In their third MLS season and within a few hundred feet of the iconic Montreal Stadium tower, the Impact are making their mark on the city’s sports scene. From a sporting perspective, if not for the A-League Impact which played from 1999 through 2011, the area would be pretty much dormant since the Expos left for Washington D.C. in 2004. Since 2012, big league soccer has helped provide a resurgent wave at Olympique Parc. And there could be more to come. The City of Montreal will play a role in determining a potential site for a new baseball stadium, something which has picked up steam in recent months. Stade Saputo, named for the Canadian dairy giant, is a glimmer of what might come to the complex, just seven miles north of downtown.
From a historical perspective, in 2012, the Impact advanced from their place in A-League soccer, a league which is currently known as the North American Soccer League (NASL). After witnessing the success of the MLS game in Toronto, Impact owner Joey Saputo determined it was time to join the party. He has made some pretty good comes in his life and this one just adds to his stable of triumphs.
What would be required was the stadium would involve significant expansion. While changes were made, the club played in the oversized Olympique Stadium in the early part of their first season. On a few nights, their inaugural MLS contest and when David Beckham and the LA Galaxy visited, crowds swelled to 58,000 and 60,000 respectively. In June, the Impact stepped onto their new pitch, just steps north of where they played their first few games. Since then, the results, as measured in the guest experience, have exceeded expectations and await new visitors to enjoy.
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".
Stade Saputo has lots of standard fare and prices are reasonable for the most part. A few of the common beverage items you will find are packaged and draft beer from $7.75 to $9.75, bottled water for $3.75 and 16oz. bottled soda (Coke and Fanta products) at $4.
Tim Horton's (under the east stand) always has a line out front even though the ratio of people to these donut stands is 4 to 1 (just kidding, but there are many of them all over). Pizza Pizza is also present offering a slice pizza from $5.25 to $5.50 and offering a combo of slice, fries and 16oz. bottled soda for $13.50.
Now for the unique stuff you should consider trying.
You can get a smoked meat sandwich for $7.50 unless you want to wait and visit world famous Schwartz's in downtown Montreal (details later in this review). Instead of the smoked meat, you might want to order the hot dogs at $3.50 each.
These are flavorful, but the toasted buns are the real value to making them unique and just add to the taste. Consider a combo pack which includes two hot dogs, fries and a 16 oz. bottled soda for just $13.50.
Another item to consider is the poutine, French fries with brown gravy poured over them. Ranging in price from $7.75 to $8.75, you can get this Canadian favorite topped with all sorts of items. They even have their own stand and the line, while long, goes very fast so don't be dissuaded if you happen upon it and want to try this tasty item.
Underneath the east stands, you will find an array of specialty permanent stands, providing a bit more variety and uniqueness than your standard concession stand. My favorite is Buonanotte offering a porchetta (pork) sandwich and potatoes for $9 . You will find this stand along the inside portion of the concourse underneath section 121.
Like many MLS stadiums, Stade Saputo is a simple, single-bowl design, but has unique elements which make it a cozy and comfortable place to witness a match. The complex has most of the original infrastructure in place, but was remodeled to accommodate MLS action. It is more like Crew Stadium in Columbus than Sporting Park in Kansas City.
From the air, the stadium is configured like the letter "D." To understand seating placement, consider if you were looking directly down upon the "D" and a clock was placed on top of the field (note: the diagram on the team's website as to directionals - North, South, East or West is INCORRECT, so use my descriptions). The north end goal is at about 11 o'clock (section 114) while the south end goal would be at 5 o'clock (section 132).
The front edge of the first row is right up against the field, except when on the west side of the field (sections 101 through 111, sections 105 and 106 split the midfield). On the west side, there is a wide walkway between the bottom edge row (at the same level as the walkway). This is still the best of the four sides of the stadium to watch a match with the only caution being to sit high enough to be above the traffic obstructing your view.
Seats are molded plastic with some contour to them and are relatively comfortable. If you choose to sit the west side of the field, make sure your seats are row "I" or higher. This will put you just under the overhang and shield you from rain, a condition I witnessed on the night of writing this review. The sun will also be at your back on games just before sunset.
You will also be viewing the field from behind the player benches, which thankfully are recessed into the field and have much less obstruction of view than at most fields. If you like to face the benches, consider east side sections of 120 (to the north) and 126 (to the south) or 123 (at midfield). Players enter the field to start the game and the second half at the corner flag near section 134 in the southwest corner of the field.
