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Disgruntled Toronto FC fans need to protest with more than words

Aug 8, 2013, 6:00 PM EDT

Kevin Payne AP

Before and after Toronto FC’s 4-1 loss to AS Roma on Wednesday, the Canadian club has been taking a lot of heat for its insistence on playing midseason friendlies despite vehement protests from its fan base.

General manager Kevin Payne’s message, delivered during an in-game interview on TSN, was that fans “should get used to it.” Toronto FC seems to be as staunch in its defense of the friendlies as its fans are in opposition.

While fans have been willing to sign online petitions and otherwise protest against the front office, but 18,274 fans still walked through the gate to see the Reds play Roma.

That’s marginally more than the 17,987 who saw Toronto beat the Columbus Crew, 2-1, on July 27 in the club’s last home game, and it certainly wasn’t a small enough number to discourage Payne from setting up future games, no matter the disdain.

In a poll on Toronto fan blog Waking the Red in late June, nearly as many people said before the game that they would attend as said they would not. Clearly, the club can still make money on these games.

Toronto’s opponent this weekend, Seattle Sounders FC, is on the opposite coast and in a different world when it comes to mid-season friendlies.

General manager Adrian Hanauer said last summer that the club would have to look closely at whether it would schedule more one-off games in the future. In 2013, it has not, and Seattle has played only competitive matches since preseason.

The fans spoke not only with their keyboards, but also with their wallets.

CenturyLink Field’s capacity is capped at less-than-full for the majority of Sounders matches, but management picks a handful of games every year for which it opens the entire cavernous stadium. Of the four games selected, the July 18 friendly against Chelsea FC was the least attended.

A total of 53,309 people watched that game, but 55,718 went to the Cascadia Cup game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, and 60,908 bought tickets to see David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy on Aug. 5.

The highest-attended game was against the Portland Timbers, Seattle’s biggest rival, on Oct. 7, when 66,452 people walked through the turnstiles. The message was clear: fans would rather see meaningful, competitive games than friendlies against big-name squads.

In Toronto, the fan base has not sent that message. Until it does, expect to continue seeing foreign clubs at BMO Field.

  1. slclions - Aug 8, 2013 at 6:41 PM

    Normally the articles on here are very well written. But this article is pure crap. Is not TFC fans going to these friendlies. Yesterday was mostly people that cant stand the MLS and TFC. They always say it’s not real soccer. But as soon as a team from their grandparents homeland comes to town, they dust off their Italy jerseys and head downnto BMO. MLSE is not stupid. They know they can sell a lot of these games. it’s clear after all these years that MLSE does not care about TFC fans

  2. talgrath - Aug 8, 2013 at 7:18 PM

    Ultimately, some MLS teams are still struggling to pay the bills. More games, even if they are friendlies against foreign competition, means more money. The Sounders, clearly given their recent big spending, have the cash to spare and don’t need to play friendlies to make money; Toronto FC sounds to be in a much different place. The capacity of BMO field for a soccer game is roughly 22,500 seats, selling all but about 4,000 of those seats for a friendly that you likely charge more for than a competitive match (AS Roma has a certain financial requirement, after all) you’re going to do it to help pay those bills.

  3. jbart65 - Aug 8, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    These games are good, in my view. Toronto played mostly younger players and they got a good look at some of the best football players in the world. The vets are rested for upcoming MLS action.

    What’s more, a chance to show off Toronto to potential DP over European signings in the the future.

    Plus it makes money for TFC so they can buy or pay for better players in the future.

    And it attracts more nontypical fans. Who knows, they might come back.

    It would be one thing if Toronto was wearing out starters needed for a playoff run. But they aren’t, so chill.

  4. charliej11 - Aug 9, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    Two different views on the same situation is not uncommon, even in Seattle, on these friendlies. I was in siclions camp and opted out of the friendlies, or sold my tickets when they were not an arm and a leg price.

    I will say, everyone can agree it is a different crowd, and that more casuals fans show up for these. I tend to agree with siclions in that this shows disrespect for tne real fans, who are rooting for games that actually matter rather than for a weird foreign team hero worship.

  5. wesbadia - Aug 9, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    @Liviu Bird

    Your conclusion was already reached a couple years ago when the originally-raucous and die-hard BMO crowds started dwindling down to almost nothing but STH’s. What was once an attendance darling of MLS circa 2007 thru 2009 suddenly became on par with an FC Dallas or Columbus Crew.

    You ask for people to start voting with their dollars, but they already have been. I hypothesize that the real reason the friendlies are happening in the first place (and why even more will be happening in the future) is because Payne realizes too few real supporters of TFC are coming out for regular season games and thus he reasons that more friendlies drawing higher crowds and more revenues than the MLS games are needed to balance things out.

    No matter what your take on the friendlies (I’m personally in the same boat as charliej11 and slclions), you can’t deny the power of an MLS club hosting one of the giants of Europa. The place MLS is at right now still facilitates and even necessitates European friendlies to fill voids in both the schedule and the pocketbooks. I look forward to the day that this isn’t the case, but it’s part of reality today.

  6. inhokewetrust - Aug 9, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    I’m curious….the coach of TFC was unable to coach vs Roma because he was out wooing TALENT…now that transfer window is over who did TFC get???

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