TORONTO – While the gleaming new white kit, adorned with a single championship star, was the primary focus of Toronto FC's “President's Breakfast” on Friday morning, there were other developments as well.
While 2017 was a season to remember, Toronto do not intend to rest on their laurels for 2018, and president Bill Manning has plans for the future: further expansion of BMO Field, safe standing in the supporters section and potentially, a women's team on the horizon.
“[We] just went through a massive renovation, invested well over 100 million dollars,” said Manning. “We've got to the point where it is sold out. What we don't want to do is add another 10,000 seats and have them empty. We want to grow [in a way] where we can handle the growth. That's why we're going to do the north grandstand, sell out that out for a couple of years and that will open more opportunities to add more seats eventually.”
Offseason renovations at BMO saw both the 2015 and 2016 seasons begin with lengthy road trips, bringing the capacity at the ground, including that north stand, above 30,000. A standing-room-only crowd of 30,854 witnessed December's MLS Cup final.
“With the 2026 World Cup coming about, we would love to get the stadium up to 40,000 seats,” said Manning. “We're excited about it. We're working hard with the Mayor's office to host as many games as we can here. A World Cup in Canada would be tremendous.
“For the south end, we do want to have safe standing,” he added. “There's a big cost to that. We still have to have seats because of a FIFA mandate; they're going to have to fold up. So we're probably going to do it in phases: the first five rows and then up.
“My goal is to get it started in 2019 and go from there. [We] are committed to getting it eventually to be safe standing.”
A pair of MLS Cup final appearances have been good for fan engagement. This year's renewal rate was a record: 98.2 percent of season-ticket holders will be returning for 2018.
“It's staggering,” said Manning with a smile. “We're at almost 25,000 season tickets. Every game will be sold out. Business is booming; it's where we envisaged it going.”
TSN's Luke Wileman revealed another important figure: 2 million Canadian viewers were tuned in when Victor Vazquez scored the late second goal in TFC's 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in the 2017 title bout.
With interest in the game ever-growing, Manning was asked if Toronto were considering adding a women's program in the future, perhaps in the National Women’s Soccer League.
“Yes, we would like to at some point,” he responded. “It's not going to be immediate, but three or four years down the road, it's not out of the realm of possibility.
“Financially we’re in a much better place. We invest a lot in the USL, in player development, in DPs [Designated Players],” continued Manning. “As the revenues continue to grow, we'll be in a place where this financial model works, [and we can] invest in a women's program and build that.”
Success has been good for the bottom line, but more work is left to be done.
“We've grown tremendously the last couple years,” said Manning. “Some of it is selling out all your tickets. Over time your average ticket price will go as far as the market will stand. We're very sensitive to it, but we still feel we're a very affordable ticket, especially in this town. That's how you can generate more revenue. Even a dollar a ticket adds up.
“As we've continued to get more fans, sponsors want to partner with us more. More merchandise. It adds up,” he added. “We're not that far from where we want to be. If we continue to do what we're doing on the field, off the field will take care of itself.”