Photos by Robbie Raskin, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Lamport Stadium 1151 King St W Toronto, ON M6K 1E9
Year Opened: 1975 Capacity: 9,600
Canada's Squad in North America's Rugby Capital
Since the Toronto Wolfpack brought the English rugby system to Canada in 2017, becoming the first Transatlantic professional team, spectators wholeheartedly embraced the sport. Now building on that success, a second rugby club joined a professional league, this time in the rugby union code. Rugby, while new as a spectator sport, is hardly new to Toronto. Indeed, rugby union is a major participation sport amongst youth all across Canada.
While Canada does have a premier-level domestic league (in British Columbia – perhaps the most important hotbed of rugby in North America), promising Canadian rugby players had been forced to play overseas or switch codes to Canadian football. Now, however, top tier clubs in both rugby league and ruby union mean the game is played at the highest level in Canada’s biggest city.
With the addition of the Arrows, Toronto now has a team in the US-based MLR (Major League Rugby). The current team can trace its origins to the interprovincial Ontario Blues squad, who compete on a domestic regional level. With the aim of creating a professional team, the provincial rugby body acquired the rights to participate in MLR, and this represents a huge step for the league, looking to avoid a repeat of the last unsuccessful attempt to establish a rugby competition in the United States. By expanding to Canada, the league has moved to a place with an ingrained culture of rugby, not unlike the transformative decision of Major League Soccer to expand to Toronto a decade ago. Among the corporate partners who own the club, former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke is a minority owner.
The Arrows began their inaugural season at suburban York University but promptly switched to the larger Lamport Stadium, also home to the Wolfpack. They have had quickly-rising attendance numbers and achieved success on the field, having just qualified at the time of writing for a playoff spot after a 7-0 finish to their season. Featuring an almost-entirely Canadian roster, the Arrows now represent the pinnacle of rugby union for the tens of thousands of players across Canada, and an exciting new sporting environment for springtime in Toronto.
Food & Beverage 4
Like other aspects of Lamport Stadium, the food offerings are fairly simplistic and straightforward, but there are good options and terrific beer choices. For food, there is a concession window under the eastern grandstand serving various options from $7 and up. Some choices include sausages, burgers, and handheld meat pies and Jamaican patties. This menu is repeated at another outdoor grill in the north end, next to the real standout of offerings here; the beer garden.
Like in the Wolfpack setup, the north end of the stadium features a beer garden behind the end zone, which is the most popular place to enjoy the game. Open to all fans and operating on a token system, a variety of craft brewers sell beer, cider, and spirits from tents. Roaming vendors also sell these craft drinks for $9 per tall can. Some of the options on offer at the reviewed match included Big Rock brewery, Saulter Street brewery, and Lost Craft brewery.
Lamport Stadium is, for now, what it is; a 1970’s-era community venue that has hosted fairly small-scale events throughout its history. That all changed with the Wolfpack, who vaulted the ground into Toronto’s sporting scene, and began a regime of renovations after the 2018 season. Those renovations are expected to resume after this summer’s rugby finishes. In the meantime, the stadium consists of two grandstands set in a leafy neighbourhood park, with the beer garden at the north end and a VIP tented section of bars and a buffet are at the south end. The stadium is located along bustling King Street West with a small car park at the south end.
The seats are concrete benches, the scoreboard is simple, and washrooms are mostly in the form of outhouses. However, the atmosphere is created by the boisterous fans, sunny weather, and the enjoyable beer garden areas. Additionally, historic and modern architecture surrounding the tight confines of the stadium create the feel of integration with the surrounding city.
Approaching the ground through the park, tents indicate the will call and entrance. A quick pass through the concourse puts fans into the eastern grandstand. Early on, only this grandstand was open to the public, but as attendances continue to increase, it is likely the west grandstand will also open up. The beer garden is accessible to all fans, while the south VIP area is wristband-controlled. This area is akin to suites in a more permanent stadium, and individual tents are rented by corporate groups and some local rugby clubs. A surprisingly well-stocked team store is in the beer garden area, and is very popular.
