The Toronto Raptors are threatening. NBA fans will no doubt identify trips to see the Celtics or Lakers as bucket list items. Perhaps following a superstar - like a trip to see LeBron James and the Cavaliers - is the most desired option. However, the Toronto Raptors are threatening the traditional powers and superstars. The Toronto Raptors are threatening to be viewed as an elite level, bucket list experience for NBA basketball fans.
The Raptors came on the NBA scene in 1995 and played their first few seasons at the cavernous SkyDome, home to the Toronto Blue Jays. A change in ownership for the Raptors and partnership with the Toronto Maple Leafs led to the new home of the Raptors being the Air Canada Centre. The seventeen year old building is owned by the parent company of the Raptors and Maple Leafs, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and doesn't look too far off from more modern buildings around the league.
However, the real bucket list item is heading to see the Raptors during the playoffs. Winners of three straight Atlantic Division Championships, the Raptors have become THE place to be. Not only is the fan interaction off the hinges inside the totally packed Air Canada Centre, but there are over 10,000 fans making a ruckus outside the arena, watching and cheering in Jurassic Park, more formally known as Maple Leaf Square.
It seems that all that may be standing in the way of Raptors elite level status is LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Hopefully the Raptors won't end up like the Atlanta Hawks that had great teams that could just never get past Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Either way, the Raptors are putting together an elite league experience and Jurassic Park is becoming a bucket list item.
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".
Concession options at the Air Canada Centre are as good as you can get in the NBA. There is definitely something for everyone and enough original content to make the decision as to what to get, a difficult one. There are a plethora of culinary options that are unique to the area or the Air Canada Centre. The Dog House offers a huge variety of gourmet hot dogs. The Bay Street Grill has a variety of burrito options and the ACC location of Real Sports offers a variety of chicken wings. MacCheeseys is the spot to hit for gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and mac and cheese.
All of the other expected concession options can be found throughout the Air Canada Centre and Canadian staples like Pizza Pizza, Tim Hortons and Mr. Sub also have a presence. The market on the main concourse level has a food court feel to it and has these options available.
If you need help selecting a good spot to eat at the ACC then the following two recommendations are for you. Especially if you are not from Canada and are looking for something distinctly Canadian, Smoke's Poutinerie is where you go to find a variety of Canada's National dish, poutine. The quality is high and there are a couple of locations in the ACC. If you are ready for dessert, then hit the main concourse to Sweet Wally's for a giant cookie, or funnel cake fries or deep fried Rolo.
There are a number of choices for alcoholic beverages. On the main level, the Molson Canadian Brewhouse features beer on tap that is brewed on site. There are a couple of other bar type concessions around the ACC. O'Brien's Craft bar is also on the main floor and offers a variety of craft beer options. The Crown Royal Maple Bar is found at the end on the 300 level. A huge variety of beer can be found on site including Molson Canadian, Coors Light, Heineken, Coors, Creemore, Dos Equis, Strongbow and Hay Day. Smirnoff coolers, wine and other alcohol drinks can also be found, especially at the bars. Available soft drinks are Coca-Cola products and are found at all concession stands. If you are someone who really likes to plan out where you want to grab some food or a drink at the game, the Air Canada Centre website does a fantastic job of helping fans find what they want with regards to concessions.
The atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre is as good as any building in the NBA. The arena was built on the site of the former Toronto Postal Delivery Building. The historic building went through a significant preservation effort when the area was built. The ACC is joined to Union Station with the Galleria on the north side of the building. A large display in the Galleria outlines the efforts that the builders went through to maintain the historic Toronto Postal Delivery Building including the outer facade.
All over the exterior of the Air Canada Centre are small works of art that can be missed if you are not looking for them. On the west side of the ACC is Maple Leaf Square, which is also known as Jurassic Park during the playoffs and where fans gather before games. The huge video board on the exterior of the building allows fans outside to watch the game and advertises other events during non-game times. Also at Maple Leaf Square is the Maple Leaf Legends Row, which is a must see for hockey fans.
Inside the Air Canada Centre there are a ton of photos around the concourses displaying great moments in Air Canada Centre history as well as Toronto Raptor, Toronto Maple Leaf and Toronto Rock history. Over the years the oppressive amount of advertising in the concourses has been toned down a bit, but fans will still be bombarded with a ton of ads.
Inside the seating bowl, fans will see a two level seating structure with a 360 degree lower bowl and a fairly steep upper 300 level. The court is oriented from east to west. In between the 100 and 300 levels, luxury boxes will be found. Luxury boxes can also be found on the ends in the upper levels. A newer feature is the 600 level party deck on the west side of the arena.
