Is it possible that the Toronto Maple Leafs could occupy the third most important spot in the Toronto sports scene? Normally this idea would be unthinkable. However, in 2015 with the rise of the Toronto Raptors of the NBA and the miracle turnaround by the Toronto Blue Jays of MLB, it is quite possible that the Leafs have been pushed aside.
That being said, the Maple Leafs are celebrating their 99th season and have been the toast of the town for the vast majority of their tenure. They are a financial juggernaut which has forced the most unusual of ownership situations in all of sports. MLSE, the parent company which owns the Maple Leafs, Toronto Marlies, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and the Air Canada Centre, is a three-headed monster consisting of Larry Tanenbaum and corporate competitors Bell Communications and Rogers Communications. Both companies have an equal share in MLSE and compete in the business world in almost every sense. Many believe that this ownership situation can only be short-term due to the competition between the companies, but MLSE is so valuable that it is hard to see how the situation could possibly change.
The Maple Leafs are one of the cornerstone franchises in the NHL and one of the famed "Original Six." Their tenure over time has seen them produce nearly countless inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame. They have hoisted the Stanley Cup 13 times, the second best in the NHL. Die-hard Leaf fans will cringe when reminded that they haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967, and their performance on the ice in recent years has been mediocre at best. However, a trip to downtown Toronto and the Maple Leafs needs to be on your list if you are a serious hockey fan. You may only be able to afford to go once, but if hockey is your thing, then you need to get to the Hangar!
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concession selections at the Air Canada Centre are really second to none. The selection is absolutely massive and the quality is quite high also.
The food selections at the Air Canada Centre will absolutely make your head spin. There are a number of main concession stands in the main concourse which offer a wide variety of food options. All of your expected fare is available including hot dogs ($6.25), sausage ($7.50), pizza ($6.25), french fries ($5.50) and popcorn ($7/$12). These stand also offer some more interesting options including poutine, chicken wraps, burgers, pulled pork and garlic parmesan fries. There are also a number of specialty stands that you would want to consider. The Bay Street Grill features Tex-Mex fare. Hero Certified Burgers is a franchise that is gaining some momentum in Canada, and maintains a presence at the Air Canada Centre. Also, nothing says Canada like Mr. Sub and Tim Hortons, which have a few spots around the main concourse. A few original spots that you will want to consider include MacCheesey's, a specialty mac and cheese place; Smoke's Poutinerie, featuring poutine taken to the next level; Nathan's Dog House, featuring a huge variety of unique hot dogs; and Sweet Wally's which features sweets to die for including funnel cake fries, loaded brownies and deep-fried rolo.
Coca-Cola products are featured throughout the Air Canada Centre ($5.50/$8.50). If you are interested in alcoholic beverages, there are numerous spots to consider including Suds on Six and the Molson Canadian Brewhouse. At the brewhouse, they actually brew their own beer and the giant copper kettles can be seen from the concourse. Some of the selections that are available include Molson Canadian, Coors Light, Heineken, Coors, Creemore, Dos Equis, Strongbow and Hay Day. Tall boys go for $11 or $12 depending on the type. Molson Canadian and Coors Light is also on draught for $12 or $16 depending on the size. Smirnoff Ice and other alcoholic options are also available.
The Air Canada Centre website does a fantastic job of mapping out concession options, offering the opportunity for the true foodie to do some significant planning. Nathan's Dog House and Sweet Willy's are definitely spots that you want to hit if you are looking for a recommendation.
It is easy to see great improvements in the atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre over time.
