Impact graduated from A-League soccer, which is currently known as the NASL. Seeing the success of the MLS in Toronto, owner Joey Saputo decided to pursue the highest level of soccer in Canada and the USA. Thus far, it could only be classified as a success.
With the move to the MLS, Stade Saputo required a significant expansion. While the renovations were being completed, the Impact made their debut in the humungous Olympic Stadium. This proved to be profitable on a few occasions as the debut of the Impact saw Olympic Stadium with over 58,000 fans, and a visit by the Los Angeles Galaxy and David Beckham brought in over 60,000 fans. However, the long-term future of the Impact could not be tied to Olympic Stadium, and at the beginning of June, Stade Saputo re-opened and became the permanent home of the Impact. The stadium is named after the largest dairy company in Canada, Saputo Inc., which among many other products, features production of the famous Jos. Louis snack cake.
Stade Saputo is the perfect size for MLS soccer and the Montreal Impact ... and impact-ful they have been.
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".
The variety of food at Stade Saputo is not massive, however it is absolutely satisfying. All of the sporting staples can be found here including fries, nachos, hot dogs, sausage and soda. Prices are decent with hot dogs going for $3, and Pizza Pizza slices going for $5.50.
Soda features Coca-Cola products in bottles (with lids removed) for a slightly hefty $4. Beer sales feature Coors Light at either $6.75 or $9. There are a couple of specialty stands that may catch your interest. The Chicken Wing trailer (Ailes de Poulet), features a 1/2 pound of wings for $9.75. No trip to Montreal could be considered complete without a taste of Montreal Smoked Meat ($7) or an order of poutine ($8.50). You may want to try the poutine trailer, and combine the two!
Stade Saputo has a very simple design which works perfectly for MLS soccer. The stands are aluminium and feature bucket seats on aluminium benches. They are the same as the seats featured at BMO Field, home of FC Toronto.
The sightlines are excellent, and the bowl is a simple one level design. Parts of the stands are covered, which is great on a sunny day, and in many sections you can see the largest inclined tower in the world, which helps support the roof of Olympic Stadium. The north end of the stadium features a simple scoreboard and videoboard. It offered very little information, and could have been put to better use, especially for simple things like acknowledging goal scorers visually, or showing substitutions.
Outside of the stadium, there were a few pre-game, promotional tents, however there was nothing overly earth-shattering or exciting. There was a rhythm band that played some pregame music that gave the game a bit of a college football atmosphere.
It must be noted that Stade Saputo is not fully completed yet, and although construction areas were not obtrusive, they were obvious. It is a distinct possibility that in a year or two, Stade Saputo will be even better.
Stade Saputo is a part of Parc Olympique, which was the main focal point of the 1976 Olympics. There are still remnants of the Olympics which are worth seeing. You can take a tour of Olympic Stadium, which can include a trip to the Olympic swimming and diving facilities, and a trip up the inclined tower. What was once the velodrome, has now been converted into the Biodome. An indoor ecosystem, the Biodome is well worth a visit.
The neighbourhood features a few local eating establishments that would be worth your time. These would include the Stadium Club, Madisons NY Bar and Grill, and Rotisseries Scores. Montreal is also a city which features a vibrant downtown, full of nightlife, which although is not within walking distance, can be reached without too much trouble.
The Impact experience features two supporter groups, which are located at the North and South ends of the stadium. The supporter groups are not huge, but do make their presence felt. Unlike some soccer experiences, the Impact supporters have had an influence on the rest of the crowd. For player introductions, the PA announcer only announces the number and first name, and the crowd yells out the last name, led by the supporter sections. The songs and chants at times morph out of the supporter sections and throughout the stadium.
Another key element that finds its way throughout the stadium is thunder! The aluminium stadium makes for great noisemakers. Instead of answering with their hands in the form of clapping, fans respond with thunderous foot stomping, which is far more effective.
Attendance for the Impact has been quite strong. Led by two huge games, which brought in nearly 60,000 fans per game, the Impact are providing the 3rd highest attendance in the entire MLS during the 2012 season. The game being review brought a crowd of over 18,000 fans, which is near capacity. Some sections near the videoboard are not yet open, so attendance can be expected to continue to improve. As the Impact begin to get their footing in the Montreal sports market, it will be interesting to see if they can captivate the attention of the fickle Montreal sports fan as well as the Alouettes or the Canadiens have.
The only complaint that can be made of the fans, is the general disrespect for the national anthems that was shown. Those who were in their seats did stand, however late arriving fans, of whom there were many, did not stop for the national anthems and proceeded right to their seats.
One of the curious issues that the Impact face is the location of their stadium. It is ironic that they are located at Parc Olympique, where the Montreal Expos played. One of the explanations for the poor attendance for Expo games was the location of Olympic Stadium. It is not located near major highways, and the major roads are slow-going most of the time. Traffic in Montreal is routinely an issue. Parc Olympique is a significant distance from what would be considered downtown Montreal. However, Parc Olympique features ample parking for soccer, and also features a Metro stop. The Metro in Montreal is a very good public transit system, and a good option for fans traveling to games.
Travel through the stadium was acceptable, and washroom facilities were adequate as well.
Tickets for an Impact game will run between $20 and $85. Many seats can be found in the $20 range. The concession prices are decent and parking is okay ($14), if you don't find street parking for free. The return on the investment is an exciting product, with a group of fans who have, thus far, embraced their team and create a fun environment.
An extra mark for the Olympic heritage on display at Parc Olympique.
An extra mark for the French culture and heritage in a fantastic, vibrant, city.
An extra mark for the fans in section 120, who were friendly, helpful, and informative in writing this review.
An extra mark for the awesome tradition of the player procession where both teams enter the stadium together, each player with a little kid.
The Impact are still in the infancy stage in Montreal, but they are making their mark. It will be curious to see what the future holds for the Impact. The international flavour of the MLS is perfect for a city like Montreal, which has had difficulty attracting American athletes in the past (see Montreal Expos). Hopefully, the MLS will continue to make an Impact in Montreal.
Follow all of Dave's journeys on Twitter at @profan9.
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