Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Are they always this bad?"

It was a lovely sunny late summer day in Toronto last Saturday when I decided to go to a FC Toronto football match at BMO Field but after an hour I turned to my neighbour, an English guy called Jamie as it turned out, and posed this question for the preceding 60 minutes had been full of the most complete footballing dross that I can remember seeing.

Jamie said this was entirely normal this season and went on to give me a complete run down of the reasons why and the machinations in general of the MLS and of course FC Toronto.

Its all about money naturally.

The pre-game show with national anthems respectfully sung

The MLS has a salary cap which the game programme said was around $350,000 per year per player.  The cap is set in aggregate per team so its up to each team how much they pay each player.  This effectively means that no big name is likely to turn up to play MLS in their prime.

Well not exactly because in 2008 things changed to enable MLS teams to attract big names so long as they didn't form part of the salary cap.  This meant teams could buy 1 non-salary capped player which is how the LA Galaxy team managed to hire David Beckham.  They kept other stars like Landon Donovan by paying them most of the salary cap which is why LA didn't win anything for years.

The MLS has a draft mechanism like other US major league sports but everything is tightly controlled by the MLS themselves down to setting player salaries, transfers, everything.  My new friend Jamie told  me that Toronto had agreed to transfer a well known player, organised everything within the salary cap, but MLS HQ just said "No" after which he went to another MLS club whence they said "Yes".  It all sounds rather sinister to me!

As for FC Toronto, they are owned by a media group called MLSE -- Major League Sports Enterprises -- which also owns all the other Toronto sports teams: The Raptors, The Blue Jays, The Maple Leafs and the Marlies.  Jamie told me all the teams are pretty much despised locally as they have the highest ticket prices in the North American sporting firmament yet the teams are all rubbish and never make any play-offs.

I'm pretty sure its not quite as drastic as all that as getting a ticket is pretty difficult usually.  I'd been lucky as it was the end of the season and the teams on display were 2nd last and last respectively, by quite a wide margin too (the other team was DC United who'd left most of their best players at home for the match apparently).

Jamie was optimistic though as in the past year ownership of MLSE had changed from the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan who didn't care much about sports or results, only their ongoing dividend, to a joint venture between Rogers and Bell Canada, the 2 big telephone companies in Canada.  This he hoped meant a change in attitude towards the teams, hopefully more money to buy talent and a far more professional approach.

The programme itself mentioned the hiring of a 31 year old GM for the football team who looked insanely young and whose talent apparently was his ability to understand how the salary cap worked.  He'd previously worked for a Baseball team in the US.  I immediately thought of Jonah Hill in the Moneyball movie with Brad Pitt in it.

Ironically as soon as I started the conversation with Jamie the game perked right up and Toronto hammered in 3 more goals, good ones too, to end up 4-1 winners by the end.

Pretty impressive view from my seat above the Directors' Box

Maybe I'd been a bit harsh in my earlier assessment!

You can just see the tallest residential building in North America in the distance to the left of the Canadian flag

And here it is a bit closer.  71 storeys in all their glory.

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