Maybe Toronto Sports Fans Just Aren’t Prepared For Success

It’s a Blue Jays day. (All photos courtesy of Ian Johnston)

As a whole, Toronto has experienced success on a big scale in recent years — be it in business, real estate or its newfound profile as a go-to city to live in.

Heck, even our beleaguered sports teams are looking good.

Yet one does have to wonder:

Are Toronto sports fans really — truly — prepared for success?

It proved an interesting question this spring.

As Toronto’s Leafs and Raptors finished their record regular seasons, one started to wonder — how would the local fans cope? I mean, Toronto’s sports image is so steeped in tragedy and failure. So would fans be able to adjust to being considered among the elite? And, in a weird way, would they want to?

It wasn’t that long ago when ESPN rated Toronto the “Worst Sports City” in North America — even lower than cities who had never won anything.

It was odd.

Oh, the city was pretty good, with a suddenly hot real estate market, and a vibrant downtown with walk-up access to all manner of sports. If you wanted to watch sports, of course. For the survey also revealed Toronto’s curious status as a city with rabid fans who were generally unhappy with their teams.

Yet they still paid high ticket prices to watch little success.

A love/hate relationship to say the least.

It wasn’t entirely shocking for the fanbase. Having not won the Stanley Cup since 1967 (nor even reaching the finals), the Leafs were the most popular team in sports — without anything to show for it.

Seen as arrogant and over-exposed, they were the team the local supporters (and outside haters) loved to ridicule in equal amounts.

Toronto sucks? Sure, here’s your proof in blue and white.

Add to that the Jays, with a carpet instead of grass at a domed-stadium rendered obsolete mere moments after opening. And not a whiff of success since the touch-em-all Joe Carter era.

The Raptors? They were mired in a series of brief playoff runs, while the new Toronto FC were … Well, you get the picture.

“Arrrrgggooos” was the Toronto putdown heard, not just at football games, but everywhere. Which was just fine with a lot of Toronto fans. Hating your team gives you something to cheer for. And if other people hate you, then at least they’re still talking about you.

Since that 2011 survey, things have changed somewhat. Two trips to the American League final re-engaged the Jays fanbase. The Toronto FC, with new grass instead of carpet, finally won, as did the Argos. And this spring, both the Leafs and the Raptors scored record regular seasons.

Air Canada Centre

Add to that, a revitalized downtown core where the Air Canada Centre and Rogers Centre have become key players for major real estate projects — the biggest being the nearby CIBC Square.

Suddenly, Toronto was dealing with a newfound status as a Millennial/tech hotspot, where folks like Google and Amazon sniff about.

We were a cool city. A top-ranked North American city.

People don’t just want to visit downtown Toronto … They want to live there? Go figure.

Toronto sports now appeared ready to abandon its “Arrrgggooos” image. Haters would lose their greatest weapon against all-things Toronto. Success, it seemed, was in our hands.

Which made this sports fan a little nervous quite frankly.

Think of what happened to the Boston Red Sox, who finally broke the Bambino curse in 2004 with a World Series victory. The sad sacks of the American League suddenly seemed different. They were more like the conceited, privileged, rich Yankees than the tragic anti-hero image they had cultivated over the years.

Same goes for the Chicago Cubs, who broke a 100-plus year curse a couple years back. And now seem somehow … boring. No longer lovable losers, what are the Cubs now? Are they happier? Yes, certainly, but image-deprived.

Snore.

Bartman, we need you.

 

In Toronto, the potential for boring success also brought confusion. If we couldn’t complain about our teams’ ineptitude, then what exactly do we complain about? Degrees of winning?

Success meant people would hate us for the normal reasons — success. Or the price of a condo downtown. What’s the fun in that?

It didn’t happen of course. A lot of hand-wringing for nothing. The young Leafs proved they weren’t quite ready to take it to the next level. The Raptors’ struggle with all things LeBron reached epic proportions. And the Jays continued to sputter in the wake of a rebuild.

“Arrrggooos” still. At least for one more year. Maybe we’ll be ready then.

Better make it two years.

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