Toronto is an amazing city, boasting excellent cultural icons like the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, the Hockey Hall of Fame, the CN Tower, and a vivacious music and entertainment scene. Kensington Market on a sunny Sunday afternoon alone makes the visit to this town totally worth it.
In the early 90s, Toronto was on top of the world. The Blue Jays won the World Series two years in a row, the Maple Leafs were making deep playoff runs, the Raptors were about to debut as the first NBA franchise in Canada, and The Kids in the Hall ruled the airwaves.
What happened? How did this city fall so far so fast? Toronto has not made a serious run at any kind of championship in years. Well, okay, the Toronto Rock won the Lacrosse Championship, making dozens of fans happy, but when it comes to Major League sports, Toronto has nothing to show.
Here are nine reasons why Toronto says, “Next year” so much:
Harold Ballard is the man who first took advantage of Toronto sports fans. He was the majority owner of the Maple Leafs from 1972 until 1990. Ballard did his best to alienate not only the fans, but also the stars of the team. He fired popular coach Roger Neilson, blacklisted Team Captain Dave Keon, and traded away Lanny McDonald, among other atrocities.
Ballard was also convicted on 47 of 49 charges of fraud, theft, and tax evasion to the tune of over $200,000. He told the CBC’s Barbara Frum on her own program that he thought, “Women are best in one position—on their backs.” Reports that the undead body of Harold Ballard still hunts the living from the back alleys and rooftops of Toronto have neither been confirmed nor denied.
And that is the barest tip of the iceberg when it came to Ballard monstrosities. But his damage was done. He made it apparent to Toronto that he knew fans would fill his building every game, and that he did not need a winner. Ballard did not care about winning. Ballard only wanted to make money.
This was Toronto’s time to rebel against greed versus championships. Toronto sports fans failed to answer the bell, thus setting a poor precedent for their future sports teams.
Every year it seems, the Blue Jays tinker with their lineup, add a star, include a hot prospect from last season, and get the city excited about baseball again. And every year, they are out of the playoffs by a wide margin in October.
This team can’t catch a break. Out of all sports teams doing poorly in Toronto, this is the team most plagued by bad luck. Jose Bautista is done for season due to injury; Edwin Encarnacion is beset by slumps; the young pitching rotation did not soar as expected; ace Ricky Romero collapsed; the list goes on and on. But this is the deal every year with the Jays.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos is the bright spot for this franchise after a disastrous run by former GM J.P. Ricciardi, but he has his work cut out for him to keep his city interested. Hopefully, he will succeed, as the Jays represent Toronto's best hope to have a winner again.
How the mighty have fallen.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, or MLSE, is the main offender of why Toronto fares so poorly with its sports teams. The organization controls the Maple Leafs, the Raptors, TFC, and the Toronto Marlies amongst other sports interests including but not limited to their own sports television channels and venues. Seemingly uninterested in winning, this corporate conglomerate excels in turning profits.
Carrying on in the spirit of Harold Ballard, they have an NBA team that has not made the playoffs in years, a Major League Soccer team that has never made the playoffs, and an NHL team that is now widely recognized as the worst in the league.
One would think that ticket prices would be cheap. One would be mistaken. The Leafs are the most expensive ticket in the NHL. MLSE has recently added a nice feather in their cap with a giant sports bar that people line up to get into. This helps fill their coffers nicely.
Harold Ballard’s undead laugh reverberates over the skyline of Toronto.
Boasting insanely loyal fans, arguably the best in all of MLS, Toronto Football Club has never rewarded them for their support. Brought in by MLSE to the delight of Toronto footie fans, TFC has lost its luster.
The franchise gets national media coverage, huge promotional pushes, and was the ticket of the town to get when it was first introduced to Toronto. The venue was packed, and one was unable to walk about Toronto without seeing merchandise for the team, or fans in team jerseys.
Six seasons later, the team has yet to make the playoffs.
Ballard is still laughing.
At the end of the 90s, it looked like the Raptors might amount to something. They had a bona fide star in Vince Carter, and had a great supporting cast. They were making the playoffs and proving the NBA could succeed in Canada, despite the loss of the Grizzlies from Vancouver.
It was not to last. Never seemingly taken very seriously by the MLSE, the Raptors took a couple kicks at the can before arriving at odds with Carter. They helped build the career of Chris Bosh after Carter’s departure, but except for one last playoff run, they haven’t made much noise at all.
Yet, the Raptors have a serious fan base. Toronto is definitely a great market for the sport. But, as is a familiar refrain in Toronto, the fans don’t seem to be that important to the owners of the team.
Now, Bosh is long gone to a championship team, and the Raptors have a roster of… uh… well there’s Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, and a bunch of guys nobody knows to show for it. Their big move in the offseason was the acquisition of Dominic McGuire. It does not look like they will be a big factor this season either.
It’s such a shame that Canada’s Team in the NBA has so little to offer.
The Maple Leafs are the centerpiece of Toronto sports culture. They are the city’s Crown Jewels. Nothing says one is a Torontonian like a Leafs jersey. The games have always been, and remain to this day, the place to see and be seen amongst Toronto elite. It is a proud proclamation for someone to say they have Leaf tickets in Toronto.
But wait a second, how long has it been since the Leafs have done anything again? Their last championship was 1967. This writer had not been born yet. 45 years without a championship. As for the playoffs, it has been since before the last lockout in 2004. They are the only team in the NHL to not make the playoffs in those years. The only team. Brutal.
