Got a lot of reader email over Monday's TFC story.
Some readers blasted me, insisting that real TFC fans would NEVER boo the home team, and that I'm part of some media conspiracy to make TFC and its supporters look bad. Meanwhile, others told me to keep up the good work, that they're frustrated with watching a team that doesn't score and not too excited about paying increased prices to watch them play next year.
I'm basically re-hashing responses I sent to readers email yesterday, but there are a few things people need to realize about that story, the issues it addresses and the ones it doesn't.
1. Tight deadlines + Hockey season = shorter stories everywhere
I sat down Sunday morning to write 600 words of analysis on what's next for TFC, and what personnel moves they can make to keep fans interested next season. That's what the editors and I discussed, and that's what I wrote. Mo Johnston has said a few times recently that he's serious about signing a designated player, so I took a hard look at DPs around the league and the impact they've had on their teams.
Most of that didn't make the paper.
Because this is the newspaper business, and what's a priority at 11 a.m. -- soccer analysis -- isn't always important closer to deadline, when you've 10 or so big stories and a tight space to fit them in. To run some stories, you have to gut others.
The problem's more pronounced this time of year, with the Maple Leafs starting up. We live in a country where 400,000-plus viewers routinely tuned in to watch Canada stomp Russia in a meaningless eight-game "Super Series."
Can't explain that statistic except to say that it shows that despite any demographic changes this country is undergoing, and despite the inroads other sports have made into our collective consciousness, Canadians are still addicted to hockey. So when the NHL calls, we in the media answer. And if accommodating increased hockey coverage means trimming a few paragraphs of analysis from a soccer story, that's what happens.
I don't like it any more than the average soccer fan does. No writer likes seeing his stories slashed, especially if cuts change the stories' meaning or put the remaining facts out of context. But its a part of the business we all learn to live with.
2. I wasn't that hard on TFC Fans
I wasn't hard at all.
Come one, guys. It's not like I wrote that supporters showered the home team with debris or threatened the life of the next TFC player who misses a shot from inside the box. I made sure I mentioned that fans had remained loyal through TWO winless streaks, and that only some of them were booing.
Here, again, is the passage that had so many supporters so upset:
As the game ended some Toronto fans, for the first time this season, booed the home team.
If I believed that all 20,000 people at BMO Field had turned on the home team, I would have written that. I wrote what I wrote because it reflected what I saw and heard.
If you yourself weren't booing, so be it. Everyone admires your loyalty. But that doesn't mean nobody was booing.
Besides, booing's not blasphemy. It's a fan's prerogative when their team's not performing well. You think the Eagles will get a standing O in Philly if they start the season 0-3? Impossible. The booing has already started. And at least the Eagles have scored this month.
Believe it or not, some sports fans in Toronto aren't satisfied with the mere fact that a team exists here. Some of them expect a little more for their money and will walk out early (like they did during Toronto's 3-0 loss to Chicago on July 29), or just stop buying tickets until they see results on the field.
3. I wasn't that hard on TFC
Since I started covering soccer readers have accused me of going out of my way to make TFC look bad, and of being part of a larger media conspiracy to drive them out of town.
No and no.
I'm not a soccer purist, but I'm not a soccer hater, either. I'm a sportswriter. It's not my job to be a fan. It's my job to cover and uncover stories, and that's what I do. Right now that means covering and uncovering stories about a team that's neither winning nor scoring. There's no getting around that. It's not a conspiracy. It just is. Look at the standings. I'd love to be able to write that TFC's as successful on the field as they are at the ticket window, but that's not what's happening right now. I can only write the truth.
3. On the end of the honeymoon
Mo Johnston was teasing me about it at practice yesterday.
"You're gonna be proven soooooooo wrong," he said.
But let's think about it this way.
There are a certain number of fans for which the honeymoon never ends. They're the hardest of the hardcore -- guys who will cheer and chant through 20-loss seasons and drop thousands of dollars every year to see road games in far-flung places.
Other fans, as I mentioned before, demand results after a while. They're casual sports fans who have money to spend, and might just spend it on soccer as long as the local team gives them an incentive. But they're also people the team risks alienating if they don't start winning, or at least scoring.
Now, the "real" soccer fans can deride these guys as inauthentic bandwagon jumpers or fair weather fans, but they still help fill stadiums, boost TV ratings and sell merchandise. They might not be as dedicated as the guys seated at the south end of the stadium, but they're still important to the team's bottom line.
And they exist in almost every sport.
Last night the Jays drew 32,290 spectators to a stadium that holds nearly 50,000. Fifteen years ago, when the Jays were winning World Series, the place sold out nightly. Last December 16,562 people watched the Raptors (then 5-10) defeat the Celtics at the ACC. By the end of the season, a vastly improved Raptors team sold out the ACC (19,800 spectators) for their regular season finale against the 76ers.
So my interest is in determining whether casual TFC fans are like Raptors and Jays fans, or if they will become like Leafs fans -- willing to fill the stadium game after game, year after year no matter how long the losing lasts.
One of the theories about why the the Leafs don't win is they they don't have to. They sell out the ACC and pull great TV ratings and sell plenty of merchandise every year, whether they finish first or last or anywhere in between. So where's their incentive to spend money on quality players? Why sign a high-priced difference-maker when you can trade for Yanic Perreault and protect that profit margin?
Do TFC supporters want their team to become known as the Maple Leafs of MLS? I'm not saying that's happened yet, but it's definitely a development worth watching...
-- Morgan Campbell