Ben Knight May 12, 2006
Toronto's pro soccer team has an odd name, a cool logo - and no identity.
In fairness, it was a difficult problem. What do you call a soccer team, when just about any nickname you choose will offend someone you can't afford to offend?
You won't get "serious" soccer fans with another dumb animal nickname. Toronto-based Liverpool and Juventus fans (and there are lots of them) won't be buying Toronto Otters scarves and replica jerseys, no matter how big the manic grin on the inevitable cartoon rodent.
But if you try to invoke one of the great teams of Europe, you offend everyone. Inter Toronto was kicked around for awhile. But if you're not a fan of Inter Milan, you're certainly not going to wear blue and black for their upstart MLS imitators. And if you are an Inter fan, you sure don't need a cheap, domestic knock-off that never won anything pretending to be your team.
A bunch of us - fans and reporters alike - lobbied for a revival of the old Toronto Blizzard. Yeah, in all honesty, it was a pretty dumb nickname at the time. But there was some honest, heartfelt history behind it by the end, and it would have gladdened many hearts to add a few new chapters to that book.
Ah, but Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Toronto's MLS owners, knew better. They did surveys, you see. And you can't argue with surveys.
So, no Blizzard. (Sigh!) But mercifully, no Inter Toronto either. (Whew!)
And so, Toronto, put your hands together! Raise your voices high! Let's get glad for the lads! Let's scream for our team! Will you welcome...
Now, I'm a huge supporter of Canada's entry into MLS. I look forward to covering this team closely, and writing intriguing, enjoyable articles about its players, coaches, strategies and overall place in the history of Canadian soccer. I don't intend to be a homer, but there will be important, positive stories to tell, and a likely shortage of interested media outlets ready to tell them.
But, in the tepid name of lukewarm tapioca, this has to be one of the dullest, drabbest, least heartfelt team nicknames in history. The only thing to rival it also came from MLS, when the Dallas Burn (dumb name, but at least it wasn't an animal), changed their moniker to ...
I bet you just can't wait for that inaugural Toronto-Dallas game in 2007? Confused fans won't know what the FC is going on.
On top of that, Toronto FC will take the field in red and white - presumably so you can tell the difference between them and the Canadian national team, who are pretty sure to have quite a few of the same players.
Trim colour? Grey. Now, I happen to really like grey. Red and grey are, in fact, my two favourite colours. But it's a very odd combination for a professional soccer team. Almost unheard of, except for perennial Italian minnows Cremonese. (Memo to MLSE: Invite Cremonese over for a friendly, ASAP. Let's solve this red-and-grey global supremacy thing once and for all!)
Toronto FC, then, is a team that will create its own identity on the field. Fans will come up with nicknames on their own, which is actually a fine and time-tested tradition in soccer. Very few soccer clubs have normal nicknames anyway. Arsenal may also be known as the Gunners, but no one ever calls them the Arsenal Gunners. Nor do you ever hear anyone say the Chelsea Blues, Liverpool Reds, Wigan Athletic Latics or West Browmich Albion Baggies-Throstles-Albion.
From that angle, this might actually be a cute and cunning approach.
But what about marketing? It has been written here, on multiple occasions, that Toronto FC is going to have to create its fan base from scratch. Marketing is going to be huge. So you've sidestepped (for now) the problem of a nickname that offends traditional footy fans, but what have you got left to market?
The logo is pretty cool. A neat shield design, topped by a clever maple leaf crafted from old-style soccer ball segments. It's not flashy, but that could be a plus. Soccer fans are a pretty traditional bunch, on average, and I think we're all a bit weary of the nauseating nicknames, logos and colour schemes that pretty much loused up the sports world in general throughout the nineties. A bit of tastefully restrained minimalism is actually quite refreshing.
But it's still a huge gamble.
I want to believe the suits at MLSE know exactly what they're doing. I want to believe they are bright, rational, forward-looking folk who are up to the challenge, even if their hockey and basketball teams, for the moment, aren't.
I like the fact that they got this far without offending old-school soccer fans. But I think I'd feel a whole lot better if the unveiling of the new team's name, colours and logo had actually been exciting.
... To anyone.