Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14
BMO Field @ Exhibition Place
170 Princes’ Blvd.
Toronto, ON M6K 3C3
Year Opened: 2007
Rebuilding the Reds
In 2007, BMO Field opened as the National Soccer Stadium on the grounds of Exhibition Place in Toronto. The site was the home of the former Exhibition Stadium, home of the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Argonauts of the seventies and eighties. The modest soccer-specific stadium opened to coincide with the arrival of Toronto’s entry into Major League Soccer, the Toronto Football Club. Toronto FC, or the Reds as they are commonly referred, took MLS and owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment by storm. More accurately, the fans of TFC took the league by storm as the majority of the first decade for the Reds was pretty hideous on the pitch. The strong support by the fans led to a significant investment in BMO Field with renovations including an expansion of the capacity to 30,000, increasing it by around ⅓, and canopies over the stands to protect fans from the elements.
MLSE began to invest in the team with the arrival of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco. The trio, among others, would lead TFC out of the basement and to three MLS Cup appearances. In 2017, TFC would be the first MLS team to earn the triple crown of National Championship (the Voyageurs Cup), Supporters Shield and MLS Cup. In 2022 only Michael Bradley remains from the core championship group, but MLSE is attempting to bring TFC back to prominence with the signing of a few Italian internationals with hopes of Rebuilding the Reds.
Food & Beverage 5
The food selection at BMO Field is as good as anywhere. All of the expected items can be found in various concession stands around the stadium. Popcorn, hot dogs, burgers and Pizza are all readily available. Coca-cola is the soft drink provider and there are plenty of alcoholic beverage options. Some beer selections include Mill Street Organic Lager and Hazy IPA, Corona, Budweiser, and Stella Artois. Brickworks Cider and Smirnoff Ice are also available.
Some fancier concession items fans should consider include the Banquet Burger with fries, empanadas, fried chicken sandwich, bodega sandwich, grilled vegetable muffuletta, braised beef grilled cheese or the porchetta sandwich. High quality is to be expected, but that, of course, comes at a cost.
BMO Field led the charge for soccer specific stadiums in North America. Originally built as the home of Canada’s national soccer teams, BMO has undergone a number of renovations to expand it as well as make it hospitable for the Toronto Argonauts. The
stadium is built on the spot of Exhibition Stadium, former home of the Argos and Toronto Blue Jays. Markings for home plate and the bases can be found south of the stadium in the parking lot. Although not overly spectacular on the outside, the north end of the exterior should be a spot for fans to stop before entering the gates. On the northeast corner of BMO Field, fans will find Toronto FC’s Wall of Honour. Here, fans can find badges for various accomplishments Toronto FC have earned including the 2017 Supporters Shield and MLS Cup. Also, individual achievements are memorialized including Danny Dichio’s first Toronto FC goal, MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco, Coach of the Year Greg Vanney and MLS Cup MVP Jozy Altidore. Behind the stands on the south side of the stadium fly flags for Toronto FC’s team achievements including the 2017 MLS Cup, Supporters Shield and numerous Voyageurs Cups.
BMO Field is not built like the newest soccer stadiums which are much more enclosed. However, BMO Field essentially is a north-south oriented pitch with two-tier grandstands on the east and west with smaller seating options in the north and south. The open ends and proximity to Lake Ontario means the wind can whip right through the stadium, even on a sunny day. The videoboard can be found at the north end of the stadium and is visible to most fans.
Toronto FC’s gameday presentation is not terribly different from other squads. The “For The Boys” song and video play before the team enters the pitch, improving the excitement for the match from previous years. The introductions of the starting lineup has the PA announcer saying the player’s first name and the crowd belting out the last name. The supporters sections offer entertainment in and of themselves with songs, chants, flags and smoke.
The best spot to get some pre and post game food and drink by foot is to head north of the Exhibition, under the Gardiner Expressway and Go Train and head to the Liberty Village neighbourhood of Toronto. There, fans will find a number of options – these would include Williams Landing, The Craft Brasserie & Grill, Magic Oven and Brazen Head Irish Pub. Of course if fans head east towards downtown, they will find a whole host of other options near the Rogers Centre and Scotiabank Arena, but those will probably require a vehicle of sorts to get there.
