Toronto FC fans reluctant to renew
Seeing red over ticket price increase
Toronto FC's elimination from the CONCACAF Champions League tournament on Tuesday and the club's dwindling MLS playoff hopes have made even diehard fans reluctant to continue their support.
An announced crowd of 10,581 showed up for TFC's 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake on Tuesday, the team's lowest attendance yet at BMO Field.
A losing record and a recently announced ticket price hike have TFC devotees questioning whether they'll renew their season-ticket subscriptions.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the team's owner, "should have built on the enthusiasm of the fans, but instead they hiked ticket prices," says Chris Rugel, who has been a season ticket holder since the club entered Major League Soccer in 2007.
"We were counting down the days for Toronto FC to start. We had a horrible first year, but we still celebrated on the streets," Rugel said of the team's record of six wins, 17 losses and seven draws in its inaugural season.
Despite his loyalty, he says it's likely he won't renew his subscription because he feels disenfranchised by the practices of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.
Toronto FC's season-ticket prices are among the most expensive in the league, topping out at $1,999 a package for the 2011 season.
The team's official website declares: "From all of us at Toronto FC — for the past three seasons, thank you.… We want to deliver multiple MLS Cups and CONCACAF Championships and give you the storied club you deserve."
Rugel doesn't buy that, and points to a discouraging ticket price increase in every year of the young club's existence. "Loyalty doesn't come in the form of expressions," he said. "It comes in the form of actions."
MLSE says fans look past the price hike and TFC has a wait list that numbers in the thousands.
The company sent fans an email Thursday, outlining what the price increase means for subscribers. Next season's package includes two extra MLS matches with the addition of two new teams to the league, as well as two Champions League games and tickets to this year's MLS Cup final at BMO field.
Fans kicking at price hike
Rugel says the additional games should mean a lower per-game price, but the package actually works out to a jump from $17.94 to $19.68 per contest. That's a 9.7 per cent increase for a team that has missed the playoffs every year since it entered the league.
Another season seat holder, Bruce Cane, has two more weeks to determine whether to renew and he's still undecided. He says a better onfield product would influence him to renew, rather than the club's so far empty promises of results.
Toronto FC, currently ranked ninth, has five games left to salvage a shot at the post-season, but Cane says it's unrealistic for the club to tell supporters it's still a possibility. "If they talk about a drive for the playoffs again, I'll just gag."
But some fans still come back every year.
"There's a strong sense in people to support the team no matter what," said Phil Tobin, vice-president of TFC's Red Patch Boys supporters club. Tobin says fans can identify with players from the same city, so it is a big help that someone like Toronto-born captain Dwayne De Rosario is with the team.
CBC Sports soccer analyst Jason de Vos says the team's identity is not strong enough and Toronto FC has to do a better job of developing a unique personality, on and off the pitch.
Along with poor results on the field, Toronto FC has gone through four coaches in four seasons. The most recent is Nick Dasovic, who took over after the firing of coach Preki and general manager Mo Johnston two weeks ago.
De Vos says resolving a lack of harmony between the ownership, management, staff and players could help move the club in a winning direction — and repay loyal Reds fans for their support.
"I'm in favour of hiring a coach with a philosophy for fans to get behind," said de Vos. "Toronto FC fans are phenomenal. Those fans deserve a champion."
- The original version of the article incorrectly stated that 2011 season ticket packages start at $1,999.Oct 17, 2013 1:55 AM ET