Above the court, banners featuring the accomplishments of the Toronto Raptors are definitely drowning in a sea of banners for the Toronto Maple Leafs. On the east and west sides of the massive, crystal clear video board are four banners honouring the Raptors Atlantic Division Championships, the first of which was in 2006-2007. The Raptors also have won the last three division titles. A banner for the 1995 inaugural season is also displayed. The mantra for the Raptors is "We The North" which has become the rallying cry for the team and is tied to the team's recent success. Those words can be found all over the Hangar and act as a constant reminder of what the team is about.
The in game production at the ACC is as good as any. Fans can watch the pre-game show which is broadcast from the concourse. The top part of the 100 level in the west features the in house DJ for the Raptors and requests can be made to the 4 Corners DJ. Herbie Kuhn has been the public address announcer of the Raptors since their beginning and brings energy to the game without being over the top. Typical hip-hop style music is played during down times and traditional organ music is usually reserved for game play. The Raptors Dance Pak performs at various points during the game and The Raptor mascot is quickly becoming one of the best in the Association.
Downtown Toronto is one of the best spots anywhere for an arena to be located. There are a boatload of places that a fan can go within walking distance of the Air Canada Centre to get something to eat before or after the game. Front Street is a great place to start looking. There you will find Jack Astor's, Texas Lone Star Grill, Canyon Creek, Casey's and Boston Pizza. All are recognizable and common chains. If you are looking for something a little more original, then try Joe Badalli's, The Loose Moose, The Fox or Hoop's. Right in Maple Leaf Square itself, you will find the very popular Real Sports Bar and Grill. Real Sports is pretty huge and has almost limitless TV screens. If you are looking for more of a refined culinary experience, then you may want to make reservations for a really nice dinner at 360, the revolving restaurant at the top of the CN Tower.
With all of the entertainment options in Toronto, it would be a good idea to spend an entire week. The CN Tower offers an unprecedented view of the city as well as other attractions including the Edge Walk. At the base of the CN Tower is the new Ripley's Aquarium of Toronto. The Toronto Theatre District may only be rivalled by Broadway in Manhattan. There is plenty of shopping downtown especially at the iconic Eaton Centre. Hockey fans will demand to make a pilgrimage to the Hockey Hall of Fame. All of this doesn't even include the multiple festivals and special events that take place in the city at various times.
There is no shortage of sporting options within the city as well. The ACC is also the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Rock. Up the street at the Rogers Centre you will find the Toronto Blue Jays. Just to the north is the University of Toronto, where the Varsity Blues field a whole host of athletic teams including football, basketball and hockey. To the west at Exhibition Place you will find BMO Field, home of Toronto FC and the Toronto Argonauts, and the Ricoh Coliseum, home of the Toronto Marlies.
There are a wide variety of places to stay downtown, however, one must be prepared to pay. Downtown is not a cheap place to stay. A decent option is the Strathcona. Another popular spot is the Westin Harbour Castle. If you are looking for something unique and an experience unto itself, try getting a room at the Royal York, one of the oldest, most prestigious hotels in the country.
Toronto Raptor fans are taking fandom to the next level. The last three seasons have seen the Raptors in the top five franchises in the NBA in average home attendance. For all intents and purposes, the Raptors have attracted a full 100 percent capacity for the season. Under normal circumstances, Raptor fans are similar to other Ontario fans and are pretty quiet and polite. However, basketball brings out the noise and when the Raptors do something great then the fans respond in kind. The playoffs are a whole different show with wall to wall noise throughout the game. Also, the practice of gathering outside of the arena to watch the game is unheard of throughout the NBA and the Raptor faithful are showing the NBA how it's done. Jurassic Park has become something of a novelty and no doubt a practice that will be attempted to duplicate.
There are a number of different ways to get to the Air Canada Centre for a Raptors game. The ACC is located right downtown Toronto, north of the Harbourfront. It is immediately north of the Gardiner Expressway between the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 427. If you are coming from out of town then getting to the Gardiner may be a bit of a challenge as it is significantly south of Highway 401, the main highway, and Pearson International Airport. If you are coming from the west, a little trick is to get off of the Gardiner quickly and take Lakeshore Boulevard for the duration to the ACC.
The direct link to Union Station from the Hangar is a fantastic option for fans. Union Station houses the TTC subway, Via Rail and GO Transit. Many patrons take the subway or GO Train when coming to the ACC. If you are considering the public transit option, check out the GO Transit or TTC websites for maps, schedules and other planning tools to aid you in getting to the ACC on time.
There are a number of surface and garage parking options right around the Air Canada Centre. Parking will not be cheap. A $15 tab is a pretty good find. Garages on Bremner Blvd by Jurassic Park offer a seriously close option, however you are looking at $35 or higher to park your car here. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to find parking. There are some prepaid parking options available, but nearly as many as you will find at a comparable arena in the United States. Check out ParkMe or Parking Panda if this interests you.
