Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact may be the fiercest of rivals when it comes to taking care of business on the pitch. However, when it comes to building their businesses off the pitch, the two clubs are more than willing to work together in quintessentially Canadian fashion.
TFC are expected to set a new MLS record for away support at their Rivalry Week showdown this Saturday at the Olympic Stadium (4 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS LIVE in USA) in Montreal. It will prove the end result of a convergence of supporter passion and the ingenuity of two organizations that have been particularly mindful of a unique opportunity to engage their fans and enhance a traditional Canadian rivalry.
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“The supporters groups lead the way on this," Toronto FC Vice-President of Business Operations Paul Beirne told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Thursday. "We had about 1,500 supporters that travelled to Montreal last year. So that was the foundation upon which we said, ‘How do we get the rest of the season seat holders engaged?’ This year we are trying to build upon what the supporters already created.
“What is different this year is that we are engaging the rest of our season seat holders in authentic derby behavior where people travel en masse.”
Toronto FC offered a free ticket to Saturday’s game in Montreal to all season ticket holders when they renewed for the 2013 season.
Highlights: Montreal vs. Toronto, April 7, 2012
“This was tied to the season ticket renewals. However, it’s not just that, but also the fact that we have been talking about it for a long time and have been driving people to it,” Beirne said. “We play Montreal five times this year, but this game is special because they have the extra capacity and because we put all our attention towards it.
"We can’t expect to break the record that we set on Saturday in a subsequent game. We won’t have the capacity. We have opportunity to do this right, so let’s go have some fun."
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Added Phil Tobin, president of the Red Patch Boys supporters group: “When you look at the idea of giving away an away ticket as a freebie in a season’s ticket package against a rival that is so close that you don’t have to cross an international border, I really thought it had the potential to be something very big. You can just head up the highway and you are in Montreal. It is a great idea.”
The Red Patch Boys and the other TFC supporters groups have worked closely with the Toronto FC front office to help Reds fans with travel arrangements and to facilitate the dispersal of tickets. While the club raffled off a limited number of free bus tickets to ferry supporters to Montreal for the game, the majority of TFC’s traveling fans will be getting to la belle province by plane, train or automobile.
Of course, for all of this to be possible, the Montreal Impact had to be an integral part of the equation, given that they had control over how many tickets they could make available to traveling TFC supporters.
Highlights: Montreal vs. Toronto, June 27, 2012
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While Portland Timbers fans were allocated 1,000 tickets to Seattle Sounders supporters for Saturday’s big Cascadia derby match at JELD-WEN Field, the Impact chose to allot 5,000 tickets to Toronto FC fans, with a clear eye on both creating a fantastic game atmosphere and selling out a stadium with a large seating capacity.
“Our aim is to sell out the lower bowl, which has a capacity of 37,000,” Impact EVP Richard Legendre told MLSsoccer.com. “Right now, we’re at 34,000. We want a stadium that’s full, but we also want a stadium that’s noisy. We want a stadium that sings. We want an ‘ultra’ stadium.”
League rules require MLS home teams to hold a minimum of 100 tickets for visiting supporters until two weeks prior to gameday. But they can work with visiting teams on larger requests with league approval and league involvement required if the quantity of visiting supporter tickets exceeds 500.
While some might question allowing so many away supporters onto your home ground, the Montreal Impact are not worried about tipping the home field advantage in favor of the Reds. They have complete confidence that Impact fans, and the Ultras supporters group in particular, will allow Les Bleus to retain the upper hand in terms of crowd support.
Highlights: Montreal vs. Toronto, Oct. 20, 2012
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“We count on our fans’ support, we count on them to be louder than TFC fans," Impact spokesperson Patrick Vallée said. "At this point, with 34,000 tickets sold and 3,000 remaining, and Toronto bringing between 3,000 and 4,000 fans, it’s a 10-to-1 ratio in our favor.”
Regardless of what the final numbers end up being, it seems pretty much predetermined that Saturday’s match is going to have a fantastic atmosphere with supporters from both teams playing an integral role. With that in mind, it is more than likely that the two clubs will engage in a similar venture next season as well.
“We have a handshake agreement to reciprocate in the future," Beirne said. "The cards landed such that Toronto is playing in Montreal this year, but hopefully Montreal will be in Toronto for Rivalry Week [next year] and we will be accommodating their supporters."