Well done, Toronto — two championships in three weeks isn’t too shabby. Some cities, in particular ones not too far away and just south of the border, have waited much longer for much less. And sure, Toronto has just earned trophies in leagues that aren’t the top of their sport, but nonetheless, you can only play the games on your schedule and win what you can win.
The Toronto Football Club has nabbed the MLS Cup, establishing itself as champion of the league it only joined 11 years ago. A 2-0 win in front of home fans on a mighty chilly December evening, against the team that bested them in the championship game last year, capped a brilliant and satisfying campaign. They were top of the table and achieved the most points in the history of the MLS. And this was less than a month after the Toronto Argonauts had a dramatic victory in the CFL Championship to earn the Grey Cup.
Whereas the CFL was playing its 105th final, the MLS hasn’t even hit 25 years of age. It’s a relatively young league with an even younger team, in a crowded sports landscape in Ontario’s capital, but there is certainly something special that sets apart the team from the rest of the Toronto sports world. Thousands attended a parade for the club as they celebrated the victory, and the popular team will only continue to increase in popularity. Surely they won’t best the Leafs, but there are many reasons why the Reds capture the heart of the city.
It’s The World’s Most Popular Sport
It certainly is a boon to the team and the league that they are playing the most watched, most beloved, and most accessible sport in the world. It helps that Toronto is a multicultural city; soccer isn’t exactly the Canadian sport of note, but it is in many other parts of the world. According to the 2016 census, the population of Toronto is roughly 50% immigrants, and that certainly doesn’t mean that soccer is an automatic draw, but more cultures means more diversity, more new interests, and a potential for new fans.
Those who may have been fans of teams in other cities or countries have found it easy to adopt TFC as their special club, and it helps that the Reds in particular have fielded a team of well-liked and talented players. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco are among the stars that have brought fans to watch.
However deeply and madly beloved hockey is and forever will be, the fandom and intensity of coverage can be off–putting and intimidating. Tickets are expensive, discussion is all-consuming, and hockey seems to be something in the blood — unless it isn’t. Meanwhile, the CFL can be arcane, while baseball is slow. While we don’t have to choose just one, casual sports fans can take to TFC quite easily for a myriad of reasons.
There is a party–like atmosphere on game day. Because of the nature of the schedule, some matches will be played in the summer sun, while others under dark winter skies. Tickets are more affordable than hockey, and the game, at two hours, is far shorter than baseball. What’s more, there is an intimacy to soccer that you don’t get as much of in other sports. Without helmets, players become more human and recognizable, and unlike other stadiums, you’re pretty close to the action when TFC comes to play.
It’s often that a team rebrands when they are doing poorly, looking to once again engage fans and of course make more money selling new merchandise. There is certainly something to be said about a feeling of rejuvenation, however trivial or profitable it may seem. Well, the team set out to rebrand this year. There is money involved, yes, but after ten years of mostly unsatisfying play and little to show for, it made sense.
The team declared, “A New Dawn is Coming,” and they may have been exactly right. This revamped look included a simplified logo, and while they continued to offer what you might call the sort of generic apparel most sports fans enjoy, they also crafted some finer merchandise, like scarves, which look great both on and off the pitch. The NBA and the Raptors have succeeded at pairing their sport with luxurious offerings, and now it would appear that TFC is doing well in creating a glamorous brand, with both style and substance.
What’s more, while far too many fans take sports far too seriously, TFC has embraced a social media campaign that is both informative and entertaining, as well as engaging and aware. The @TorontoFC profile is an effective blend of funny GIFs, related retweets, video interviews, and some great photos.
It’s easy and all too common to talk about certain cities as being composed of sports lovers, and pundits trip over each other to pander to any base calling itself the most passionate and dedicated. It’s cliche and lazy. Toronto does indeed feature a passionate sports fan base — surely not the worst or greatest, but they are focused and in tune with the sports landscape.
Indeed, Torontonian sports fans generally care about three things, in any particular order or combination: winning, drinking, and an unbridled and poorly defined sense of Canadian pride. The Blue Jays found a sudden surge of support when they played well for a couple of years; making deep runs in the playoffs meant playing for sold–out crowds. Fans embraced the team’s success, loved that they were the only Canadian team in the league, and also soaked up the party atmosphere at the game and in the bar. The same happened with the Raptors for a few years — that is, until the Leafs became great, and with the seasons running parallel, hockey takes the reins. The Argos bring out fans, too, and so do Canadian tennis stars Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard. And when the national team plays in any sport, and especially during the Olympics, Canadian pride is on full effect.
All of this is to say that Toronto specifically (and Canada in general) stands by and supports players born here and those teams that play here. Certainly for Canadian sports fans there can be a bit of a chip on the shoulder, as we so often take a backseat to American teams and leagues, but success isn’t taken for granted and winning, and trying, is appreciated.
So TFC provides a perfect environment for the Canadian sports fan. They have proven success on the field, and fans in turn prove their love with their voices, their presence, and their wallets. While far tamer than some environments at contested European matches, going to a game at BMO Field is a raucous, engaged, intense experience — and one that involves drinking and singing! Toronto fans, when their teams are doing well, will literally cheer and figuratively fight for them every step of the way.