I tend to like to sit in low, end line seats or high midfield seats facing the benches. If seats with overhang are important to you and you want to sit on the end facing the benches, choose a row of "N" or higher.
If you sit on the north or northwest end of the stadium, you will enjoy a striking view of the Olympic Stadium tower. There are also high tables and chairs and lounge seats and low tables adjacent to section 111 in the upper northwest corner of the seating area.
The only video replay board is at the highest point above the north goal with a standard, basic scoreboard high above it and an identical scoreboard at the south goal. It seems like while the screen was of appropriate size, the content of what is shown could be better utilized. The sound system is excellent and the home crowd knows how to make noise when it is needed or when it is deserved. Goals are celebrated with fireworks and the playing of the famous, "Chelsea Dagger," from The Fratelli's, made popular in Chicago and played after goals are scored by the NHL's Blackhawks.
If you want to avoid a walk to your row, consider a lower row and your trip will be shorter. Ushers prevent walking behind the last row of the sections as it provides access to all of the suites. The stands are aluminum supported by an albatross of metal beams and metal supports for which the concessions, souvenir stands and restrooms are all underneath. This also makes for a bit more noise in the stadium during otherwise quieter moments. There are meeting areas for season ticket holders underneath the east grandstand.
There is a great deal of space for cover if it rains. Interestingly, there are also quite a few interactive directories to locate places within the complex, charging stations to replenish depleted electronics, sampling opportunities and fun activities for fans.
Another nice feature involves all of the well-placed ledges for fans to place their food and drink while standing and visiting with friends. This might be the most underrated element of a sports venue and a very low cost option to provide fans comfort in large public gathering areas. The concourses are wide and rarely, if ever cluttered. The only disappointment here is that there aren't more monitors to follow the game if you have to leave your seat for any length of time.
For children and families, there are lots of activities in the main concourse from kicking soccer balls, playing soccer video games, meeting for photos with Tac-Tik, the fuzzy mascot who resembles a canine with athletic tendencies. There is a special Family Corner high in the suite level at section 118 in the northeast corner.
Stade Saputo is in the far northwest corner of Parc Olympique, the epicenter of the 1976 Olympics. The park is seven miles north of downtown Montreal. There are residential neighborhoods on all sides of the Parc with some exposure to commerce, but not enough to be compelled to stay nearby.
With so much to offer, stay in downtown Montreal where the excitement is endless from a cultural array of art, architecture, a nightlife and exquisite restaurants at every turn. The subway is clean and provides access to everything you could want in this cosmopolitan Canadian gem of a city.
There are still many noticeable elements to the 1976 Summer Games. You can tour the Olympique Stadium, the swimming and diving facilities, and the trip up the inclined tower, the largest inclined tower in the world. Trams provide access to the top for magnificent views of the city. At Olympique Parc, the velodrome has been converted to what is known as the Biodome, a very neat place to visit.
No trip to Montreal is complete without smoked beef on the menu. If you can only choose one place for this local delicacy, make it Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen at 3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard in downtown Montreal. In business since 1928 and open from 8 AM (hot meat available after 10:30 AM) until after midnight every night (later on weekends), you must get a smoked beef plate with fries and sour pickles. From the Station Saint-Laurent (the green line of the Montreal Metro rapid transit system), it is a mile walk northwest.
If you can swing it, time your visit to also see an NHL Canadiens game at the Bell Centre (March, April and the playoffs as well as October each season). Even if the hockey team is not playing or not in town, at least visit the Canadiens Hall of Fame, the largest hockey hall of fame outside of Toronto and worth a two hour visit. There is plenty of junior hockey to enjoy within a 90 minute drive in all directions. Ottawa, the Canadian capital, is only a few hours west, too.
There is also the site where The Forum sat, the Canadiens home prior to Bell Centre. It has been converted to a movie theatre, dining and shopping complex with plenty of remnants of the old arena still inside. The owners have done a nice job of preserving the elements including markings for where center ice was located, red seats from the venue, photos and a really neat store of Canadiens hockey memorabilia.
While in Montreal, stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott, just two blocks from the Forum and near two subway stations. The property is clean and entirely first class with a magnificent view of Mont Royal to the north and The Forum to the southwest.
More commonly known at Canadiens' hockey games, this is a city passionate about their sports. While most visitors identify the fervency exhibited at The Bell Centre for the blue, blanc and rouge, Montreal supports the Impact in high numbers as well.