Outside of Air Canada Centre, the immediate area has been improved with the addition of Maple Leaf Square. What has become a bit of a gathering place before and after games. Important games have seen the square full of people watching on the huge screen on the outside of the ACC. In Maple Leaf Square you will find the on going Leafs project Legends Row. As of November 2015, the multi-faceted bronze monument has incorporated Maple Leaf legends Ted Kennedy, Johnny Bower, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming, Syl Apps, George Armstrong and Mats Sundin. The project is not complete and there will be more legends added as time expires leading to the 100th anniversary of the team. To the north of the arena you will find the Galleria. In this link between the ACC and Union Station there are a number of interactive games that are available before the game for fans to participate in. If you go to the northeast portion of the Galleria you can check out some remnants of the old Toronto Postal Building, along with some photos and text showing the old building and what had to be done to transform it into part of the Air Canada Centre, as well as some of the steps taken to preserve the building. Upon entering the concourse fans are able to check out the Leafs Nation pregame show, which is broadcast from the main concourse and is hosted by Paul Hendrick and Bob McGill for LeafsTV. The concourses have been improved by toning down some of the advertising, which in years previous was absolutely obnoxious in its multitude. There are multiple photos around the concourse of classic moments in Leafs and Raptors history as well as key moments in ACC history. Inside the seating bowl fans will instantly be drawn to the brand new, crystal clear videoboard. The videoboard is surrounded by a plethora of banners signifying the Stanley Cup victories of 1918, 1922, 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967. The first two victories were earned by previous incarnations of the Maple Leafs, the Toronto Arenas and the Toronto St. Pats. On the other side of the videoboard there are a number of banners honouring a plethora of Maple Leaf legends. The Maple Leafs have only retired the numbers of Bill Barilko and Ace Bailey. The other banners hang for Frank Mahovlich, Borje Salming, Mats Sundin, George Armstrong, Teeder Kennedy, King Clancy, Red Kelly, Turk Broda, Johnny Bower, Hap Day, Tim Horton, Charlie Conacher, Syl Apps, Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour. Other banners hang in front of the Foster Hewitt Media Gondola honouring the opening of the Air Canada Centre and the closing of Maple Leaf Gardens also.
The in-game experience has also improved in subtle ways. The pre-game video that played before the national anthems was one of the best. The Maple Leafs did a fantastic job of not only showing off their wonderful tradition and laundry list of great players and characters, but they were not overly-pretentious and showed clips of fans and their frustrations over the lean years. Upon playing O Canada a giant Canadian flag is passed along the lower bowl through a number of sections. On the opposite side, a giant Canadian flag with a Toronto Maple Leafs logo instead of the red maple leaf and blue bars replacing the red is passed along. Upon the lyric "True North strong and free" the crowd in attendance yells out "True North", showing a new level of participation at Leaf games. The playlist during the game is a healthy mix of pop and classic rock mixed with the old-school organ which was a staple in hockey arenas across North America. Carlton the Bear is the Leafs mascot and makes his way around the arena interacting with children and other fans. One of the best moments away from the action is the sing along to the classic Canadian Anthem "The Hockey Song" by Stompin' Tom Connors.
The seating bowl is made up of two main levels with the goals at the east and west ends of the ice. The two levels offer fairly different views. The lower level offers a gentle slope, while the upper deck is steeper than in many other arenas. The upper deck in the west end features the Fan Deck on level 600, a new seating area. The Crown Royal bar is located in the upper deck on the east side. If you would like to see the Maple Leaf logo in its proper fashion, then you will need to head to the south side of the arena. As far as the best place to sit, it will most likely be dictated by your pocket book. You should definitely stay away from the obstructed standing room behind the top row in the upper deck. There is no value for your dollar in this spot. Probably one of the corners in the upper deck is the best spot to be, unless you are okay with pushing your definition of splurging to the limit.
One area where the Maple Leafs may be second to none is the location of the Air Canada Centre.
