Tim Leiweke, CEO of MLSE, wants to renovate BMO field. This isn’t a particularly newsworthy statement, as he has been open about such plans in the past, but what’s noteworthy about it today is that he’s dreaming bigger than just a roof. Chris Johnston of the Rogers-owned Rogers Sportsnet landed an exclusive interview with the head of the Rogers-owned company after learning that “a complicated and costly deal is in the works that would see Toronto’s BMO Field significantly expanded in time for the Maple Leafs to host the Winter Classic in their centennial season.”
That would be 2016-17, but according to Leiweke’s scheming, the expanded facility’s big opening day wouldn’t necessarily be just in time for January 1st, 2017.
“It fits a lot of needs,” he told Johnston of the potential project. “It renovates it for TFC, it certainly renovates it for the Pan Am Games, it renovates it for rugby. The Grey Cup would be phenomenal in an outdoor setting in Toronto on the lake, but (the Winter Classic is) clearly one of the things we put on the wishlist.”
The Pan Am Games? The Grey Cup?
So… uh… are you telling me that an expanded BMO could be a stadium capable of hosting CFL football games, and ready in time for July of 2015?
Even sooner, probably, since TFC’s use of the stadium would begin with preseason games in mid-March of that.
Obviously I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here — OK, way ahead of myself — but… um… then how about the 2015 Argonauts season?
Shit, how about any Argos season?
Leiweke makes no such suggestion. In fact, he talks about bringing the stadium’s capacity “to one level for permanent and expand it for things like this,” referring to the Winter Classic. But he did say Grey Cup, too, and for that they’d need to expand the field. Such thoughts instantly rankle just about every soccer fan in the city, myself included, but it’s not completely untrue that there is some sense to be made of this marriage.
This pitch at BMO is 68 metres across (per Wikipedia), while a CFL field is 59 metres wide, meaning that the intimacy of the sideline seats wouldn’t need to be spoiled — or not spoiled much, depending on how much territory is needed on the sidelines– for soccer. A CFL field is longer than BMO’s pitch by thirty-two metres in total (i.e. a little less than half the pitch in width), so that remains an issue, but the stadium’s horseshoe shape means that it’s not entirely inconceivable that it could be done without being too disruptive to the soccer experience from the stands.
On the pitch, though? Different story. Maybe it could work. They hold rugby matches at the stadium and the pitch stays intact, as far as I’m aware.
The Seattle Sounders share a stadium with the Seahawks and make it work, but it isn’t a grass field.
Could the soccer pitch be covered over for a day when the facility is needed for football, in the same way that the ice at shared hockey and basketball venues is? Because moving back to artificial turf, or running the risk of damaging the current playing surface, would sit very, very poorly with soccer fans– as in, fans of the club MLSE already owns, has started investing heavily in, and plays a sport that, if we’re being honest, is much more viable long term than the CFL. Not only that, it would seem a strangely accommodating decision just to squeeze in nine or ten dates per year of minor league football.
However, one of MLSE’s co-owners — Bell, parent company of TSN — certainly wouldn’t view the CFL, and the potential revitalization of the Argo franchise that way. And the other owner needs to get the Argos out of their damn baseball stadium. So perhaps there are other factors that could drive such a move.
Perhaps they go even deeper than that.
Former Toronto Star man, Chris Zelkovich, writing now for Yahoo! Sports, has a theory– and it involves the NFL.
The talk is that MLSE wants an NFL franchise but realizes that Roger Goodell and company are reluctant to stage a Canadian invasion because they don’t want the CFL’s blood on their hands. The thinking is that there’s little doubt a Toronto NFL team would kill the Argos with the CFL disappearing into oblivion shortly afterward.
To get around that, the theory goes, MLSE would buy the Argos and thus secure their future, thus allowing the NFL to march triumphantly into Toronto without fear of being implicated in the CFL’s demise.
It’s a bit fanciful, he admits, but it’s definitely interesting. And while we’re on the subject of expanding the capacity of BMO, not to mention being fanciful, perhaps part of the scheme could even include a way to add even more than the 22,000 extra seats Johnston figures in his piece would be necessary for an event like the Winter Classic to be feasible there. That would bring the total number of seats to 44,000, which is well below the standard for an NFL stadium — only nine of 31 (discounting the Vikings’ temporary home at the University of Minnesota) have capacities below 70,000, when standing room and expanded seats are counted — but if they could set it up so that further expansion could happen when the time is right…
Again I’m getting well ahead of myself. But holy shit, whatever the scheme is, if Leiweke is anywhere close to serious about these changes — which, it must be noted, have many obstacles to overcome still before coming to fruition — being in place in time for the Pan Am Games, can somebody please get the Jays set to crank out the plans for Rogers Centre grass so that they can be put into action the damn second it’s confirmed the Argos are leaving.
The. Damn. Second.
Glorious image still via James_in_TO.