TFC wants your money

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

TORONTO -- Admitting you're wrong is the first step. Fixing the problem is a whole other animal.

Toronto FC's open letter apology this week to their fan-base for falling short of their goals and for "not listening better" was seemingly an appropriate gesture by a club who has found itself in over its head on far too many levels.

Make no mistake; the lumps the team has taken will be beneficial long-term. Management will learn from its mistakes. Growing and cultivating a soccer club has been an educational experience, and has led them down this humbling path.

The path has ended with the aforementioned apology that made the most naive fan feel all warm and tingly inside. But I hate to break it to you, it's your season-ticket subscription they're after.

Maybe I'm a curmudgeon, but it's hard to take an anonymous, online apology for being sincere. This isn't former Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald standing at centre-court of Maple Leaf Gardens after a 16-66 season in 1997-98 promising better days ahead. Grunwald's embarrassment was real. And it wasn't about selling tickets.

Delivering an online, rather impromptu "we're sorry" followed by a just in case you forgive us, the season ticket renewal period has been extended, just doesn't cut it. And it get's better.

If you've got something want to get off your chest, come out and tell us about it at a series of Town Hall meetings. Like a good politician, it's all about the hearts and minds. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., knows that. Shake hands. Kiss babies. Whatever it takes to get you back in those grey and red seats.

MLSEL is brilliant at what it does. It keeps dangling the bait and people keep biting. And if it takes bending over and getting spanked by your fan-base in the process, so be it.

Some great people work at MLSE; some of the finest I've met in sports, in business, or any walk of life. But they've been caught in an organizational malaise that feasts off the inferiority complex that haunts Toronto's sporting climate.

But now the business model is showing cracks, it's time to get red in the face. Not selling tickets is much more difficult to explain to shareholders than not getting results. And a club that relied on the lure of the game-day experience now needs to explain why the North End Elite supporters will stand in silence and not cheer in protest for Saturday's game against Columbus, and why the most devout supporters in the South End will be wearing the colour green to signify ownership's greed.

Saying sorry doesn't fix it. Sorry is just a word. Don't apologize. Just get the job done. And that's apparently the mandate going forward.

In its apology, Toronto FC proclaims, "We are working hard to assemble a football management team that is second to none in MLS."

No kidding! What was the mandate before? Was management too busy clearing profits and patting each other on the back to bother seeing the organizational flaws that made winning improbable? As the self-proclaimed big dog of Major League Soccer, you'd think a proper soccer set-up would have been paramount from the get-go.

And then there's this gem: "The manager, whoever that ultimately might be, will be charged with building a great team around him including hiring the coach."

Well thank you for the job description.

I still remember my first interview with Mo Johnston, way back before the team had played its first game. I asked him about bringing a Designated Player to the club. Johnston told me it was unnecessary, because "the tickets are sold."

Well, so much for having competitive vision.

The MLS Cup in Toronto announcement had a similar tone. Before even bothering to establish your own team as a winner, MLSEL made it a priority to bring the Cup game to Toronto. Nevermind the fact that Johnston and new head coach Preki were dealing with unreasonable expectations without proper resources, some self-inflicted. But the MLS Cup was a great opportunity to christen Maple Leaf Square as Cup Headquarters, reaping the financial benefits of all its amenities.

The attending public was told as much.

And while I was asking questions about accountability that day, the mayor, TFC scarf in hand, and club supporters were busy posing for pictures and telling media outlets how great it was to be part of the experience.

Supporters have wised up in recent months. They've come to realize promises of brighter days are just words. Every team wants to win.

But it's how you get there that matters.

The MLSEL brain trust has apologized. They've said how much they have failed, they say they now know how the job has to be done and say they can do it. Now it's time to put up or shut up.

gareth.wheeler@suntv.canoe.ca


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