Nothing better to do
T.O.'s love affair with lousy teams
STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
|The Leafs salute the fans after the final game of their season on Saturday, April 9, 2011. (QMI Agency/Dave Abel)
Are Toronto fans the most loyal and financially supportive in all of sports — or are they just the biggest suckers?
In the wake of a recent ESPN report labelling Toronto the worst sports city in North America — and on the field ESPN was bang on with its assessment — what is difficult to quantify is the correlation between ticket sales, revenue and team performance in this city.
What may actually be true is this: Toronto sports fans will pay more for less than anyone anywhere else in the sports world. That should, by some definition, label them, us, as one of the best, not worst, sport cities in terms of actual dollars generated. The generosity of the Toronto sports fan appears unmatched anywhere.
And who else supports such junk so regularly and so willingly?
Of all that is baffling in this town that celebrates but barely reaches .500, nothing makes less sense than Toronto FC, that annual embarrassment of a soccer team.
It is bad enough that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment thrust the high-priced Maple Leafs and now locked out Raptors upon this populous: MLSE's inability to do anything but make money takes on a whole new proportion when it comes to its soccer team.
This is Year 5 for TFC in Major League Soccer. TFC has never been any good and this is the worst season yet. The team has never won more than 10 of 30 games and has all of three wins this year.
And you know what?
Toronto FC is third in the MLS in attendance, down all of 577 a game from a season high a year ago. For reasons no one can really explain, we just accept this garbage and harrumph about it from time to time. We make a little noise, we threaten, we phone the local radio station, we talk about protesting, and then, when all that is done, we buy tickets.
Because we don't have anything better to do.
At a time when the majority shares of MLSE are up for grabs, there are all kinds of rumours that Rogers Communications is the front runner to acquire the Teacher's Pension shares. But this strikes me as being backwards: If anything, MLSE should be buying the Blue Jays. The one thing the corporation can do is sell tickets and unless the Yankees or Red Sox are in town, the one major thing (winning aside) the Blue Jays can't do, is sell tickets. Rogers, to date, has been a less than thrilling baseball owner. The MLSE people have been dreadful owners based solely on team performances. But say this for TFC, the Raptors and the Maple Leafs.
The Leafs haven't made the playoffs in the salary cap era, which has only made for more riches for MLSE. Before the lockout, when the Leafs could spend whatever they wanted, they actually made the post-season. Now, they spend less and make more and what they are known for is having the highest ticket prices in hockey — third highest in all of North American professional sports behind the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots.
In regular season ticket revenue alone, the Leafs do more than $90 million in sales and play to 102% capacity. In their pricing category they are surrounded by the perennially competitive Cowboys, the near-dynastic Patriots and ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Among the MLSE trio, the Raptors don't come close to the Leafs or TFC but still average 16,566 — good enough for 19th in the NBA, and much higher on the revenue scale, which isn't horrible considering the team is 28th.
The Leafs lead the NHL in revenue with the 22nd best team. Toronto FC is third in MLS attendance with the 16th best record of 18 teams.
Only the Blue Jays and the Argos don't sell crazy amounts of tickets, and you could probably devote pages in a sociological journal as to why.
The official Jays attendance is up from a year ago and down from two years ago, where the house was slightly papered and too many inexpensive seats were sold. The Jays are the 16th best team in baseball, but rank 24th in attendance. The Argos attendance is even harder to quantify because the figures may not be accurate. Just three seasons ago, the Argos' average attendance was listed as 29,189, or 9,000 a game more than the supposedly sold out Montreal Alouettes. And the men who owned the team, probably not believing the numbers themselves, thought it necessary to get out.
In all, just about 4 million tickets are sold a season to watch Toronto's Big Five: Most of them large in sales, small in delivery.