TORONTO – Toronto FC fans want to be consulted on anything that involves their financial commitment. That was the collective message conveyed loud and clear by the nearly 50 season seat holders that attended a "Town Hall" meeting Monday night at BMO Field.
TFC parent company Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment organized the gatherings after publishing an open letter to fans that apologized for a disappointing season and addressed complaints about a cost increase tied to the club’s 2011 season-ticket package.
In the third of seven meetings, season-seat holders raised a number of issues, but their biggest complaint was the obligation to purchase tickets for MLS Cup 2010 in Toronto, which significantly raised the overall price of the ticket package.
The package complaint was also central in the previous sessions and this evening management acknowledged the concerns as lessons learned and committed to making the Town Hall meetings an annual occurrence.
Tom Anselmi, MLSE's executive vice president and chief operating officer, wasn’t surprised by the level of discord.
“They’ve been vocal as we expected, but they’ve appreciated the opportunity to have a conversation,” Anselmi said. "I think every session now there’s been an applause at some point where they said, ‘Thank you for hearing us out,’ so that’s been really rewarding.
“That’s one of the great things about this franchise — it’s been different right from the get-go, and the fans have a real vested interest in it and have really been a part of shaping what it’s been about, and that doesn’t end after a couple of years," Anselmi added. "That needs to be this ongoing dialogue, and that’s we’re trying to accomplish with these sessions.”
Anselmi apologized for the team’s poor 2010 season, in which TFC missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season, and he repeatedly vowed the club will hire a staff that will help take the Reds into the playoffs next season.
He said MLSE is talking to a number of well-known candidates and insisted these people are helping with the process and not just headhunting.
Those in place now, interim director of soccer Earl Cochrane and assistant Jim Brennan, have begun retooling the roster. They’ve also prepared a preliminary plan for the next three to five months that will include decisions about the Expansion Draft, MLS Player Combine, SuperDraft and re-entry draft.
Cochrane said the club plans to add “serviceable pieces, quality and depth” to a squad that has holes at every position, except perhaps goal.
“There are guys here now who won’t be here next year,” Cochrane admitted.
He also said the club has an important decision to make concerning the club’s Designated Players.
Both Julian de Guzman and Mista have been criticized for their lack of production with the two combining for zero goals this season. Mista has missed much of the season battling fitness and injuries.
Cochrane added he and Brennan are determining the club’s identity and will be bringing in players that fit. High on the list are a striker and a creative player, and they may look toward South American.
Cochrane admitted that a league rule that mandated a set number of Canadians on the TFC roster had burdened the club. MLS just recently retracted the restriction.
That’s good news for a rabid and devoted fan base starved for success.
“There’s some learning going on here, there’s no doubt about it," Anselmi said. "We’re four years into it and everything is colored by expectations and performance, and the fact is the team hasn’t delivered and the expectations this year were that we were going to — and I don’t fault the fans for that."