The presentation is straightforward, with music and announcements, but no gimmicks. A halftime game was played by the junior girls of the Toronto Reds side.
Lamport Stadium is located in the buzzy central Liberty Village neighbourhood, along lively King Street West. This is not far from any downtown attractions and on a nice day, can make a pleasant walk from downtown. Immediately surrounding the stadium are trendy shops and a host of bars. The neighbourhood has long been a hotbed of support for Toronto FC, who play just south at BMO Field. That stadium is also home to the Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Next door is the Coca-Cola Coliseum, home to hockey’s Toronto Marlies.
There is a strong neighbourhood feel here, driven by support of the local teams in various sports, primarily TFC and the Wolfpack. Some of the best pubs around include the Brazen Head and Toronto’s reputed oldest bar The Wheat Sheaf. There are plenty of transport links, and all the diversions of Toronto are a quick hop away.
When MLR expanded to Toronto, they quickly opened up to legions of fans who know and play the game of rugby. That has proven true, as dozens of local rugby clubs are represented on the shirts, scarves, and hats of fans. In the first season, attendance has reached new heights with each game, and it seems inevitable the stadium will be nearly sold-out within a season or two. So far, the American-based MLR does not have the local prestige of the English rugby league system, home to the Wolfpack, but the union code is the popular participation sport here, so it seems likely that difference will be erased in time.
At the game reviewed for Stadium Journey, announced attendance was 3 200, about 1000 more than the league average. Those fans in attendance were very loud, with constant chants and noise, as well as knowledgeable of the intricacies of the game.
It could not be easier to get to Lamport Stadium by public transportation, by bike, or on foot. Coming from the central area, the King Streetcar passes by every couple minutes, with the Jefferson Avenue stop right out front. A block to the south is Exhibition Station, which is served by frequent suburban trains. The central Union Station is just one stop east along the Lakeshore West line, with trains up to every fifteen minutes.
Driving is less easy, as is the case throughout Toronto. Parking is very limited and driving can be an enormous hassle. King Street, to the east of the stadium, is also virtually car-free and cannot be used as a thoroughfare unless you’re riding the streetcar. It’s best to use the easy transport links locally or with suburban GO train services.
Return on Investment 4
For a sporting event in downtown Toronto, or just any activity on a nice day, Arrows tickets are reasonably priced. Advanced tickets go for $29 ($19 for youth) and walk-up for $35. All tickets are general admission.
Season memberships are where the real deals are found; $200 is the price for a season of tickets, and that drops to $160/season if you purchase a three-year plan. Food averaging $7-$11 and craft beer for $9 are reasonable, if not incredible prices. In all, $50 will buy a great afternoon, which is quite decent for the area.
Fans here have unprecedented access to the squad, sharing drinks and congratulations after each match. Players linger after the final whistle to converse with fans on the field itself. Following the game reviewed, in which the Arrows clinched a playoff berth, thousands of fans stormed the field, drinks in hand, and mobbed their beloved Arrows players. The scene culminated with both players and fans singing on the field and an impromptu game of touch rugby breaking out amongst younger fans.
An extra point for the role the Arrows play as the pinnacle of achievement for Canadian rugby union players. While a couple other clubs in MLR feature Canadian captains, coaches, and star players, the chance to represent Toronto is massive.
An extra point for the immediate success enjoyed by the Arrows in their first season. They will surely be a threat to win the championship this year, and continually successful based on the strength of local talent to draw from.
A final extra point for the renovations and certain future upgrades to Lamport Stadium, which is transitioning quickly from neighbourhood venue to nationally-important home of rugby. It won’t be long before the stadium morphs into a newer and larger version of itself, but the park-like setting gives it character.
Toronto is certainly the spectator capital of rugby in North America now, and between the Wolfpack and the Arrows, there are two fantastic experiences to be had. The Arrows are a very quickly growing force on and off the field, and should achieve immediate and lasting success in both regards. For sporting fans in town during spring and early summer, a trip to the Arrows is sure to be worthwhile, and like the common cheer heard at Lamport Stadium, its ‘Arrows Up’ from here into the future.