Last year, I posted a bit of Toronto-baiting, referring to the town as the place “where professional sports go to be embalmed”. In the comment thread to that post, “Lickmuffin” set me straight about just why Toronto teams are so bad — the answer is that Toronto fans expect no more of them, and are happy to pay for mediocrity. Stephen Marche goes a few steps further on that line (largely proving Lickmuffin’s point):
It’s a given that the true fan goes to games not for the necessarily occasional thrill of winning, but for the quotidian experience of losing — a truth articulated originally and beautifully by Nick Hornby in Fever Pitch. Losing in Toronto, however, is an unremitting condition. The CFL team, the Argonauts, is so bad that when I recently found a friend of mine betting on it, I immediately wondered if it was time for an intervention about his gambling addiction. As it stands, the Argonauts are
2 and 63 and 9. The Blue Jays this year aren’t completely terrible, but when you’ve said that, you’ve said everything. They may be a rising power in the East, as many claim, but they sure haven’t risen yet. The Raptors are still in their post-Bosh wilderness (not that the Bosh period was a golden age), and Toronto FC currently rests at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Leafs, who matter to Torontonians more than all the other teams combined, have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, and they haven’t made the playoffs in a franchise-record six seasons. The only team with a longer dry spell is the Florida Panthers. The Leafs’ major source of hope seems to be Brian Burke himself, but when the major source of your dreams is a front-office guy, you are in a dark place. Cheering a GM, to me, is hitting rock bottom.
And this in Canada’s biggest city, where hockey matters more than baseball in Boston or basketball in Indiana or football in Texas. The only other places where sports dwell so near the most profound and abiding national questions are rugby in New Zealand, which recoups the warrior culture of the Maori, and football in Buenos Aires, where the slumdog Boca Juniors battle the uptown Millonarios in a never-ending class war. Maybe Real Madrid against Barcelona could be added to that list, but nobody else. People who were surprised that Vancouver burned after the Stanley Cup playoffs last year are unaware of the history of the sport in Canada. Of the 10 biggest riots in Canadian history, six began at hockey games.
[. . .]
So who can blame Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the business that controls the Leafs and the Raptors, for following that oldest and truest of rules: Never give a sucker an even break? The most recently released financial reports, published by the Toronto Star in 2007 and which were neither confirmed nor denied by the privately held MLSE, suggest they run a profit margin of more than 20 percent. Before we start hacking away at the irresponsible evil-capitalist angle, however, we should recognize that the majority shareholder in MLSE is the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund (although they are currently looking to sell); the profits of MLSE have paid for the retirement of a lot of hardworking people, so it’s good that they’re good at business. And they are excellent business people.