Toronto remains a top notch location for a vacation. The number of other entertainment attractions in Toronto may be too numerous to name off. A highlight on the Exhibition grounds is the annual Canadian National Exhibition. The annual fair is how thousands of Canadians ring out the summer with the annual Labour Day weekend event. Mid July brings the Honda Indy Toronto to the Exhibition and the street course runs through the Exhibition at breakneck speeds. The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and Medieval Times also happen on the Exhibition Grounds.
There are a ton of other sporting options in Toronto and fans may have the opportunity to put together a doubleheader in the city. BMO Field is shared with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Also at Exhibition Place is the Coca-Cola Coliseum, home of the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. East of Exhibition Place is Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays of MLB. Further east along the Lakeshore is Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL and Toronto Raptors of the NBA. The University of Toronto fields a full complement of varsity teams including football at Varsity Stadium, hockey at Varsity Arena and basketball at the Goldring Centre. A true gem is Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) hockey and basketball, both of whom play in the renovated former Maple Leaf Gardens.
Most of the major hotels are found closer to downtown proper however, the Gladstone Hotel and the Drake Hotel are both close by but very luxurious and pricey. A new hotel on the Exhibition grounds, Hotel X Toronto, is also among the luxurious hotels in the city.
In the post-pandemic era, when Toronto FC needed to be rebuilt, the crowds at BMO Field have returned. Before the pandemic, Toronto FC was consistently in the top 5 in average attendance in MLS. Normally, Toronto FC would only trail clubs that played in much larger facilities that are shared with an NFL team. In 2022, Toronto FC is averaging over 22,000 fans per match and rank 6th in MLS. A Toronto FC match is an experience and the south end is where the supporter groups can be found, singing and dancing and chanting throughout. Toronto pioneered supporter groups in MLS and they are as strong as ever.
BMO Field is located on the grounds of Exhibition Place. Getting to Exhibition Place can be a challenge, as anything in Toronto can be. The Ex is immediately south of the Gardiner Expressway. Although fans may think this is the quickest way to drive to the Ex, often a longer route on Lakeshore Blvd is the way to go, especially for those coming from the west.
There are a number of parking spots available for fans at Exhibition Place. It is important for fans to do some research before heading out to see the Reds. At times there are other events taking place at the Ex and parking is a real challenge. Even at the best of times, parking is not cheap and other options may be the best plan.
For fans who prefer the public transit route, Exhibition Place has some decent public transit options. There is a Go Transit station right by the Ex and this is probably the easiest form of public transit. A walk north of the Ex will bring fans through Liberty Village and eventually to some TTC options. Check out the Go Transit and TTC websites for fares, maps and schedules.
The ticketing window is at gate 1, at the north end of BMO Field. Lineups are not usually an issue. Security is what you would expect now in this day and age of sports security, including walk through metal detectors.
Getting around BMO Field is not too difficult and concourses are fairly spacious. Washroom facilities are also adequate for this venue.
Return on Investment 3
Being one of the best supported squads in MLS, Toronto FC tickets are more difficult to come by and come at a price. Tickets in the upper deck can go for more than $100 and some of the cheaper tickets are in the $75 range. It is difficult to say, but these prices probably find themselves at, or near the top of the MLS price range. Concession prices are also on the expensive side and parking is often over $20. The experience is excellent, even if the team is not in playoff contention, but fans will definitely have to pay for it.
An extra mark for the improvements and investment made in BMO Field.
An extra mark for the Danny Dichio song. Every match at the 23:14 mark, the supporters belt out the Danny Dichio song, in honor of Toronto FC’s first ever goal scored by Danny Dichio.
An extra mark for the investments made by MLSE to field the best possible team in Toronto. A reward to the fans, who greatly suffered in the early years of TFC.
Toronto FC is one of the top experiences in Major League Soccer. They are consistently among the best supported squads and MLSE is continuing to make improvements on the pitch. Getting out to see a TFC game is a great way to enjoy summer in one of the best tourist cities in North America.