MLSE looks at BMO Field improvements, CFL refitting

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The Canadian Press
9/5/2013 3:30:16 PM
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TORONTO -- The owners of Toronto FC say they are looking at whether BMO Field can be refitted to accommodate the CFL game.

Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, said the project was currently at "the information-only stage" and was part of a larger plan to see how the lakefront stadium can be improved.

Leiweke said high school football championships have been played at the StubHub centre, home to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Football is also played at the home of the Houston Dynamo.

And BMO Field has played host to the Canadian rugby team "which is just as tough on a pitch as football if not more so," Leiweke said on a conference call Thursday. "And we find a way to make it work."

"To me it's not a debate of whether you do football or not," he added. "It's a debate about if it's the CFL, can you design the stadium so that it grows for the CFL and shrinks back down to its current intimacy for soccer?"

The Toronto Argonauts currently play at Rogers Centre, with many fans wishing for a more intimate setting. There has been speculation in the local media recently that MLSE is interested in purchasing the CFL team from current owner David Braley.

The Argos and Rogers Centre agreed on a new lease agreement prior to the 2013 season.

Leiweke says no decision has been made on changing the BMO Field set-up but there is talk underway to see what could be accomplished.

"We're going to continue to look at it but the commitment we're going to make is we will not ruin the intimacy of the viewing and the current set-up for MLS. And we will do it in a way where we're not going to turn the field into dirt," he said.

"And whether or not we can do that, it means we've got to spend more money. To the credit of ownership, what they've told us is 'Go look at it.' They haven't approved it, because we don't know what it is yet. And so we're still working on it."

Leiweke said MLSE won't even look at it unless it includes upgrades to the current MLS viewing experience. "And that means, yeah, we're looking at a roof."

MLSE is sending people to see other MLS stadiums, to see new designs and technology.

"This league is changing quickly," Leiweke said. "BMO worked when we first began eight, nine years ago when we started building it. But today we're going to have to change. And that means everything is in and under consideration. Nothing has been decided."

Originally the brainchild of the Canadian Soccer Association, the $62.5-million stadium was built as a way to bring the FIFA under-20 World Cup and an MLS team to Toronto.

BMO Field (Photo: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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