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.