Very few teams, not just in hockey but in all of sport, can match the history, iconic status, and cultural symbolism of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In just under 100 years, the club has won 13 Stanley Cups and has been the very heart and soul of Toronto and much of English Canada (where at the very basic level, one supports either the Anglo Maple Leafs or the Franco Montréal Canadiens). They are by far the richest hockey club in the world and among the leaders of all teams from different sports. However successful they have been off the ice though, their on-ice performance has been mediocre since they last lifted Lord Stanley’s Mug all the way back in 1967.
Even with the long period of lack of success, Toronto is still often referred to as the “Centre of the Hockey Universe.” Home to the Hockey Hall of Fame, where the Stanley Cup is kept alongside so many other treasures of the game, Toronto is a city that is still consumed by everything Leafs and the scrutiny surrounding the team is unmatched in the NHL. Simply put, Toronto and other regions of English Canada cannot get enough of the ‘Buds.
This has led many to suggest that the organisation has gotten too big for its own good. Much more than just the hockey team, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment also operate the NBA's Raptors, MLS’ Toronto FC, and the Leafs’ farm team, the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. MLSE also has a large real estate portfolio and are deeply involved in media. With a business so big (the Leafs are the first and only NHL club to have broken the $1 billion net worth barrier some time ago), everyone wants a slice of the pie. Which leads to an interesting operating scenario; MLSE is split mainly between the country's two most bitter media conglomerate rivals. Rogers and Bell, who hate each other almost as much as do Leafs and Habs (Canadiens) supporters, now own the team and have to agree on major decisions affecting the organisation in what is surely a messy process.
Ticket prices are also by far the priciest in the league and for many the team can seem to be overly corporate and inaccessible to the average fan. Many see the Leafs as a corporate hangout and a place to get business deals done. Often, the lower bowl of the Air Canada Centre, or the 'Hangar' as it is affectionately known, will be filled with professionals in suits wining and dining colleagues and finishing business deals. The Leafs are seen as the best place to close a deal and wow a client. Sure enough, the feeling in the lower concourse at Air Canada Centre is one of hospitality suiting the financial and law firms just up Bay Street. Nevertheless, Air Canada Centre has been given significant improvements in recent years and is reflecting a new ethos for the biggest team in the sport as it becomes rededicated more and more to one of the most loyal and passionate fan bases in the world.
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".
Attending a Toronto Maple Leafs game is certainly a premium experience and most fans expect to find their wallets a lot lighter after taking in a contest at the ACC. With that in mind, food and drink options are virtually unmatched at spectator facilities, but the vast menu items all have an exorbitant price point in common.
Among the chain restaurants there are some interesting options available. Pizza Pizza, as at most other arenas in Canada, operate a number of locations throughout the 100 and 300 level concourses alongside Mr. Sub and Tim Hortons. Mr. Sub can provide some interesting twists on the standard submarine sandwich including Cuban sandwiches, wraps, and Panini.
Edo is a Japanese chain that offer sushi and bento boxes. A most interesting chain addition is Smoke's Poutinerie offering many delectable tastes on the Canadian favourite dish of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. They do poutine very, very well.
One of the most popular food options is The Dog House, with a couple locations now, offering dozens of interesting varieties of hot dog sandwiches as well as sausages. Try the mac 'n cheese dog, butter chicken dog, or of course the poutine dog.
Beer on tap is from Molson/Coors and Molson Canadian and is actually brewed in house, with the brewing operation and all its tanks and vats visible from within the concourse. Like the food, beer is very expensive here. A pint of the slightly more upmarket Rickard's Red (by no means a premium or craft beer, but a step up from Canadian) will run you $18! There are a couple of cocktail bars around the concourses too, and the Ice Box overlooking Maple Leaf Square at the west end of the 300 concourse is a great option, frequently with live music before the game.
Two years ago, the Air Canada Centre could best be described as 'corporate.' That was entirely true then and though it is still true now, it is changing. The club has committed to embracing fans and has given up very valuable income sources to improve the experience. Most illustrative of this is the new Fan Deck on level 600. In partnership with Ford Motors, the Leafs turned a handful of corporate suites on the 600-level end into a new area where a couple hundred fans win free seats to every game. The process is quite fascinating; a giant team logo is placed in public squares and towns surrounding Toronto and fans line up to show their support for the team. Using complex computer algorithms, the logo-computer determines who produced the best spirit and the giant Maple Leaf opens to reveal a ticket. This is truly admirable, because with the prices the Leafs charge for suites, and can sell them too, they stand to lose plenty every game by giving away the free seats.
