There are few sports franchises that have as deep a history as the Toronto Maple Leafs. Approaching 100 years in operation, the Maple Leafs franchise dates back to the early 1910s and the dawn of the National Hockey League. Winning Stanley Cups as both the Toronto Arenas and the Toronto St.Patricks, the Toronto franchise eventually came under the control of legendary hockey name Conn Smythe. It was Smythe who would rename the team the Maple Leafs. Over the years, the Leafs would be credited with winning 13 Stanley Cups, with the most recent being in 1967. The team has the second most Stanley Cup victories, behind only the Montreal Canadiens. The nearby Hockey Hall of Fame is littered with people who have been linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs including 54 players and numerous builders.
However, the team that is often referred to as the "Centre of the Hockey Universe" has undergone significant changes lately. Behind the scenes the parent company of the Leafs, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) has undergone a significant ownership change. The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan sold their majority stake in MLSE to a joint ownership venture between Canadian media giants Rogers Communications and Bell Canada. This would be like Apple and Microsoft getting together to own and operate a property. What has made this venture even more curious is the hiring of former AEG CEO Tim Leiweke as President and CEO. The significant changes behind the scenes have Toronto Maple Leaf fans clambering for a more successful team on the ice and a return of the Stanley Cup to Toronto, which many Leaf fans treat as a birthright.
With one of the most loyal fan bases in all of hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to make a splash going forward. They are one of the legendary franchises in all of pro sports, but due to circumstances partially beyond their control, the Leafs fall short of being a legendary fan experience.
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 Air Canada Centre offers a food selection that is equivalent to the top concessions in all of sport. All of the regular concessions are available including pizza from Pizza Pizza, nachos, burgers, popcorn, and others. There are a number of unique items at different stands. Cuban Paninis and other sandwiches are available from Mr. Sub.
Coca-Cola products are available for soda and the beers of choice include Coors Light and Molson Canadian. What will really blow your mind, however, is the selection of hot dogs available from The Dog House. Formerly Burkie's Dog House, named after former GM Brian Burke, The Dog House offers a massive variety of hot dogs, including the Butter Chicken Dog, Southern BBQ Dog, Poutine Dog, Reuben Dog, Mac 'n Cheese Dog and others. There is usually a solid lineup at the Dog House, but it is totally worth the wait.
In one word, the ACC atmosphere is ... corporate. There seems to be more advertising in the Air Canada Centre than anywhere else on the planet! Even the ads behind the benches and on the boards in front of the benches get changed during the game to make more money. For years, the reputation that the Leafs had, fair or unfair, was that they were only interested in making money. MLSE has not done too much to remove themselves from this idea.
The ACC was formerly the Toronto Postal Delivery Building and maintains a partial facade on the adjoining walls of Union Station. Some historical memorabilia from the Postal Building is also on display. The exterior of the ACC is nice, with some large glass areas and a massive screen overlooking Maple Leaf Square. The square has become a gathering spot to see the Leafs in the playoffs and does offer a great party atmosphere when they are victorious.
Once inside there are some historic pictures of past Maple Leaf moments as well as Raptor and concert moments, posted around the concourses. They are often lost through the gaudy advertising that seems to be everywhere. There are also some areas where pictures have been replaced with screens that roll through different Maple Leaf moments. The main floor concourse also features the Molson Canadian Brewhouse, which showcases its own on site brewery. This is cool, until you realize that really all you can see are giant copper vats. Not too interesting. The pregame show for LeafsTV is broadcast on the main floor and can be seen from both indoors and outdoors.
The seating bowl features decent seating with great sight lines. Plastic and fabric or leather seats are what you will find, depending on where your ticket lies. One look up to the rafters and you will get lost in hockey history. The Maple Leafs feature banners from each of their 13 Stanley Cup victories and don't bother with any Division or Conference title banners. The Maple Leafs also feature banners for 18 honoured players from many different generations including Johnny Bower, Ted Kennedy, Turk Broda, Tim Horton, Frank Mahovlich, Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, and Mats Sundin to name a few.
The Leafs have only retired the numbers of Ace Bailey and Bill Barilko. Of note there are a few omissions to the honoured numbers. These include Dave Keon, who refuses to attend a ceremony due to numbers not being retired; Rick Vaive, who was the first Maple Leaf to score 50 goals in a season, and did so three years in a row; and recognition of Paul Henderson, who scored the biggest goal in Canadian Hockey History in the Summit Series of 1972, and was a Maple Leaf All-Star. There is also a banner that hangs recognizing all of the years at Maple Leaf Gardens. Above the 300 level hangs the press box which is named after legendary Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Foster Hewitt as The Foster Hewitt Media Gondola.
