It’s no secret that Toronto professional sports teams have had little tangible success over the last decade. Yes, the Argonauts won the 100th Grey Cup in November and did so in 2004 as well, but the city’s three major sports franchises – the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Jays – and the Toronto FC have all struggled to put together successful teams in Canada’s biggest sports market over the last number of years. In fact in the last five years the four aforementioned franchises have combined for only one playoff series.
While there are many contributing factors to why each team has failed to achieve much in recent years, the one issue that was a factor for the TFC, seems to be common amongst the Leafs and Raptors this season and is sure to be a key factor heading into the Jays season is success at home.
Toronto Maple Leafs: A quarter of the way through the 2013 NHL season, there are plenty of positives for Randy Carlyle to point to with regards to his team’s performance. The Leafs are playing above .500 hockey and currently find themselves in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, James Reimer seems to have returned to the form that won him the starting job in 2011, Toronto is playing with a renewed sense of toughness – the Leafs and New York Rangers are currently tied for the NHL lead in hits with 328 – and they’ve put together an impressive 6-1 road record to start the season.
However, the Leafs record at home could be a cause for concern should it persist. Heading into Monday night's tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers the Leafs are 1-4-0 at the Air Canada Centre. Aside from the Ottawa Senators, every team that made postseason in 2012 was at least nine or 10 games above .500 on home ice including the New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes – franchises that were all in the bottom third of the NHL when it came to home attendance last season – so “the ACC is too quiet” argument doesn’t hold up here. Sure, the ACC is far from the league’s best when it comes to in-game atmosphere, but that isn’t an excuse for futility at home. If the Leafs continue to play well on the road than they may be able to continue struggling at home for another few weeks, but they play 10 of 14 games at home in March so they might be better suited to solve their home woes sooner rather than later. That is, if the goal is to make the post-season.
Toronto Raptors: The Raptors are one of seven teams in the NBA to have a .500 or worse record at home this season. While it would be easy to say that because the team got out to such a poor start their lack of success at home is slightly inflated that isn’t necessarily a fair comment. Yes the Raptors got out to an abysmal 4-19 start, but of those 19 losses only five came at the Air Canada Centre meaning there was plenty of time for Toronto to make up for their poor standing at home. While they went on a five-game home-win streak between mid-December and the beginning of January, their play at the ACC has leveled out again. Sunday's win over the New Orleans Hornets got the Raptors back to .500 (13-13).
Success at home is vital in the NBA as teams can get away with poor records on the road and still make the playoffs, just look at how the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets have fared away from home. If the season ended today all three teams would be heading to the post-season yet they’ve combined for a 27-49 record on the road.
R.A. Dickey will be a key piece to the Jays puzzle this season. (Getty)Toronto Blue Jays: You’d have to go all the way back to 2003 to find a season when the Jays put up a better record on the road than they did at home. Sure, the team is generally more successful at the Rogers Centre (or the SkyDome for you traditionalists) than they are away from it, but that success can’t really be quantified to much since the franchise hasn’t made the post-season in nearly two decades and over the last two seasons their “success” at home has meant playing .500 baseball. With so much hype surrounding the Jays heading into the 2013 season, there’s no doubt that they’ll be expected to play the kind of baseball at home that’s common with a team that is projected to at least grab one of the two American League wild-card spots. That means the Jays will have to play at least 10 or 15 games above .500 on the Rogers Centre turf.
And not only is success at home crucial for the team’s overall achievement in the standings, but winning is about the only sales pitch that will win over fans and bring the type of sustainable payback the organization is likely looking for when it comes to ticket and merchandise sales.
Toronto FC: While they combined for a respectable 11-7-14 record at home in 2010 and 2011 the Toronto FC were a disappointing 3-10-5 at BMO Field last season. And their lack of success overall last season showed in the team’s struggle with home attendance. According to Worldfootball.net the team’s attendance at home per game dropped significantly last year compared to the 2011 season. As attempt to get back into the good graces of the TFC faithful Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment announced the cutting of season ticket prices back in October. Cheaper tickets may draw some back in, but winning is likely the only way that the TFC will truly be able to maintain a legitimate fan base at BMO Field.