BMO Field – Toronto FC
They finally did it! After around a decade of futility, the Toronto Football Club finally caught the big break. The 2017 saw Toronto FC win the trifecta that no club had accomplished before. The Reds took home the Voyageur Cup as National Champions, the Supporters’ Shield as the team with the best record during the regular season and finally, the MLS Cup as champions of Major League Soccer. TFC’s ownership group, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, had to go all in for the Reds with huge signings of Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco and in the end it was all worth it. There has not been a team in Major League Soccer whose fans have deserved a championship more. Through thick and thin, Toronto FC has been a model franchise in the stands and a pioneering force in Major League Soccer.
The beginning of the success story must start at BMO Field. Built at Exhibition Place, on the site of the departed Exhibition Stadium, original home of the Toronto Blue Jays, BMO Field was one of the first soccer specific stadiums in North America. Originally conceived as the National Soccer Stadium, BMO has been expanded a number of times, driven by the fan support that Toronto FC enjoys. In recent years, despite supporters’ angry tirades, BMO has also become the home of the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. However, BMO has held up well to the demands of both soccer and football and even hosted both the MLS Cup and Grey Cup in 2017. The stadium is owned by the City of Toronto and now boasts a capacity of over 30,000, a far cry from its original capacity of 22,000 in 2007. BMO Field and Toronto FC remains one of the signature experiences in MLS and has pushed the envelope to the benefit of the entire league.
Food & Beverage 5
BMO Field has amassed a terrific set of concession options for fans. There is definitely something for everyone. Panini offers a variety of unique sandwich options including footlongs, buffalo chicken, pork belly banh mi, tuscan porchetta, chickpea and tahini and shawarma. Frites offers a variety of poutine and fries options including traditional poutine, roast beef and cheddar poutine, loaded baked potato fries, chicken and kimchi fries, chicharron fries as well as buffalo and chicken tenders. Pizza Pizza offers a variety of pizza options from Canada’s largest pizza chain. Finally, RealSports offers a variety of BBQ options including hot dogs ($5.75), burgers, Italian beef, hot and sticky chicken and poutine. All stands also offer snacks including peanuts, pretzels, popcorn ($7.50) and nachos. In the north end of the stadium, food trucks are also present including Smoke’s Poutinerie. Taco FC, Street Eats and Footy’s are also worth checking out. Each year there are new concessions. Popcorn Chicken, Loaded Baked Potato Fries, Banh Mi Brisket Dog and the Shawarmanator are all new for the 2017 season. The biggest issue is the lack of stomach space to try them all!
Coca-Cola products are the soft drink of choice at all stands ($5.25/$8.25). Bottles or fountain options are available. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, Powerade and water are also available. BMO also offers a pretty good variety of beer. Budweiser and Bud Light are available throughout the stadium ($11.75/$15.50). Other options include Stella Artois, Mill Street Organic, Corona, and Brickworks Cider.
BMO Field has changed drastically over the years. Originally a small and intimate stadium, BMO Field has grown to a large stadium with a real presence at Exhibition Place, visible from either the Gardiner Expressway or even the other side of the Humber Bay. Silver and red siding gives BMO a decent exterior. New for BMO Field is the Wall of Honour, which uniquely is on the exterior of the stadium, focusing more on achievements and moments rather than just specific players. The former Wall of Honour within the stadium simply included the honoured numbers of first captain Jim Brennan and first goalscorer Danny Dichio. Iconic moments now include Dichio`s first franchise goal, Maurice Edu`s rookie of the year, Sebastian Giovinco`s MVP and 2016`s Eastern Conference Championship. MLS Honours include the All-Star Selections of Brennan, Giovinco, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Dwayne De Rosario and Jermaine Defoe.
Added from the 2017 season are shields for the Supporters’ Shield, Canadian Championship and MLS Cup with specific honours to the goal scorers. Honours are a little more unique with smart looking shields as opposed to large flags or banners. The north side of the stadium is the place to check out the Wall of Honour.
Inside, BMO Field is not overly complicated. Built from the premise of east and west grandstands, BMO has grown to include massive canopies to help protect fans from the elements and two decks of seating on both the east and west side. With the Toronto Argonauts moving in to share BMO, some adjustments were required to make the pitch large enough for Canadian Football. As a result the north end of the stadium seats were removed and a standing area is now prevalent. The large, bright, video board can be found to the north also. The south end of the stadium belongs to the Southend Supporters, who inject energy and excitement into the match. The press box is located on the west side of the stadium. The biggest drawback to the BMO experience is the seats themselves. Small, plastic, scoop-like seats are not overly comfortable and are a far cry from the regular flip up stadium seats you expect at other stadiums.
The game day experience is what you would expect from an MLS soccer match. Both teams enter the field in the traditional manner, side by side and hand in hand with young soccer players. The traditional music is played during the entrance. Compared to other sports, the pregame in the stadium and entrance is pretty subdued, but this is commonplace for Major League Soccer. Player introductions are accompanied with the fans screaming out the last name after the PA announcer speaks the player’s first name.
The best spot to get some pre and post game food and drink by foot is to head north of the Exhibition, under the Gardiner Expressway and Go Train and head to the Liberty Village neighbourhood of Toronto. There fans will find a number of options. These include Williams Landing, The Craft Brasserie & Grill, Magic Oven and Brazen Head Irish Pub. Of course if fans head east towards downtown they will find a whole host of other options near the Rogers Centre and Air Canada Centre, but those will probably require a vehicle of sorts to get there.