Air Canada Centre may be in the perfect spot. Located neatly between Front Street and the Harbourfront, the surrounding neighbourhood is an overwhelming plethora of options for either pre or post game fare. Front Street alone is littered with recognizable chain restaurants including Jack Astor's, Texas Lone Star Grill, Canyon Creek, Casey's and Boston Pizza. If you are looking for something a little more original, then you may want to try Joe Badalli's or The Loose Moose. If you head a little closer to the Air Canada Centre then The Fox, or Hoop's may be for you. Right across from the Air Canada Centre, in Maple Leaf Square is Real Sports Bar and Grill, an absolutely massive place with more TV screens than staff. If you have a little extra time and a little extra money, having a drink in The Library Club at the Royal York hotel or having a nice dinner at 360 at the top of the CN Tower will be some uniquely Toronto experiences.
To go along with the plethora of eating establishments downtown, you will also find a ton of things to do. The Air Canada Centre is shared by the Leafs along with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA and Toronto Rock of the NLL. Just up the street you will find the Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays. Further up Front Street to Exhibition Place you will find the Ricoh Coliseum, home of the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Also on the Exhibition grounds is BMO Field, home of Toronto FC of MLS and future home of the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Just north of ACC is the University of Toronto which fields a host of athletic teams at various locations. If you are a true hockey enthusiast, then you will most assuredly want to see the Ryerson Rams play. The Rams call the former Maple Leaf Gardens home and have done a wonderful job preserving the iconic arena while making it functional for Ryerson University. Continuing that idea, a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame, just east of the Air Canada Centre is an absolute must for hockey fans. The Hall balances a fantastic repository of hockey artifacts with interactive games and experiences. North of the Air Canada Centre is the Eaton Centre, which is the centre of a great Toronto shopping district. The Theatre District in Toronto is possibly second only to Broadway in New York City. Of course, the iconic CN Tower is also a great destination to the west of the ACC. Forget coming for the night, or spending the weekend. You could jam pack a full week in Downtown Toronto and still need to return to catch what you missed.
There are a number of quality hotels that are well within walking distance of the ACC. However, the downtown location leads to a fairly expensive stay. The Westin Harbour Castle offers a prime location which can overlook the harbour and is just south of the ACC. For a truly classic Canadian experience, you should consider staying at the Fairmont Royal York, one of the oldest, most famous hotels in all of Canada. An option that is a little more affordable and also within walking distance is the Strathcona.
Assessing Toronto Maple Leaf fans is extremely difficult. Leaf fans are an enigma on to themselves.
There are very few fanbases in sports that have suffered like Toronto Maple Leaf fans have. Fans often point to the 1967 Stanley Cup as a sign of their suffering, however Chicago Cub fans would scoff at that notion. However, in the 48 years since the Leafs last saw the Cup, the vast majority of those years the Leafs have been absolutely horrible. Most view being a Leaf fan as having a significant amount of resolve. That being said, attendance at the Air Canada Centre is among the best in the entire NHL. The waiting list for season tickets remains long and attendance is consistently over 19,000 game in and game out. One would think that these factors would make the fans' contribution to the Maple Leaf experience to be above reproach. Unfortunately, the fans that are in the stands do very little to add to the atmosphere of a Maple Leafs game. Toronto fans are notoriously late arriving. It is a wonder that they have enough people in the stands for the national anthem to pass the giant flags around. The high cost of tickets brings many corporate fans to the game which does not translate into a loud and boisterous experience that you would find in New York or Montreal. The fans that are in the stands are pretty quiet until there is something significant to cheer for. That being said, they can be surprisingly loud when something important happens.
The location of the Air Canada Centre offers a wide variety of ways to access the arena.
The Air Canada Centre is located right downtown in Toronto, just north of the Gardiner Expressway, between the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 427. The Gardiner is significantly south of Highway 401, which is the main highway through Southern Ontario and basically the location of Pearson International Airport. Traffic is a regular occurrence in this area of downtown and getting to the arena from the east or west can be a chore, especially if you are braving rush hour during the workweek. A little tidbit if you are coming from the west, consider avoiding the majority of the Gardiner Expressway and take Lakeshore Boulevard. Often Lakeshore is the much faster option.
