In the last 3 years, MLSE has spent quite the pretty penny on improving the BMO Field experience. Between the addition of a second tier to the east stand, the connecting of the east, west and south concourses, improving of the video board in the north and addition of a canopy with new lights on three sides, the BMO Field of today feels and looks a lot different than it did during the 2013 season.
But is our home perfect?
In a completely wishful list, free from the logistics and realities of the current tenancy or financial situation, here is how I think BMO Field could be made even better for the fan experience and in turn impact the team’s fortunes, both on and off the field.
1. Connect the dots
I’m a big fan of enclosed stadiums and while I understand that open designs are cheaper to build initially, it’s time for the south stand to be connected to the east and west. The gaps need to go.
It doesn’t have to be a complete set of rows from top to bottom, but it would be nice if some of those gaps were filled in to give a feeling of enclosure along the pitch. The goal is to generate energy and noise towards the field; the players feed off that and it should be a no brainer to increase the effect.
My suggestion would be to build rows midway around the south end, leaving some room for smaller banners and tifos the supporters groups can permanently place.
Right now, the Red Patch Boys are separated by a gap running through their south and east stand seats. Imagine how much louder (and fun) that little corner could be if their members weren't separated by a concrete chasm.
2. A second (or third) video screen
While the fans don’t need a second big screen like there is in the north end, having smaller screens in the south (maybe even tilted from the canopy?) would make it easier for those fans who don’t have a good vantage point of the north screen to catch replays and highlights.
Soccer isn’t a game that demands multiple replays or reviews, but it’s still nice to see a goal back when you're at the stadium and not afforded the luxuries of TV.
3. Improve the north end
When I first bought season tickets with my friend Paul, we were hoping to get into the south end and enjoy the best atmosphere in MLS only to find out that they were sold out. Our rep at MLSE got us tickets instead in section 133 of the north end, and we absolutely loved it! The atmosphere was great thanks to the Kings of the North and plenty of other vocal supporters, and on TV it looked like kind of a mini-Kop with its steep angle hanging right over the goal.
And then the Argos came.
I understand that getting the north end ‘back’ is going to be tough, but there needs to be a middle ground between what we have now and what we once had. Right now, it’s a soulless, empty vastness that is devoid of all energy and allows much of the noise to escape. The rows of VIP seating remain largely empty (even for the MLS Cup, there were entire rows of fans dressed as seats).
If the engineers could find a way to install more temporary seats that could be pushed in and out as needed and perhaps fill in the gaps a bit more, it would help make up for the VIP seats that are never going to be used.
The issue is that those VIP seats get sold (even if not used) and, at over $3,000 per, I don’t think they’re going anywhere anytime soon. The key is to provide enough seating in and around for real fans to compensate for that.
4. Make a Wall of Honour
Oh wow, OK! Good good!
5. Get fans in the seats
One of the great things about soccer is its status as a ‘working man’s (and women’s!) sport’. BMO and TFC need to work to not lose that.
The VIP boxes and seats are all necessary parts of sports business in this day and age, but they shouldn’t be the only focus. After all, it’s hard to cheer our Reds on when you’re having sushi and scotch in the Rogers Club while the game is going on.
Instead, focus on getting people of all walks of life into the stadium to enjoy the game and build a fan base for a lifetime. The sections at the very end or the top of most rows of the east stand are rarely full. Wouldn’t it be great if a few hundred of these seats were sold at an extreme discount to families? Let a parent bring their child to experience something that maybe only the more fortunate kids in class get to enjoy at Jays, Raptors and Leafs games. To that end, maybe have a section that is donated to Sick Kids or Big Brothers and Sisters clubs?
Whatever the strategy is, BMO Field patrons need to be as diverse as the makeup of this wonderful city, and we can’t lose that feeling at the home field of our blue-collar team.
6. Make BMO Field more accessible for the fans
Unfortunately this isn’t in the hands of MLSE entirely, but requires some work with the City of Toronto, Gov. of Ontario and Metro Toronto Police.
The stadium isn’t the best for public transport, as only the Lakeshore GO line comes in to the Exhibition stop and, for one reason or another, the TTC streetcar route seems to be suspended as often as it is operational. This needs to be fixed.
GO Transit had indicated they would be building a station at Liberty Village for the K-W Line, which would help those fans coming in from the west end of the city. Does anyone know what the timeline for this is?
If you’re driving in and parking at the stadium (which is easier for those with younger kids), the turns from Lakeshore to BMO’s parking lot are a mess - it’s a free-for-all with people turning in from the wrong lanes. Having an officer or two to monitor those turns and control traffic would really help in easing the needless congestion that currently exists.
7. A state-of-the-art heating system
TFC will hope to be playing in more MLS Cups over the next few years, so let’s work on ways to heat the freezing fans in all those cold December games coming our way.
Cold fusion? A nuclear reactor? The hot air generated by talking heads on Toronto sports radio who exhibit disdain for soccer and/or MLS? Surely a solution to this conundrum exists.
8. Amenities and concessions
If you go to a game and are of legal age, chances are you might enjoy an ice-cold adult beverage during the match, or a few prior. Chances also are you may need to make use of the facilities afterwards. Doing so shouldn't result in the punishment of 15-20 minutes of play being missed. Same with the lines at concession stands.
It would be fantastic if BMO Field had a few extra men's bathrooms and maybe a few concession stands opened to ease the burden. Both the north and south stands have room behind them; perhaps opening up the concourse spaces between gates and building a few extra spots of relief would be enough to keep the ordeal of going to the bathroom quick and painless when it comes to missing game action.
Visiting your favourite team’s home field is always a wonderful feeling and BMO Field, even at its worst, is a warm and fuzzy place for many of us and hard to criticize. But if we take an introspective look, I’m sure we all can come up with some ways to improve the stadium, our home away from home.
I am curious to hear your thoughts on this - please feel free to leave other suggestions below or to critique or comment on the ones I have already posted. Thank you.
Special thanks to Paul Dhotar, Kulbir Sidhu and Bobby Saini for sharing their BMO Field experiences and feedback.