Toronto FC set to open doors at renovated BMO Field as club eyes bright future in new digs

TORONTO – This Sunday, Toronto FC come home – at last.

Their home, BMO Field, is in the midst of a massive, $120 million two-year renovation, and phase one of construction is almost complete. It’s coming down to the wire for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who assured that the stadium would be completed, for the most part, by the time they take the field Sunday against the Houston Dynamo. TFC have played their first seven games of the 2015 season on the road.

Decked out in a hard hat and a neon vest, Leiweke showed off the new digs with the enthusiasm of a proud parent, providing a chance to tour the revamped facility Thursday and all of its improvements.

The tour starts inside Toronto FC’s new and swanky private club.

The Tunnel Club is located on the ground floor on the west side of BMO Field. It’s an exclusive spot, where access (and a primo front-row seat) comes at a $5,000 price tag. Fans who spring for these special seats (they’re all sold out, by the way) can see the players enter and exit the stadium.

Leiweke said the players haven’t had a chance to see the locker room just yet, but team captain Michael Bradley emails him every day asking for a progress report. The team takes the field for the first time to train at the new BMO Field on Friday.

The east stands include a new top section that adds 8,400 new seats and new private boxes, bringing the stadium capacity to more than 30,000.

“Guys like Michael and Jozy [Altidore] and [Sebastian Giovinco], Benoit [Cheyrou] and [Damien] Perquis, we showed them these plans before they made the decision to come here,” Leiweke said. “To a large extent, those guys came here because of this. That’s what I’m proud of. When they walk through here tomorrow, I’m going to be proud of those guys, that they bet on us and we fulfilled the commitments we made.”

Leiweke also boasted about the new paint being used to line the field, which can be easily washed away in the event that the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League also call BMO Field home. This means no football lines on the soccer pitch.

Leiweke reiterated, firmly, that three things would never change at BMO Field: Toronto FC would be the first priority, no rugby or football would be scheduled at the same weekend of a TFC home game and there will always be real grass on the pitch.

The grass at BMO Field is getting some special treatment, too. Leiweke says the club is investing $3 million on the surface, half on a lighting and warming system designed to help the grass survive the winters and the other half on installing a hybrid grass system that uses a combination of natural and artificial turf.

Moving back to the stands, the south corner unifies TFC’s supporters’ groups and when phase two kicks off next year will include a newly installed, $60 million roof that covers the south, east and west stands.

“We really got a lot out of our $60 million,” said Leiweke, of phase one of renovations.

Leiweke says the team spent $3 million on a unique double-sided scoreboard; the inner side will display the score and live feed in a high-quality HD resolution while the reverse side will broadcast the game for drivers to watch as they pass by on the highway right behind the stadium.

The stadium now features a number of new concession stands and bathrooms. The south side has its own beer gardens, giving the supporters groups easier and quicker access to beer and food. The King Club is a beer-specific concession stand that features its own built-in refrigeration system. There are also a host of new restaurants scattered around the stadium.

All the food is cooked in-house now, according to the team, where before the team would ship food in from Ricoh Coliseum, just down the street. Leiweke says the beer will be cold, the food fresh, and the mood electric. These new concessions are vital to the operation of Toronto FC, he said.

“This club will be the No. 1 revenue generator in Major League Soccer this year,” Leiweke said. “That means we can afford Seba, Michael and Jozy.

“We will double our revenue in two years now,” he added. “For every one that thinks we’re crazy, we’re not. We want to be in a position going forward every year where we always have the ability of being able to spend on those three slots and rewarding our fans in this marketplace with some of the best players in the world.”

There’s still a lot of work going on throughout the stadium, with cranes still dotting the landscape.

“We could have built a new stadium, but we probably would have had to put it outside in the suburb areas of Toronto,” Leiweke said. “What I want to do is give Toronto FC a lasting economic base and a vision that allows them to compete for a championship each and every year.

“Imagine what this stadium is going to do if they win,” he continued. “Imagine how crazy this would be for a playoff game here, if we get to the playoffs. I think it will be one of the greatest atmospheres in the history of Toronto sports.”