To the casual support of Toronto FC, a $100 million player investment should only end in one thing: a championship. This is in part because these numbers are not only difficult to quantify in general, they are also inflated compared to already expensive Toronto sports rosters. The $100 million reportedly invested in Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley is a significantly more than the other titans of the city's sports scene: Phil Kessel makes $64 million over 8 years, Kyle Lowry makes $48 million over 4 years and Bautista makes $64 million over 5 years.
It wasn't just the supporters who were surprised at the amount of money the team was dishing out for players. Richard Peddie, former President and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, said in a recent interview that he was surprised how much Tim Leiweke, the man currently occupying his job, was spending on soccer, and that in his days they never would have considered spending that much. A part of this was because the numbers were somewhat misreported: salary and transfer fees stuck together. Toronto FC had a part to play in this, however, they were very public about how much of a monetary commitment they had made for the team.
In truth, the investment in the current regime is more than just the $100 million figure that keeps being thrown out. An additional $120 million can be added to the tab, courtesy of BMO Field stadium renovations that will be taking place over the next couple of years. That renovation was supposed to be constructed around a solid team who had the stands overflowing each and every match. Instead, as always, it will have to be built on promise for the future.
So why did MLSE commit all this money to soccer when just a couple of years ago, as Peddie mentioned, it was far lower on their priority list? For one, it does give an already successful off-field product legs to grow even further, and even more profitable in the future. More importantly, however, Toronto FC seemed to be MLSE's show room. They were what seemed like a simple project designed to demonstrate what the company was capable of constructing.
With the Raptors already heading in the right direction, they identified Toronto FC as a team where they could write a cheque and instantly receive, at the very least, a playoff berth. Optically, if they could do it with the soccer team, they could do it for basketball and perhaps more importantly hockey. It would buy patience, and it would also buy confidence from a deprived Toronto sports fanbase.
The rumours are indeed true, you can buy an MLS contender in one year. One only has to drive 8 hours to the south to see the myth for real, as DC United battle the New York Red Bulls in an MLS Playoff battle that nobody expected them to reach. But they didn't build it with money, they built it with something far more valuable in this league: experience.
With this in mind, will that sort of money ever become available to Toronto FC management again, or at least in the near future? The colossal investment MLSE made in their soccer team turned out to backfire in a huge way, and that might just throw caution into the wind. Just a quick glance back at the club's Designated Player record ought to do that nicely: the next one to live up to expectations will also be the first.
There is also the small fact that the club's biggest DP investment, Defoe, took it upon himself to drag the club's name through the mud whenever he got a chance. Leiweke was very vocal about his displeasure with this, but could hardly stop the bleeding. After being so careful to set up the spotlight so it has enough room for Defoe and the club, they watched as he shifted it directly onto himself.
Will this hurt the team when it comes to approving DPs in the future? Apparently, there is a long list of impressive players that Toronto FC believe to be realistic targets to fill their needs. Leiweke has also said that if Defoe doesn't return, you can bet your bottom dollar he won't, they already have someone else in mind. The consensus, at least based on roster needs, is that this will be the number 10 that the team glaringly lacked throughout the season.
When the time comes though, how much will MLSE be willing to open up its pocket books for Tim Bezbatchenko and his staff? How large does Toronto FC loom on their priority list, and how much of this was just down to Toronto FC being their symbol for what is ahead? Now that the showroom has collapsed in on itself, is it worth spending the money all over again to prop it up?
One had better hope Leiweke can get something done before he rides off into the sunset, because he truly seems like one of the few who genuinely cares whether or not this team is successful. The new boss, when he is hired, will probably see the club lower on his priority list, as was the case with those in the past.
It might not be such a bad thing either. Instead of trying to make the showroom look all kinds of lavish, why not make it serviceable and sustainable. Not bringing in the next Beckham, but instead bringing in more players like Donovan or Gonzalez, who know the league and are proven commodities but have less pomp and circumstance to their names.
What MLSE invests next will be telling of their intentions going forward. Obviously they want to fill the seats at their brand new stadium, but other lucrative purposes for this stadium have already been proposed. It may have been more about reconstructing their asset than giving TFC a better home field. To what degree do they consider Toronto FC to be a high priority soccer club, and to what degree do they consider it to be a PR tool?