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 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 food options in the Hangar are plentiful. All of the staples are here, usually brought to you by a major restaurant chain. Pizza Pizza, Tim Horton's and Mr. Sub are all present at the ACC. Molson Canadian is on tap and actually brewed on site. If you are looking for a bar atmosphere, there are a couple to choose from. There is a sports bar on the main level called Lord Stanley's Mug which is great for a pre-game beer. If you are into a more trendy location, then you might want to check out the Ice Box on the 300 level.
A must-stop place in the ACC is Burkie's Dog House. Named after Maple Leaf GM Brian Burke, Burkie's offers more variations on the hot dog then you can possibly imagine. This time I went with the Greek Dog, and it was excellent. Who could have thought of putting cucumber, red onion, black olives and feta cheese on a hot dog? Fantastic!
The concession prices are on the high side, so make sure you bring your cash or credit card!
I feel that the atmosphere has deteriorated in the ACC over time. Remember, the Maple Leafs have almost 100 years of history to draw from and they have been extremely successful over a good chunk of that time.
The seating bowl offers great sidelines, and the best vantage point for Maple Leafs history. On display are the 13 banners commemorating the Stanley Cup victories which ended in 1967. Also displayed prominently are the banners of Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, Turk Broda, Johnny Bower, Tim Horton, George Armstrong, Charlie Conacher, Frank Mahovlich, Darryl Sittler, Hap Day, Red Kelly, Borje Salming, Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour. The Maple Leafs have honoured the above 14 players with banners above the ice, but have only retired two numbers. Those numbers belong to Ace Bailey and Bill Barilko, who are also memorialized with banners.
The video system is multi-layered, huge, and very clear.
Over time, the history of the Maple Leafs throughout the concourse has eroded. Formerly there were numerous pictures that were prevalent from various events, specifically Maple Leaf greats. Some of these pictures remain on the walls of the Air Canada Centre, however no attention is drawn to them due to the massive amount of advertising throughout the concourses. Parts of the ACC, which you would expect to be in Maple Leaf blue, are painted a stark red, due to sponsorship by Rogers Communications. A tour around the concourse feels like one giant commercial rather than a fun event atmosphere.
Outside of the Union Station gate, the Maple Leafs have a number of games and activities that fans can take part in before the game.
The in-game production is very bland. Even the entrance video was not overly exciting, and failed to touch on the vibrant Maple Leaf history.
There are a ton of things to catch your attention in the immediate neighbourhood around the Air Canada Centre. If you happen to make it to the ACC on a classic Saturday Night game, you must visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in the afternoon. With interactive exhibits, and the amazing trophy rooms, the HHoF remains my favorite of all the halls. There is also great shopping at the nearby Eaton Centre if you need to drop off a non-sports-fan person accompanying you.
The number of restaurants and bars around the ACC is almost limitless. Maple Leaf Square is the buzz of the community, and features the Real Sports Bar and Grill. This is a great spot to eat and drink. The Loose Moose, Jack Astor's, East Side Mario's, Casey's and the Armadillo are also pretty good spots to stop.
Just outside the ACC, in Maple Leaf Square is a giant screen TV, where you may choose to watch the game. It's a neat touch, but I'm not sure how well it will translate to hockey in February.
Toronto Maple Leaf fans are bit of a conundrum.
The attendance for Maple Leaf games is annually among the strongest in the league. People definitely show up to see the Leafs ... eventually. There is a healthy mix of blue and white in the upper deck crowd. You are sure to find jerseys of numerous former players being flaunted. Having suffered through decades of poor performances on the ice, Leaf fans are among the most loyal in sports. They should have abandoned their team long ago, but the Maple Leafs remain among the toughest tickets in Toronto and the NHL.
The lower bowl is full of people in suits which adds to one of the quietest environments in all of sports. Toronto fans are typically quiet, but the ACC lacks any real energy. The upper deck is a bit more hardy but do not muster anything more creative than the traditional Go Leafs Go chant. The lower bowl fans are also notoriously late before the game and after the intermissions. On television, the opening minutes of the period after an intermission often look like a crowd (or lack there of) at an Atlanta Thrashers game. If you are looking for a rabid hockey atmosphere provided by fans ... try any of the other Original Six teams!
Downtown Toronto is challenging to get to on the best of days, but when the Maple Leafs are playing its even more of a challenge. The trip downtown from the west was marred with the usual traffic slowdowns. Once downtown parking is not that hard to find but the price is heavy. You will be looking at between $20-$30 depending on how far you are willing to walk.
If you are not interested in fighting traffic, you may consider public transit. The Air Canada Centre is attached to Union Station, which is the hub for TTC subways and Via and Amtrack trains. Getting in the ACC from Union is a breeze, but there are numerous people who take public transit, and your subway ride will take a little longer and will be a whole lot more crowded than you may expect.
Before I can even mention the inside of the ACC I must mention the atrocity of getting inside. The ACC requires all of the usual security precautions, which is not a big deal, but I have no understanding why the doors are closed until only an hour before gametime. This is something I've only experienced in a few select locations.
Once inside, the concourses are of a decent width and the washrooms are large and plentiful.
Everything about a trip to the Maple Leafs screams money.
Prices for seats go from $55 to a whopping $416. You aren't getting a sniff of the lower bowl for under $165. The majority of the seats in the upper bowl are over $100. My seat, which was 2nd from the top row, in the corner, was a steep $65. The combination of the regularly increasing ticket prices, as well as the internet and secondary ticket market, have made ticket availability a little softer. This is actually a bit of a concern for MLSE when combined with the increasingly multi-cultural nature of the city of Toronto. There is some fear that the Maple Leafs may not be the huge draw they currently are, in the not too distant future.
Prices for parking and concessions are also high, so taking in a Maple Leafs game is an event. The Leafs are the tops in the league when it comes to price. What really hurts is the return does not come close to the investment. The product on the ice has been up and down at best. Worse than that, however, is the bland and stale atmosphere, combined with a bombardment of advertising, which leaves the average sports fan unsatisfied.
An extra point for the vast history and tradition of the Maple Leafs organization.
An extra point for the Human Bowling intermission activity, which was fun.
An extra point for the giant Canadian flag passed around during the national anthem.
Many traveling sports fans will regard the Air Canada Centre and the Toronto Maple Leafs a must stop on their hockey pilgrimage. I will agree that the Maple Leafs are one of the pillars of the National Hockey League. If they are your team, then by all means, make sure you get to the Hangar. However, if you are looking for an experience that might be akin to Montreal, Chicago, or New York ... don't get your hopes up. It's clear that MLSE is most interested in maximizing the dollars coming in, and so long as the attendance remains as strong as it is, no changes can be expected. Until then, Leaf fans will be forced to fly (and pay for) business class.
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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