If the Impact want to avoid more games being postponed because of snowy conditions they need to press City Hall to renovate Olympic Stadium or make changes to their own.
With the weather forecast calling for snow during the daytime hours of Saturday, the Montreal Impact announced on Friday that their home opener with the Seattle Sounders at the Olympic Stadium will need to be postponed to Sunday afternoon, weather permitting.
Given that the Olympic Stadium is an indoor facility, whether it snows or not shouldn’t matter, but it does matter in this case because of the Big O’s rickety roof and its past history of implosion following sizable snowfalls.
As opposed to recent years where any snowfall would have resulted in a game being postponed, an allowance was made this year for an accumulation of up to three centimetres. While this change of protocol offers the Impact a little flexibility, it doesn’t solve the issue. If the Impact has to host Champions League games in March or even an MLS Cup final in December (the club reserved the Olympic Stadium last season thinking that there was a chance they could go all the way) you don’t want to be at the mercy of the weather; you want to be sure you’ll have a game no matter what.
If a game can’t be played when it snows, then the Olympic Stadium serves very little purpose.
One possible solution would be for the Impact to invest in undersoil heating at Stade Saputo. You turn the heating system on in February and you’re ready to go in March. For example, Toronto FC already has this very system in place and will be able to make a home debut at BMO Field on Saturday. Though the field conditions will be far from ideal, it’s still better than having to postpone games. With this heating arrangement, the Impact could play at Stade Saputo right up until Christmas if they wanted to.
The Impact hadn’t initially considered undersoil heating when they first built Stade Saputo because in the NASL days the weather was never an issue since the season would start in May. But it became an issue in April of last year as the Impact was forced to postpone the first home game at Stade Saputo against the Columbus Crew because of a snowstorm.
Speaking with assembled media at Olympic Stadium on Wednesday, Impact vice-president Richard Legendre explained that the club has looked at the possibility of undersoil heating but that installing this system would be far too expensive. Moreover, undersoil heating doesn’t eliminate the problem of having to remove snow from the stands, as only a third of the seats are covered by the stadium’s roof.
Of course, the other solution would be for the city to invest several hundreds of millions of dollars in renovating the Olympic Stadium, much like the city of Vancouver did with B.C Place, which now looks fabulous. Considering the cost of maintaining the Olympic Stadium alone exceeds $35-million a year and demolishing the stadium could require a figure in the vicinity of $700-million, renovating the Big O and making the most out of it might not be such a bad idea.
Two Major League Baseball games between the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets scheduled for March 28 and 29 at the Olympic Stadium could also be in jeapordy as well due to potential snowy conditions.
If there’s a positive in this Saturday's game being postponed it's that it will help call new Montreal mayor Denis Coderre’s attention to these problems. Coderre, who’s an avid sports fan, was supposed to attend Saturday’s home opener. The Impact will be hoping that both he and the other 25,000 or so fans who have tickets for the game haven't made other plans for Sunday afternoon.
On April 5 and 12 another two Impact games are scheduled for the Olympic Stadium and, just like they were this week, they’ll be helplessly praying for sunshine.
Until a solution is found, the Impact will continue to sweat it out in the cold.
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