The Leafs have also dimmed the once-substantial advertising in the arena and concourses. The team have stopped showing what they referred to as "gimmicky" promotions during breaks in play. For example, there is no more build a hamburger from a certain brand to win, or shoot the puck past under this specific car brand's massive logo to win something else. Instead, the breaks are used to show replays and provide analysis for fans.
The Leafs also are leading the league by toning down the music during these breaks in play and allowing the chanting and cheering of fans to be heard, realising that less is more in this regard. The Leafs also use a new state of the art projection system to create a long and stunning show on-ice before puck drop showcasing the long history of the team. One great tradition is the home opener's elaborate pregame ceremony including the historic bagpipe-led 48th Highlanders regiment who march out to play the Canadian patriotic song 'Maple Leaf Forever.'
The actual arena is very nice to look at, aside from production. The seats are very comfortable and are very close together and steep, getting everyone as close to the ice as possible. Because of this, there is truly no bad seat in the house and everyone is assured a good view of the ice. The videoboard is new and of a high quality, though it is planned that a brand new jumbotron will be installed in 2015, perhaps unnecessarily.
Looking up, the inspiring history of the Leafs is on full display with dozens of honoured players and the 13 Stanley Cups commemorated with beautiful banners. There is also a large banner commemorating the old Maple Leaf Gardens, home of the club for most of the last century.
Within the concourses, fans are greeted on the north side by the 'Galleria,' a long gallery adorned with photos, banners, and massive Canadian flags. Here, there are arcade games for before the match as well as the beautifully designed Leafs Store. On the west side is the Gate 5 atrium, complete with the set for live broadcasts of LeafsTV.
No mention of the atmosphere in the arena would be complete without mentioning the atmosphere outside it. Maple Leaf Square, a large public square outside the western concourse of the arena is graced by a huge screen showing big games so that fans can congregate for free and celebrate their team. The Square also became known as Jurassic Park during the Raptors playoff run in 2014.
It's hard to beat the location of Air Canada Centre in the very heart of the city. It is immediately south of the city's Union Station and steps from the CN Tower, Harbourfront, and the Financial District, as well as Rogers Centre, home of the Blue Jays of the MLB and the Argonauts of the CFL. There are literally hundreds of places to eat or drink before the game. In terms of the all-important pre-match pint, I'd recommend the Miller Tavern, Loose Moose, or perhaps Elephant & Castle for nearby pubs, though the options are endless. Of course, if you cannot get ticket to the game, try and reserve a table under the 3-story screen at Real Sports Bar and Grill.
Also, right around the corner is the Hockey Hall of Fame which is an absolute must for any fan of the sport; a temple to the game where fans can easily spend a day.
It is very difficult to adequately rate Maple Leafs fans at Air Canada Centre. There is no question that 'Leafs Nation' is the pinnacle of the hockey world. The loyalty is unquestioned and this long-suffering fan base continue to adore the Leafs despite decades of mediocrity. The passion is also unquestioned, as the Leafs are a huge part of daily life in Toronto and much of the country. However, the Air Canada Centre does not always reflect this.
As tickets have become so in-demand, the prices have skyrocketed and the average fan cannot afford to attend very many Leafs games. And even if the average fan could afford tickets, they still would be hard-pressed to find any. Tickets are so quickly snapped up that the Leafs don't even bother listing them on their website. They can only be found second-hand, with the average price for the 2014-2015 season just short of $400.
Season tickets are even harder to come by, despite the plainly obscene pricing. The waiting list is almost fifty years. Now, if you are not a part of 'Leafs Nation' you can begin to grasp the loyalty and passion of the fan base.
Still, so many of the fans that do get to games are of the corporate type. They show up in suits, spend much of the night on their Blackberries and iPhones, or are in the lounges sipping champagne and talking business. It is simply the unfortunate reality of supply and demand. Still, even the suits grew up watching and playing hockey and the knowledge of the fans, as with anywhere else in Canada, is total. Everyone is well aware of the minutiae of the flow of the game and know their history as well as current hockey news.