Toronto remains a top notch location for a vacation. The number of other entertainment attractions in Toronto may be too numerous to name off. A highlight on the Exhibition grounds is the annual Canadian National Exhibition. The annual fair is how thousands of Canadians ring out the summer with the annual Labour Day weekend event. Mid July brings the Honda Indy Toronto to the Exhibition and the street course runs through the Exhibition at breakneck speeds. The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and Medieval Times also happen on the Exhibition Grounds. There are a ton of other sporting options in Toronto and fans may have the opportunity to put together a doubleheader in the city. BMO Field is shared with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Also at Exhibition Place is the Coca-Cola Coliseum, home of the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. East of Exhibition Place is Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays of MLB. Further east along the Lakeshore is Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, Toronto Raptors of the NBA and Toronto Rock of the NLL. The University of Toronto fields a full complement of varsity teams including football at Varsity Stadium, hockey at Varsity Arena and basketball at the Goldring Centre. A true gem is Ryerson University hockey and basketball, both of whom play in the renovated former Maple Leaf Gardens.
Most of the major hotels are found closer to downtown proper, however the Gladstone Hotel and the Drake Hotel are both close by but very luxurious and pricey. A new hotel on the Exhibition grounds currently under construction will be something to look forward to.
Toronto FC fans may be the class of Major League Soccer. Toronto FC has had a stranglehold on the third highest average attendance in MLS for the last number of years. The two teams they fall behind all play in stadiums that have much higher capacities and are not soccer specific stadiums. To see how the popularity of Toronto FC forced the expansion of BMO Field is a testament to Toronto FC fans. Each year they average more than 27,000 fans per game. Toronto FC also has a short, but strong, tradition of strong supporter groups. There are a number of supporter groups that lay claim to the south end of the stadium. Known as the Southend Supporters, collectively they include U-Sector, Kings in the North, Tribal Rhythm Nation, Original 109 and the Red Patch Boys. The supporters chant and sing and dance and stand throughout the game and show a dedication that is rare in North American sports. Toronto FC offers the most multicultural experience of any other in Toronto, which reflects the extremely multicultural nature of the city.
BMO Field is located on the grounds of Exhibition Place. Getting to Exhibition Place can be a challenge, as anything in Toronto can be. The Ex is immediately south of the Gardiner Expressway. Although fans may think this is the quickest way to drive to the Ex, often a longer route on Lakeshore Blvd is the way to go, especially for those coming from the west.
There are a number of parking spots available for fans at Exhibition Place. It is important for fans to do some research before heading out to see the Reds. At times there are other events taking place at the Ex and parking is a real challenge. Even at the best of times, parking is not cheap and other options may be the best plan.
For fans who prefer the public transit route, Exhibition Place has some decent public transit options. There is a Go Transit station right by the Ex and this is probably the easiest form of public transit. A walk north of the Ex will bring fans through Liberty Village and eventually to some TTC options. Check out the Go Transit and TTC websites for fares, maps and schedules.
The ticketing window is at gate 1, at the north end of BMO Field. Lineups are not usually an issue. Security is what you would expect now in this day and age of sports security, including walk through metal detectors.
Getting around BMO Field is not too difficult and concourses are fairly spacious. Washroom facilities are also adequate for this venue.
Return on Investment 4
Attending a Toronto FC game is not a cheap affair. General Admission tickets are $22 per match, but field level seats are up to $180. Plenty of seats in the upper deck are above the $50 mark, which is definitely on the expensive side. Seats can be found in the upper deck for around $30. The fluid nature of ticket prices makes it difficult to judge the cost. Combine expensive tickets with either expensive parking or public transit options and concessions that are on the pricey side and fans are left with some considerations regarding funds. That being said, it seems that the product that Toronto FC is putting on the pitch is continuously improving. Fans are being rewarded for their years of loyalty to the Toronto FC brand. However, the scales are teetering in the direction of a not so hot return on investment.
An extra mark for all of the improvements to BMO Field.
An extra mark for the Danny Dichio song. Every match at the 23:14 mark, the supporters belt out the Danny Dichio song, in honor of Toronto FC’s first ever goal scored by Danny Dichio.
An extra mark for the investments made by MLSE to field the best possible team in Toronto.
An extra mark for finally getting over the hump and enjoying the success that the franchise has deserved.
Toronto FC has been one of the best MLS experiences and the passion and strength of the fan base drive that experience. It will be interesting to see what happens when Toronto FC starts to take a dip on the pitch. Toronto fans are notoriously trendy and it is still to be seen if FC has the staying power to permanently wedge itself in the market or if it is another sports trend in Toronto.
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With their participation in the MLS Cup final in 2016 it seems that fans have all but forgotten the agony and anger of the Toronto Argonauts moving into BMO Field. Toronto FC continues to chug along and have rewarded their long-standing fans with success, finally, on the pitch. Neatly entrenched as part of the Toronto sporting scene, Toronto FC is definitely worth checking out and may be one of the better experiences in MLS. A trip to BMO may have fans joining in on the singing … “O When the Reds … Go Marching In.”