Everything else about the ACC is state of the art. The video scoreboard is second to none with tons of space for information (and more advertising). The ribbon board around the ACC is crystal clear and well used. The gameday presentation is decent with a mix of traditional organ and modern music. The foghorn at a goal is about the only thing that gets the crowd up on its feet.
What makes the experience of the Air Canada Centre frustrating is that there is enough Maple Leaf history available to rival the Hockey Hall of Fame itself. From the legend of Bobby Baun and his broken foot game to the urban legend of Bill Barilko and his Stanley Cup Curse, the Leafs could showcase all of this. However, the fan is left with the feeling of corporate greed and a sense that more could be done.
You are not going to find many spots better than downtown Toronto to enhance your hockey experience. If you are making your first venture to a Maple Leaf game, don't just plan an evening ... plan a weekend! An absolute must see is the Hockey Hall of Fame, which many have said is better than its football, baseball, and basketball counterparts. It is highly interactive and a tragedy to miss.
Also consider venturing up the CN Tower or seeing the brand new Ripley's Aquarium of Canada. Right next to the CN Tower is the Rogers Centre, which is home to the Toronto Blue Jays of the MLB and Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. You may also consider zipping down to the former 'Cashbox on Carleton' or Maple Leaf Gardens, which is now the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens. There has been a significant investment put into the building by Ryerson University and the Gardens now plays host to the Ryerson Rams athletic teams, including hockey and basketball.
There are also numerous experiences that one can have of the culinary variety. Maple Leaf Square is right outside the ACC doors and features the RealSports Bar and Grill. Other options are available on Bay Street or Front Street. The Loose Moose and The Fox are options where you can't go wrong.
Definitely the toughest area to grade are the fans. Maple Leaf fans are among the most loyal in sports, even rivaling Chicago Cub fans. The fans have kept returning to Maple Leaf Gardens and the Air Canada Centre. Unfortunately, Maple Leaf fans do nothing to enhance the hockey experience at the ACC.
The Maple Leafs have been the toughest ticket in Toronto for decades, and as a result, those tickets have become very expensive. The lower bowl of the ACC seems more like a corporate retreat than a hockey crowd. Often you will find large sections of fans wearing suits and talking business. It is most notable at the beginning of a period, when the vast majority of platinum seats are empty. This does nothing to enhance the home-ice advantage for the Maple Leafs, and is a direct departure from other Original Six fan bases in Montreal, New York, Boston, Chicago, or Detroit. Southern Ontario fans are typically quiet and are no different at Leaf games. A weak "Go Leafs Go" chant may come from the upper deck, but is not helped along by the lower, richer brethren.
The ACC is located right downtown Toronto, at the corner of Lakeshore and Bay. It is also in the shadows of the Gardiner Expressway. There are a couple of different ways of getting to the ACC by car. The Gardiner can get quite congested, and usually the quicker option would be to take Lakeshore. The Go Train and TTC Subway are also great options and the ACC's proximity to Union Station makes getting to the Leafs game pretty easy with public transit. Surprisingly, there is parking that can be found at a decent price near the ACC. Inside, there are ample facilities for washrooms. Concourses are fairly wide, but can get congested during intermissions and just before puck drop.
A trip to see the Maple Leafs seems more like an investment rather than an expense. Tickets for a Maple Leafs game are a significant price. According to the fan indexes, the Maple Leafs are by far the most expensive experience in all of the NHL. You will more than likely be paying more than $100 per ticket. The high demand of Maple Leafs tickets also make it more expensive on the secondary market. A Saturday night game is Hockey Night in Canada and a very popular spot. Concession expenses are on the higher side as well. Unfortunately, the Maple Leaf experience does not come close to matching the investment that the fan must put in.
An extra mark for the vast history of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
An extra mark for the giant Maple Leafs flag and Canada flag being passed around during the national anthem.
It will be interesting to see if the experience at Air Canada Centre improves with the new management at MLSE and Tim Leiweke. Unfortunately, the fans that show up and how they act are not under the control of the Leafs and take so much of the experience away from the game. A trip to see the Leafs should be in the cards for every hardcore hockey fan, but if you are looking for that rambunctious hockey experience, head to one of the other Original Six markets.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have led a charmed existence. With a history dating back to the inception of the National Hockey League in 1917, they are arguably the banner franchise of the entire hockey industry. They are the most valuable hockey franchise in the NHL according to Forbes Magazine. They have won 13 Stanley Cups. They are consistently in the top 5 in attendance. They have the most loyal fan base this side of the Chicago Cubs.
