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Just call us "The Toronto Soccer Leafs" and have done with it.

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With many thanks to the fine folks over at PensionPlanPuppets, it seems like there's a few curious Leafs fans checking out the new blog.  Welcome to you all, I won't really be writing much about hockey, but one thing we can all share is disdain and weariness at our magnificent shared overlords, so if you like a good MLSE rant every now and then, well you'll find some here.  I'll be importing some other old posts soon, but in the mean time I figured i'd just copy and paste this one, originally posted on February 22nd.  Enjoy.

The main bit of news over the last week or so while the club was in Toronto was the official unveiling of the new 2011 home jersey, videos can be found on Torontofc.ca, with De Ro once again showing mid-season media form, staying on message and throwing up some half convincing platitudes about the new jersey and the pride it inspires and all that.

I already hate the fact that it has a sponsor, and have previously expressed disappointment about the embossed maple leaf on the front, and seeing those videos confirmed that it once again had "all for one" on the back, which I also don't like, but it just left me too resigned and dispirited to bother complaining here, but it was seeing the jersey in person this weekend that sent me over the edge into full on "angry and confused old man shaking his fist at a world that's left him behind" mode, so after the jump, here I go.

What you don't see in the videos and what's hidden between all the crossed arms in these photos is that within the big maple leaf on the chest is another smaller maple leaf, a minor detail you might think, but for me it's just another step further down the slippery slope of TFC's full on MLSE-ification. 

 Two maple leaves?  Why?  Yes we're Canadian but we already know that, in case we forget there's the flag on the arm and the maple leaf at the top of the crest to remind us.  It's not like we're the only Canadian MLS team any more, Vancouver doesn't have to splash maple leaves all over their jersey why do we?  Is this some kind of attempt to brand us as 'Canada's team', make Canadians think it would somehow be unpatriotic to support Vancouver or Montreal or some other local team instead of TFC?

Of course it's not about Canada really, as they're not maple leaves, they're Maple Leafs.  God knows MLSE have tried to leverage that whole Maple Leaf brand into selling pretty much anything they can think of, why not try and use it to try and get people to follow the Leafs brand over to their soccer team.  "Look! They've got a Leaf on their chest as well, I've got to support them now".

With no recent success to speak of, the hockey team have been relying on hokey emotional manipulation and faux-patriotic blackmail for a while now, "the passion that unites us all" (don't you dare leave, we're all in this together, you have to stay) "spirit is everything" (don't you dare give up, spirit is the most important thing, it's certainly not winning).  They've really taken it up a notch though with the whole idea of "Leaf Nation". The famous quote from Samuel Johnson is that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and if we go along with concept of "Leaf Nation" then that's exactly what's going on with MLSE right now, they're basically saying "To be a Leafs fan is to be part of something special, you could no more leave it than you could stop being a Canadian, you're not a traitor are you? Here, listen to the national anthem! And look at the flags".

When TFC started up, it seemed different to the Leafs and Raptors, more genuine, not as manufactured and controlled, and, in the best sense of the word, amateur. The commercials were fun , the tickets were cheap, management seemed genuinely interested in working with supporters, and letting them create an organic, authentic experience. There was no goal music, streamers were tolerated if not exactly encouraged, hell they even stood by and watched the pitch invasion at the end of 2007. 

Sure there were plenty of ads everywhere at BMO Field, and bad half time entertainment, and expensive food and drink and merchandise, and that "all for one" slogan was around then as well, if not quite as in your face as it is now. But all that is to be expected really, and didn't really get in the way of supporters being able to experience the game their way, how they wanted to, without being told when to clap or how to feel, there was a genuine, amateur enthusiasm around the club, and supporters enjoyed that, happily helping to create the buzz and feeling that can't be manufactured.  It was all so different from the regular North American sporting experience as exemplified by a Toronto Maple Leafs game where everything about the atmosphere is so closely controlled, with music or promotions taking up every second the puck isn't in play

It seemed as if TFC had just flown under the radar and been able to do it's own thing, as if once the team and stadium had been secured, they'd all been left alone to play with their new toy, while the big boys got on with making money from the Leafs.  Now it seems like the marketing geniuses behind the Leafs noticed the genuine excitement, passion and loyalty generated by TFC, precisely because they were more hands off and let it be a very supporter driven thing, and said "step aside small timers, we'll show you how to properly exploit that sort of feeling".  Thus prices were raised and raised and the 2009 home jersey came out with a big Maple Leaf on the front and "all for one" on the back. 

Not even the Leafs have had the temerity to make their players and supporters wear their marketing slogan on the actual jersey, but there it was.  "All for One" (isn't it heartwarming, everyone, players, management, and especially you supporters, all pulling in the same direction, for the same common goal, don't you dare give up on us, we're all in this together, just don't think too hard what that one common goal is, and keep paying for your ever increasing season tickets). 

It could certainly be argued that it was all very successful, TFC was voted brand of the year in 2009 after all, and I'm sure there was still plenty of profit rolling in.  Even in 2010 when, after yet another failed season, season ticket prices were raised, Tom Anselmi was initially confident enough to defend the increase as merely a result of supply and demand, as if with all his MLSE experience he knew supporters would complain but keep on paying, or be easily replaced with new people desperate to emigrate to the newest province in Leaf Nation. 

But of course it wasn't that simple and we had to go through the townhall apology process, and they backed off a bit, for now, with the price increases.  Unfortunately it seems as if, in the face of the indifference and or hostility they saw and heard from supporters, they've reacted in the only way they know how and ramped up the emotional manipulation side of things, initially with that whole "supporter's kit" design competition (please, please, please don't call it that once it's actually in use), and now with the new jersey, this time with added Maple Leaf. 

For me, an emotional investment is probably the most important part of supporting a club, I'd much rather watch TFC or my local team back in England, Darlington, than the latest must-see Champions league game, because those are teams I actually care about.  But those emotional ties should be organic and genuine, whether it's something passed down from generation to generation like with the Leafs, or being involved in a supporter's group or for many other reasons that would vary from person to person, but they shouldn't be coming from management in any shape or form. 

It's the marketing campaigns and thinly disguised guilt trips forced onto fans from above that turned me from a straightforwardly enthusiastic Leafs fan to a conflicted "self-hating Leafs fan".  Sure I want the team to win, but I can't help but roll my eyes and make sarcastic comments at the slogans and videos that are put out there, and the portion of the fans that unthinkingly lap them up, and it annoys me that as a Leafs fan I'm lumped in with all of that.  I really don't want to feel that way about TFC as well, but they just keep pushing further and further in that direction, and that second bloody Maple Leaf is just the latest step. 

I'm a Toronto sports fan and all the teams I care about are run by the same company, and I hate the way they work.  FML(SE)