What better way to start your afternoon before your team's home opener than watching the president of the team strut around on stage telling you why the upcoming renovations (because they are coming, trust us) are both necessary and a good thing.
It was an interesting gathering, with a large group of us eventually ushered into the theatre for the presentation - but first there were free drink tickets to redeem, we're easier to convince if we're drunk? Of course the only drinks available were Bud or Bud Light; woe be to the person that asked for something else (which I of course did and subsequently got the poor accommodating bartender in trouble) - we must not defy the sponsors! Sorry, I digress...
For anyone that attended the public meeting with members of Toronto City Council on March 5 this was a very similar presentation with a notable exception - it was a focussed sales pitch at the SSH. TL got up in his TFC warm-up jacket (he's just a soccer fan everyone) and told us all about how we deserve a better stadium, how this is going to better the TFC fan experience and that he loves our sport and the league - just wants to help make everything better.
The financials: This reno is instead of a proposed $30 million bandaid solution (with the costs to be jointly shared by the city and MLSE) that would take care of issues with the concrete and the concourse due to water and ice damage. Instead they're proposing the $120 million reno (with $30 mil from all three levels of gov't) that will expand the stadium to accommodate up to 30,000 soccer fans, 25,000 CFL fans and 40,000 in special seating for things like the NHL Winter Classic, the Pan-Am games and to be part of a bid for the 2026 World Cup. The $10 million that they're requesting from the city will be paid back with interest over the next 20 years. As for the provincial and federal portions - well the payback (if any) part was a bit vague.
Much has been made in other media outlets about comments that Leiweke made regarding current Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's voting decisions and mentions of gravy trains and using public funds for the proposed renovations. Watching TL throw the offhand comments through part of his talk, it's still hard to say whether he was just reading his audience well or if he was trying to throw shade at the mayor. Regardless of intent, it was the least important part of the talk - because council will vote for these renovations and the other levels of gov't will likely follow. No, whether or not TL doesn't like the mayor has little to do with what will actually happen to our home away from home.
Here are the salient points for those of you that have been playing along at home:
- There will be no logos on the field itself for CFL games; they will be restricted to the end zones.
- The end zones (and ONLY the end zones), will be turf and will be covered by the retractable seats at the north and south ends during soccer games.
- They will never schedule a soccer game after a CFL game - ie, no 'Friday Night Lights' for the Argos.
- Hybrid grass is coming - whether it's GrassMaster or a different brand, it is coming.
- The design/renovation team has been given a strict mandate that the changes to BMO must enhance the soccer experience.
- The roof is not coming until the 2016 season (May 1 to be precise) - all of the other renovations have to take place before they perch the roof over the stands.
- Part of the reason for the delay is that no construction can take place during the 2015 Pan-Am games.
- Expansion to the field itself will happen between September of this year and May of next year.
- For the 2015 and 2016 seasons TFC will play NO home games until May. None.
Some of that list we were already aware of; but some (mostly the timing and lack of early season home games) was new information. The thought of close to two months of away games doesn't exactly fill you with glee does it? This is a tough league away from a team's home stadium and starting two seasons at a disadvantage? Fun. Now presumably the league will do all they can to ease the pain of this restriction; perhaps early bye weeks and so forth. But regardless of what is done it will put TFC - as it would any team - up against it to start the next two seasons.
The dates for our fancy (unattached) roof was also good to know for future wardrobe choices. No roof (such as it is) until May of 2016 - don't put away your monsoon gear just yet! Or ever actually as this roof is not going to be filled in at the back or the corners. So unless the rain is falling straight and the wind never blows - expect little to change except maybe less sunburn.
Question period brought a number of familiar points to the table but the ones that stood out the most had to do with the pitch (lines!), the colours and the pricing.
A number of people talked about the difficulty in hosting both an MLS and CFL team in the same stadium; one of our fellow footy bloggers that is also a CFL fan was very (and remains) sceptical about sharing our stadium with the Argos - although not just due to the wear and tear but because of the Argos long history of stadium issues. Fun!
When asked very pointedly about seeing lines on the pitch and this vaunted 'line removal technology' that they keep mentioning both TL and Bob Hunter were quick to throw around the usual suspects of EPL grounds that share with rugby or that hosted NFL teams and were able to turn the pitch around. And of course they mention the Houston Dynamo or the LA Galaxy in almost every convo (they have seen those fields, right?) - however when pressed they could not say 100% that we won't see lines, even with the water soluble line paint and the vacuuming and steam cleaning (BMO Field, now sponsored by Bissel!) to remove said lines - although they feel very confident that it will work...sigh.
Safe standing and the colours in our stadium were mentioned as well. TL assured the assembled SSH that BMO would remain a TFC stadium first and that we will not notice the Argos (in terms of colours or signs etc) on game days and that TFC's colours are NOT changing. Said that they're considering safe standing as an option and that they listen to the fans input. Aside: an example of this is the now SG controlled use of smoke during the games. Super fun.
The last thing to touch on is the cost to us the fans for all of this. Leiweke has made much of how MLSE is investing in our club, how they owe it to the fans to give us the club (and stadium) we deserve and so forth. The recent roster improvements (Bradley, Cesar, Defoe) and the upcoming renovations are the proof that things are different now. In fact they're so different that once the team starts to perform better - ie winning and making the playoffs - well TL feels pretty confident in asking we the fans 'for a raise'. This is what he calls raising ticket prices - if the team succeeds, up go the renewal rates. What he didn't say is if they were going to refrain from the rapid price increases of the past or if (as was asked) SSH that are in sections where extra seating is being added (East stand especially) will see this occur regardless.
This is all just big game of wait and see until council approves the plans and the money is secured across all fronts to the first shovel in the ground in September. But don't kid yourselves; this is happening - and we'll start feeling the effects by next spring.