In 2012 and with two games played at Olympique Stadium, the Impact drew an average of 22,772, good for 3rd in MLS behind Seattle and Los Angeles. In 2013, they drew 20,603, 4th in MLS behind Seattle, Los Angeles and Portland. As the 2014 season comes to a close, Montreal has fallen to 17,769 and 9th in the 19-team league and at just over 87% capacity. Still, it remains popular and is only expected to increase as the club makes strides to pull themselves out of last place in the Eastern Conference and into contention.
The club enjoys added support from two distinct supporter groups, one at the south end behind the goal in sections 131 and 132 (Ultras Montreal) and the other at the southeast corner at section 127 near the corner flag (127 Montreal). Ultras Montreal tends to a bit younger and little more on the wild side while 127 Montreal is fervent, but a bit more refined.
Before the game begins, the groups can be heard just after the public address announcer calls out the player uniform number and first name. The supporter groups lead the rest of the crowd in finishing out the announcement by calling out the player's last name. Once the game gets going, it is apparent the supporters have a hand in getting the rest of the crowd involved in the game.
One benefit of the aluminum stands is the sound the home fans make with foot stomping; a remarkable sound which really seems to have an impact on the atmosphere.
The only bothersome element was the lack of respect I witnessed during the national anthems. I still have trouble understanding why for just a few minutes; fans cannot stop what they are doing, stand at attention, face the flags and give the proper respect. It was disappointing to witness.
Access to Stade Saputo is a mixed bag. If you are driving, it is a hassle to get there and park. If you are taking the subway, as I did, it is a breeze until you get to Olympique Parc. Keep in mind, the venue is seven miles north, not right in the heart of downtown.
If you drive, you are likely to take Route 138 (also known as Rue Sherbrooke East) running north and south and on the west side of the stadium. There are no major highways or thoroughfares nearby so there are lots of stop and go traffic and lights along the way. Incidentally, traffic is a regular issue in Montreal.
If you are lucky enough, you might find parking on the street, but with rules and regulations requiring permit parking, this might be a problem. Be particularly careful if you drive and park in downtown.
At the stadium, there are six underground parking levels to support 4,000 cars. In addition to the challenges of driving to the game, you will pay about $20. There is a short walk, even if you do drive and park there. This is why I recommend the subway.
If you choose this mass transit option, you have a choice of two stations along the Green Line to Olympique Parc. PIE-IX is the southernmost of the two and while a longer walk to Stade Saputo, it allows you a nice pass through and around Olympique Stadium. VIAU station is the northernmost of the two and is a shorter walk. Your path to the pitch will not take you anywhere near Olympique Stadium, but does go right alongside Maurice Richard Arena. A round trip pass is $5.50, but an unlimited evening pass (from 6 PM to 5 AM) is $5. An all-day pass is $10.
The main ticket office is in the southwest corner of the stadium with an entrance adjacent leading to the merchandise building just inside and to the right underneath the south goal seating area.
Walking through the stadium is comfortable and there are plenty of acceptable restrooms.
Tickets for the 2014 season run from $25 to $90 and there are plenty in the lower range. Concession prices are mostly acceptable, but parking cost is high (again, take the subway). Merchandise pricing is fair for the most part and the overall experience cost is particularly high. The Impact put on a real good show at Stade Saputo. All in all, it's a good price for an evening of soccer entertainment.
One extra mark for the legacy of the 1976 Summer Games on full display in and around Olympique Parc. The subway system is magnificent and among the finest in the world. Also, where else can you travel within the continent and set foot into French culture which is as close to France as you can get without leaving English at home? The club offers simple, small-sized, pull-out programs which are just $1. A larger team program/magazine is just $5. Both are nice, inexpensive souvenirs to follow the teams on the field during the game.
Prior to attending the game, I had no real expectations of what the experience would be like at a Montreal Impact game. Having been to nearly every MLS venue, most are fantastic experiences and difficult to separate from one another in terms of enjoyment.
The experience at an Impact match is highly worthwhile, largely due to the intimate setting, the bilingual culture and an excellent venue with fantastic sight lines. You will enjoy all of them and in particular, a visit to a magnificent city with so much to offer.
While the stadium is similar in structure to Crew Stadium in Columbus, one of the least enjoyable MLS venues, Stade Saputo benefits from an energetic fan base which adds their own unique twist on the soccer experience and a club which applies clever approaches to comfort and fulfillment at the match. Stade Saputo remains one of my favorite places to witness an MLS match.
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.
5222 Rue Sherbrooke Est
Montreal, QC H1N 1A1
2045 Peel St
Montreal, QC H3A 1T6