The Galleria offers a direct link to Union Station from the Air Canada Centre. This is fantastic for fans who prefer to take public transit. The TTC subway stops right at Union and there are a variety of GO Transit buses and trains that come into the station. Also, the Via trains also stop at Union for those coming from a short distance out of town. The GO Transit and TTC websites offer maps, schedules and other planning tools to help you in your quest to get to the ACC.
There are quite a few surface and garage parking lots in the immediate area for you to choose from if you are bringing your vehicle. Parking will not be cheap, but can be found for $20 or less. There always seems to be significant construction activity in the area of the ACC so the best plan would be to give yourself plenty of time to find and secure parking so you do not end up being one of those late-arriving Toronto fans. There are some prepaid parking options on sites like ParkMe, or Parking Panda but those are not as prevalent as their American counterparts.
The main ticket windows are located within the Galleria at the west end. With almost no tickets going on sale gameday, lineups at the ticket windows are not usually an issue. The main and most popular gate is found within the Galleria. Increased security measures have slowed down the process a fair bit, but ACC officials have been making a concerted effort to speed up this process. The other gates are not nearly as popular, but will require patrons to wait outside.
Getting around the ACC is not a huge issue. A near capacity crowd most of the time will, of course, bring heavy foot traffic in the concourses, however they are quite big and the traffic flows at a pretty decent clip. There are ample washroom facilities and washroom traffic also moves fairly quickly. Lineups at intermissions are common, however you will not spend the entire intermission in line for the washroom.
The investment for a Maple Leafs game is quite significant. It is difficult for the Leafs to offer an outstanding return for such a high investment.
It is very difficult for fans to find a seat in the ACC for under $100. According to fan price indexes for the 2014-2015 season, the Maple Leafs offered the highest fan cost in the entire NHL at $572. That cost was also significantly higher than the team that came in second place with $509. If you want to minimize your investment, some strategies to use would include catching a weeknight game, and avoiding other Canadian teams and Original Six teams. Also, consider purchasing tickets on the secondary market close to the date that you are planning to attend. However, it is important to remember that secondary market tickets are almost always in US dollars, which can be significantly more expensive than Canadian dollars. Parking is on the high side as well as concessions. Combined with the poor showing on the ice from 2014 through to the beginning of the 2015-2016 season and it is difficult to justify the cost that the fan incurs. Don't get me wrong, the Maple Leafs experience has improved significantly over the last 5 years, and the experience itself is a good one, but the price points make a Maple Leafs game more like a once in a lifetime experience rather than a regular entertainment option.
An extra mark for 99 seasons of Maple Leaf history and the deep traditions and history that go with it.
An extra mark for the continued effort to improve the fan experience at the Air Canada Centre.
An extra mark for the great rivalries the Leafs have with so many teams, Detroit, Buffalo, Ottawa and Montreal at the forefront.
It is said that competition is a good thing. It seems that in the Toronto sports market in 2015-2016 there is some newly found, significant competition threatening to push the Maple Leafs off of the top pedestal. It is a very positive sign to see that the Maple Leaf staff have not sat on their laurels and have been putting forth a consistent effort to improve the fan experience at the Air Canada Centre. How the market plays out only time will tell, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to give up the top spot in Toronto without a fight!
Baseball has long been recognized as America’s Pastime, and on one special day each year a very important venue opens to allow anyone who wants to take part to come in and enjoy the spectacle. Fourth of July Field at Freedom Stadium did not host its first game in Cooperstown, but on the village greens of Lexington and Concord in the years preceding 1776. Like any new franchise, its early years were difficult and it has evolved into a league and world leader in the years since. Because of its limited home schedule, 4th of July Field’s opening day is celebrated with parades, fireworks, picnics and concerts. Opening day is also a day of optimism about the future and a celebration of the past.
There are no local food and drink entries. Help us build with your expertise!
There are no local entertainment entries. Help us build with your expertise!
There are no local lodging entries. Help us build with your expertise!