Still, there are bright spots when the fans will shell out and raise the atmosphere. During the playoffs the volume of Air Canada Centre is incredible. Hockey Night in Canada, every Saturday night, is always a big matchup and will frequently feature two Canadian or at least Original Six teams. This is the night when Canadians coast to coast to coast hunker down and watch the CBC as they have for years. The marquee matchup is almost always the Leafs game that night.
Even more important is the fierce Battle of Ontario against Ottawa. While Leaf fans have a reputation for taking over Ottawa's Canadian Tire Centre, the atmosphere is often very intense when this provincial rivalry is played out. And even more importantly is the biggest, most historic, and most important derby in hockey between the Leafs and the Canadiens.
The Leafs represent English Canadian culture whilst the Habs, short for Habitants, represent French Canada. Although politically, the situation is much calmer than it once was, there is great meaning to every one of these games and each of the two teams involved exist largely as the counterweight to each other. When these teams meet again in the playoffs, it will be an atmosphere incomparable to anything seen before in the NHL.
Using public transit to reach Air Canada Centre is not just your best bet but the only good bet. Toronto lacks the immense highway networks found in American cities and driving is a hassle best to be avoided. Parking downtown is even more difficult. Instead, use Union Station, connected to the arena and the central hub for trains, subways, and streetcars into and out of the city. The station, like so much else in Toronto, is currently being expanded, but the construction has progressed to a point where it is no longer a major burden on commuters.
If walking during a cold winter night mid-season, the PATH network is Toronto's underground city, allowing passage throughout the core in warmth and with good shopping. A new extension goes south from Union, elevates through the Gate 5 atrium, then clings to the underside of the Gardiner Expressway before heading south into the Harbourfront neighbourhood.
Washrooms in the arena are ample and the congestion is no worse than at most other large arenas. Most fans will very avidly watch the game and may be quietly annoyed to have to stand and block the view during gameplay so if possible, brave the intermission queues and go then.
You never know when you go to a Leafs game whether you will see a resounding win or a blowout loss. For the extraordinary price of attending a game, which can easily exceed $1,000 on the big nights for the best seats, it is hard to say there is any sort of price to performance ratio. Being at the Leafs game is a true experience and one can feel themselves at the centre of the hockey world, but it very rarely comes with anything that even approaches good value at all.
An extra mark for the giant Canada and Maple Leafs flags passed around during the rendition of O Canada.
An extra mark must be given for the hundreds of free tickets given every night, at great loss to the team.
An extra mark for Maple Leaf Square, where the true passion of Leafs Nation is on display. As well, this extra point goes for Real Sports Bar and Grill with its 200 screens including the larger-than-life main screen. And self-serve beer taps at your table? Yes please. In the same complex is the new Sportchek/Real Sports clothing outlet specialising in whatever the home team are wearing that night with impressive walls of jerseys and hats on display.
A further extra for the incredible support the Leafs show for the Canadian Forces. The team's history is intertwined with the Forces and many of the original Leaf greats served. The team is also supposedly renamed from the St. Pats to the current moniker after the Maple Leaf Regiment that fought in World War I.
A final extra point for the true feeling of being in the 'Centre of the Hockey Universe.' Having the permanent home of the Cup just around the corner and seeing the extraordinary hold the Leafs have on Toronto and across the country really makes you feel like you are somewhere special in the hockey world.
The experience at the Air Canada Centre is still highlighted by its high monetary cost and it fails to totally reflect the passion of Leafs Nation. However, it has improved and it is in many ways a great place to be, especially during Hockey Night. It is a very upscale experience and no matter the product on the ice any given night, you will leave feeling pampered and a little in awe at where you are and who you are watching.
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.
---RETURN ON INVESTMENT---
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.
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.
146 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5J 1G2
15 York St
Toronto, ON M5J 0A3
144 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5J 2L7
151 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5J 2N1
123 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5A 4R6
30 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M5E 1X8
301 Front Street W
Toronto, ON M5V 2T6
There are no local lodging entries. Help us build with your expertise!