General Manager, Brian Burke, is rumored to have won a Stanley Cup at one time, but others counter-balance this with reports that this was only a Disney movie starring Emilio Estevez. The jury is still out. Burke made lots of claims upon his arrival that he would build a big, tough, Canadian team and promptly filled out the roster with…well “not so much” will get the point across.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs are making lots and lots of money. Their tickets are insanely expensive, not to mention their concessions. They own their own television station and get more and more games broadcast there every year. They brought their farm team to town against the protests of St John’s Newfoundland, where the Baby Leafs were doing just fine, so they could squeeze every last dollar out of the brand. Merchandise. Venues. Sports bars.
In any other city, a professional sports team performing this badly would lose its fans. Not the Leafs. Their fans line up to get in and fill the building every game, and take it on the chin every season.
Toronto has been subjected to losing season after losing season from its Major League hockey, basketball, and baseball franchises. As a result, the psyche of the city is now primed to cheer for losers. This is a very good explanation for how Toronto elected Rob Ford, human turnip, as their mayor.
Never mind the fact that Ford had previously been arrested in 1999 for a DUI and drug possession, he won the election in a landslide. Also taking into account the guy had been removed by security from a Maple Leafs game in 2006 for drunken belligerence. Hey, what could go wrong, right?
Ford went on to one big political mess after another. He cannot seem to navigate traffic without either reading while driving, talking on the phone, or screaming abuse at other drivers. Regarding cyclists and bike lanes, he said, “My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.” Regarding people of Asian descent, he said, “I'm telling you, the Oriental people, they're slowly taking over."
And this is not to mention his famous contempt for the media. His disrespectful comments and physical confrontations with some have become legend. Ford once actually called 911 because a middle-aged comedienne dressed like Xena wanted to ask him some questions for a popular comedy show.
Ford’s positive moment came when a picture of him kicking a football, pictured, became an internet meme, and was popular for a week or two. Other than that, it’s more of the same with this guy, now currently involved in a conflict of interest case that he used his office and access to funds and equipment to pay bills for a local football team.
Toronto, seriously, how did you let this guy become your mayor? The losing mentality being perpetrated by your sports teams are affecting your city’s future.
Once upon a time, Don Cherry was someone to be listened to. He seemed to have the pulse of the nation, the voice of the people, and the soul of a warrior. People loved him, and still do. Cherry still does unquestioned good championing the Canadian Armed Forces, and is still the most recognized ambassador of hockey at the Canadian grass roots level.
But he has become more and more irrelevant. Ensconced as the absolute hockey authority on the most holy of Canadian programs, Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry is an unabashed shill for the Leafs. He openly wears his heart on his multicolored sleeve, regularly espousing what the Leafs must do to win a game.
To be fair, Cherry’s first love is the team he coached, the Boston Bruins. But this is Hockey Night in Canada; the Leafs draw more ratings than the other Canadian teams. So, no matter how badly they are doing, being on board with the Leafs is money in the bank for Cherry. Considering how vaunted his opinion is, his words enforce the beliefs of Toronto fans, and like a cult leader, gives them faith in a lost cause.
The problem is, of course, that Cherry is full of himself. He has become hockey's mascot. A kind of clown. Look at the way he dresses, for instance. He is all flash and no bang. Wait, check that, he is actually very loud, but rarely says anything of real substance.
Hockey has changed, and Cherry has not changed with it. Indeed, he prides himself on being a throwback to the good old days of the sport. And there’s the rub, for these are no longer the good old days. It has been 45 years since the Leafs held a Cup. European players are now sought after for their skill, but Cherry discriminates against them as he does his fellow Canadians, if they happen to be from Quebec. He claims to be all about the kids playing hockey while selling his own line of videos showing hockey’s biggest and most horrific hits.
But Canadians listen to him. More importantly, Toronto sports fans do, and he does them no justice.
Here they are Toronto; these people are your biggest problem. One sees them everywhere. In Tim Horton’s. On the streets. On television. In the bars. Everywhere in Toronto. They have taken hold of your city and refuse to let it go. Like zombies.
It does not matter that Toronto has a sparkling new Opera House.
It does not matter that Toronto’s mass transit system is laughably awful.
It does not matter how the city fails under incompetent leaders.
There is no talking to them. All conversations consist of two words: “WOO!” and “LEAFS!”
Generations of failure have actually retarded mental growth in a great portion of Toronto’s population. These are Leaf fans. Some of these hardcore Zombies only know loss. Some of their children, mercilessly indoctrinated into their culture of defeat, have never seen their team in the playoffs. Let that sink in. Never. They have only heard that the Leafs are great. But they have never seen it!
Every time the Maple Leafs play, regardless of how badly they are doing, Leaf Zombies fill the building. One cannot go anywhere in Toronto without getting trapped into a conversation with a Zombie. Although some are knowledgeable, most are not. Again, conversations are, “LEAFS! WOO!”
When the Leafs win, Zombies plan a parade route. When they lose, profanities are unleashed that make “Scarface” look like “Dora the Explorer.” These Zombies, a great majority of them anyway, have literally been bred to accept the losing ways of Toronto, and evil men do what they can to keep it that way.
They show the Zombies that all sports teams are bad. If no other teams win, then the Leafs are doing great, right? They make them pay lots of money to see terrible teams play terrible games, and make them think that this is a privilege. Don Cherry roots for the Leafs, so that must be good. Rob Ford is running for mayor, so that must be good, too.
This is a sad and terrible problem for Toronto. Eventually, like a zombie apocalypse movie, your beautiful city will be over-run by mindless automatons. If the first step of solving a problem is recognizing there is one, then Toronto must recognize the issue within their own population.
Toronto, the Leaf Zombies roam your streets right now. You must rise up against them. The next time you see a Zombie in a Leafs jersey with one of those stupid blue wigs, try to knock it off their head with a stick.
Sadly Toronto, why you lose so much is now because you lose so much. It is unclear what the solution is, besides a major boycott of your sports teams, and an exile of the Leaf Zombies.
Good luck with that.