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Toronto FC president Payne wants roof over BMO Field

The Canadian Press

8/2/2013 3:43:57 PM

TORONTO -- Bigger and better. And with some kind of roof.

Toronto FC's vision of an improved BMO Field is taking shape.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke said last month that ownership was looking at upgrading BMO Field, the MLS team's no-frills home since it entered the league in 2007.

On Friday, Toronto FC president Kevin Payne offered his view.

"I believe long term we have to put a roof on the building," said Payne, when asked about improving the fan experience. "Not necessarily the entire building and not necessarily the entire seating section. But there has to be roof cover. Without it you can't create a sense of drama. The presentation suffers."

Payne, who took charge of the MLS franchise prior to this season, said a review on ways to make the stadium bigger was under way when he first came on board.

"Literally the first day I was on the job I talked to (MLSE vice-president) Bob Hunter about making the stadium better," Payne said.

Soon after that, the team committed money to a study to see what space could be used "to provide different types of experiences to our fans that aren't there now."

Payne also wants more night games.

"Frankly I think it hurts us a bit that we have to play so many afternoon games. It's very difficult to create drama then. I hope in the future as we negotiate our TV deals, that we'll be able to get more night games. I think when you play under the lights, especially in the fall when it's getting dark, it's just a different feeling. It creates much more of a theatrical experience and it helps the fans really get into the game better.

"But we're going to look at a number of ways to improve the fan experience, to create new fan experiences, particularly premium fan experiences that we really don't have very much of now. And try to make it a much more modern MLS building.

"Because compared to (the stadium in) Kansas City, it doesn't compare."

Built in 2011, Sporting Park -- which cost a reported US$200 million -- is seen as the soccer-specific jewel of MLS stadiums.

In contrast, BMO Field was a bargain at C$62.5 million. Originally the brainchild of the Canadian Soccer Association, the stadium was built as a way to bring the FIFA U20 World Cup and an MLS team to Toronto.

Both were delivered. But the lakefront stadium was downsized due to funding issues.

Little has changed since then, other than the addition of a modest north stand.