The Maple Leafs are considered one of the NHL's "Original Six" franchises, and were the last franchise to move out of their "Original Six Arena." In 1999, the Leafs closed the doors of legendary Maple Leaf Gardens, and moved to the newly minted Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs and Air Canada Centre are currently owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE); a group jointly owned by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Board, and Larry Tanenbaum. The company also owns the Toronto Raptors, Toronto Marlies, Toronto FC, and could be yours if you happen to have approximately $1.5 billion kicking around.
The ACC has been good for the Maple Leafs ... perhaps too good. One of the nicknames of the old Maple Leaf Gardens was the "Cashbox on Carlton," due to its consistent sell-outs, and it may just be an appropriate moniker for the Hangar as well. Although the ACC is not on Carlton Street, it is most definitely a cash box. Unfortunately, as a fan, it is that feeling that resonates throughout the event.
The Air Canada Centre (ACC) is a multi-purpose arena that is home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, the Toronto Rock and numerous concerts throughout the year. It first opened its doors to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February 1999, officially leaving behind the 68 years of service that Maple Leaf Gardens provided. Located right at Union Station, the ACC sees a lot of traffic regardless if there is a game on, making it one of the busier arenas in the world.
There still is something amazing about attending at Leafs game despite the suits enjoying caviar in the lower bowl on their Blackberries. It is still an experience and in he upper bowl, you can feel the passion like a palpable sensation in the families who shelled out for tickets. The food is unique and tasty, beer choices are OK, but could improve. Outside the arena, in Maple Leaf Square is the coolest atmosphere, with the fanmobile, the best sports bar around and a huge team store. The arena is right in the middle of things and is nicely renovated - especially gate 5.
Clearly the hottest ticket in town!
Words not often heard in Toronto: "I just got Leaf tickets, wanna come?"
If your friend could get his hands on a single Leaf ticket you would be likely inquire which bank branch he robbed. But an extra ticket for you? C'est impossible! Although the Air Canada Centre is a great environment to watch hockey, it is more practical to get dinner outside the arena and watch the game from Maple Leaf Square, or else at any of the sports bars in the province.
A definite high point for the ACC is the eating choice the fan gets. Food is expensive, and for fans who have been to the nearby Rogers Centre; you won't get the privelage this time round of bringing in your own food and drink, but the selection is incredible.
Personally, I like to save a few quid and grab dinner either before the game at somewhere cheap along Bremner Blvd. or in Union Station or after at Aria Ristorante ($$$$) or Real Sports Bar and Grill. Both restos are located on Maple Leaf Square. I should talk about Real Sports - it is unbelievable and is a MUST when visiting the ACC for the first time. The main screen is 3 stories tall and there are personal beer taps at each table along with a unique pan-american menu. Reservation recommended.
Burkie's Dog House is always recommended and even for fans who generally detest hot dogs (me) there are dozens of selections you will enjoy. There is the main location on the 100 level near gate 5, as well as a sattelite location upstairs.
If you are a 'member' of the elite club of lower bowl suits, then a dinner is probably at one of the three exclusive private restaurants within the arena. I surmise that these are where everyone in the lower bowl is for the first eight minutes of each period!
The Union Market has a variety of counters throughout the concourses which provide their takes on local and Canadian items such as peameal bacon sandwhiches and poutine. Each stand is reflective of a certain neighbourhood or street ie. Spadina Street (kosher), St. Lawrence Market (peameal bacon), etc. and can provide the visitor to Toronto with a taste of the city.
My personal favourite spot during intermissions is the Ice Box, which is at the west end of the arena along the upper concourse. Live bands play and a well-stocked bar provides drinks and snacks with views over the ice or onto Maple Leaf Square.
In the lower bowl there is a menu on each seat and concession items can be ordered and served to the fan at his seat.
The game experience starts on the subway or GO trains coming from the suburbs downtown. The closer to Union you get, the more Leafs' fans pack the train car. All it takes is for one fan to yell out "Go Leafs Go!" and then the chanting will begin. Outside the arena, in the square, fans gather to watch the game on the giant screen and take part in Gate 5 Live, the pre- and post-game show on Leafs TV. The mobile Fanmobile is a mockup of the dressing room with historic jerseys and sometimes even alumni. The bars and restaurants around the arena are hopping leading up to the game, you can feel the grip the Buds have on Toronto.
Entering the arena, kids and grown-ups can be entertained in the Galleria between Bay St. and Maple Leaf Square by interactive games decked out in Leafs and Raptors decals. Once inside the arena, you can feel the passion in the upper bowl where tickets are almost affordable for most. The lower bowl is a dead zone throughout most games and unless there is something really exciting happening on the ice, most of the suits and ties will remain in their seats, on their Blackberries. I imagine this problem will be corrected if and when the Leafs make a meaningful playoff run but until then, stay up higher and enjoy the game from there. Sightlines are excellent and the seating is steep and intimate, reminding of the old Maple Leaf Gardens in that sense.
Another strong point is the central location of the arena. Steps from the CN Tower, Union Station, the Financial District, and the Harbourfront, it is in the middle of a sea of glass condo and office buildings. As with the rest of Toronto, there are dozens of cranes around building new condominiums and offices, as well as a Ripley's aquarium.
Maple Leaf Square is situated on the west side of the arena. Fronting the square are Real Sports Bar and Grill as well as the Real Sports store, Aria Ristorante, Union Station's new South entrance, the Hotel Le Germain, a Longo's supermarket (which will bake a wood-fired pizza for you for $10 -great pre-game dinner!), as well as some corporate offices and condo developments. The Air Canada Centre is a part of the rapidly rising Southcore neighbourhood and is fairly central within lively downtown Toronto.
It is difficult to gauge fans at the Air Canada Centre. Leafs Nation is undoubtedly the most loyal band of supporters in the NHL, and season after dissapointing season pack the Air Canada Centre for home games, and fill road arenas and pubs across Canada when they are visitors. I fully expect Yonge Street to sink under the weight of millions of jubilant fans if the Leafs were to win the cup as there is so much hunger for it in this city and across Canada.
Granted, the Air Canada Centre does not showcase very much of that. Impossibly steep ticket prices and a lack of availability despite that mean that corporations are the only entities that can purchase season seats and oftentimes, you will see the following situation play out: Bay Street finance or law company boss takes young employee out to the game. The young employee is a Leafs fan but is confined to his suit and tie following a tough day at the office. He does not jump or scream for fear of embarrasing his boss, who is busy on his Blackberry while sipping champagne from the Platinum Club.
It is a darn shame, and again, will likely be changed if the Leafs were not so bad for a season.
Getting to the Hangar is not much of a problem. Downtown Toronto is hampered by construction everywhere and driving can be a mess. Although the arena is right next to the Gardiner Expressway into and out of Downtown, public transit is your best bet. The arena is directly accessible from Union Station and subways, inter-city GO Trains, as well as VIA Rail, Amtrak, and Ontario Northland all bring their trains into this central terminus.
Apparantly, PATH, the underground shopping mall/ winter hideaway is being extended south from Union through the ACC and down to the Harbourfront within the next few years but that has not happened yet.
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How can the Leafs get anything higher than a 1 in this category? Demand brought prices so high, but with an inferior product on the ice it is impossible to justify the costs in fans' minds. Everything at the ACC costs more yet tickets are still extremely hard to come by. This speaks to the demand in Toronto, which is certainly bordering on sheer stupidity. I shudder to think of the prices the Leafs could charge if they made a cup run...
1)Extra point for Maple Leafs Square, Real Sports Bar and Grill, and the other amenities outside the arena.
2)Extra point for recent renovations like expanding Gate 5 and turning it into an incredible pre-game gathering place.
3)Extra point for the unfurling of Canadian and Maple Leafs' flags during the anthem as well as the unwavering support for the troops by all three teams who play here.
I have eschewed an extra point for the James Naismith collection, which is very good, but is better suited for a Raptors review. I also won't include an extra point for the nearby Hockey Hall of Fame which is a part of the hockey experience in Toronto, but is not a part of the stadium itself.
Toronto is a must-visit for hockey fans. The chance to see the Stanley Cup in its home is a true pilgrimage and American fans should jump on the chance to see how important hockey is to the way of life of Canadians. And if you can't afford Leafs' tickets nobody is blaming you if you elect to see a couple Marlies games instead!
I was given free tickets to a Maple Leafs game and was excited to go see an Original Six matchup against the Rangers. It wasn't much of a matchup as the Leafs got skunked 5-1. As for the arena, the food was extremely overpriced (even for arena food). I was taken aback by just how stuffy and corporate the whole place seemed to be. It started with the Maple Leafs TV studio that was broadcasting pregame live as we walked into the arena. While I thought that it was a cool feature, it also seemed kind of pretentious. We had to wait on the concourse because they wouldn't let us go to the upper deck before the game. There just didn't seem to be a lot for kids to do there or much for the common fan that was affordable.
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