The ticket windows for the ACC are found within the Galleria at the west end. Lineups are not normally an issue at the ticket windows, but the most popular entry point is through the Galleria. Increased security has definitely slowed down this process. Getting to the game early is the best plan, or entering at one of the exterior gates may be a better idea.
Getting around the ACC is not too bad. The washroom facilities are pretty good and lineups are only a reality during those peak times. The increased attendance has brought increased foot traffic in the concourses of course, however they are fairly spacious and getting around is not awful.
With the success that the Raptors have enjoyed comes an increase in price. According to the most current Fan Cost Index (2015-2016), the Toronto Raptors experience comes in at 13th place in the NBA, putting the Raptors in the top half of the league. The Raptors are below the NBA average for Fan Cost Index, but there are a couple of factors at work, not the least of which is the lower Canadian dollar. Overall, the Raptors have seen prices increase almost 12% from the previous fan index. Ticket prices come in at an average of $48 dollars and range from $25 for a regular game at standing room, up to $425 for a seat in the lower bowl. Courtside and VIP seats run into the thousands. Parking is pretty average and concessions are on the high side.
At the moment, with the Raptors performing well, the return on this investment is pretty good. However, the fan must question whether a very significant increase in cost is worth seeing the Raptors play an elite level team like the Cavaliers or Warriors. The return on investment is in danger of dropping in rating should prices continue to rise at the rate they currently are or if the Raptors begin to drop significantly in the standings.
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An extra mark for the association that the Raptors have with rap mogul Drake. His appearances courtside as well as his ambassador position with the Raptors has helped grow the Raptors brand and make the team more recognizable globally.
An extra mark for the Raptors embracing of Canadian basketball history. The 2016-2017 season will see the Raptors using the colours and logo of the historic Toronto Huskies for a number of games.
An extra mark for the on-court success that the Raptors have seen in the last four seasons.
Finally, for the spectacle that is Jurassic Park during the playoffs.
As far as bucket list basketball items go, the Toronto Raptors are on their way to putting themselves in the conversation. Through success on the court and their ability to show NBA fans Stateside that there is a whole new experience at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors brand is becoming more and more well known. A trip to check out Jurassic Park may just make its way onto your personal basketball bucket list.
The Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario was opened in 1999 as a multi-purpose arena shared by the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, and the Toronto Rock of the NLL (Lacrosse). The Raptors played their first game there on February 21, 1999 against the Vancouver Grizzlies, after moving down the street from the Skydome (now known as the Rogers Centre). Seating capacity for basketball is 19,800. The arena is owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., owners of both the Raptors and Maple Leafs.
The Raptors are a relatively new NBA team, having joined the league in 1995 and are presently celebrating their fifteenth anniversary. A number of NBA greats have played for the Raptors over the years, including Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Hakeem Olajuwon, but the team has not enjoyed a great deal of success. The Raptors have made the playoffs only five times in their fifteen years, winning only one playoff series.
The Air Canada Center (ACC) is located on Bay Street in the heart of Toronto's business district, surrounded by skyscrapers and not far from the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. The arena can be entered from the street, or through Toronto's Union Station.
The ACC is a beautiful, first-rate facility located in a great neighbourhood. But the big problem for the Raptors is that they share the building with the Maple Leafs here in the center of the hockey universe, and as a result, the arena is geared much more towards hockey than it is basketball. Consequently, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Raptors seem like they're nothing more than really tall house-sitters for when the Leafs are off on a road trip.
What do Kenny Anderson, Chris Bosh, Damon Stoudamire, Alonzo Mourning, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter have in common? All of them bailed on the Toronto Raptors. Whether they left as a result of free agency (McGrady & Bosh), forced a trade (Carter & Stoudamire), or refused to report (Anderson & Mourning) the Toronto Raptors are littered with stories of players who wanted "greener pastures." It should have been an omen when the very first Raptor, B.J. Armstrong, who was drafted first overall in the 1995 expansion draft, refused to join the Raptors. Although it may sound like sour grapes, this plethora of athletes have fed into an inferiority complex that plagues fans of the Toronto Raptors; always fearing that superstar American players are unwilling to play north of the border. As a result, the current incarnation of the NBA club has left fans apathetic. With no star in a star driven league, the reality is that the Raptors are now struggling to capture the interest of fans in Leaf-land.
The Raptors share much with the big brother Maple Leafs including ownership, arena, and poor showing at gametime. Living in downtown Toronto, at the Air Canada Centre, which is also owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Raptors have had a rough go on the court the last couple of years, and it has taken its toll on the turnstile.
Nearly 20 years ago, the Toronto Raptors joined the NBA. Throughout their existence there have definitely been more downs than ups. The previous official review for the Raptors at Stadium Journey referred to the inferiority complex that has plagued Raptor fans with a laundry list of players who took their exodus from Canada's largest city. A funny thing happened with the misery of the Raptor fans during the 2013-2014 season...a spark of hope was born.
The parent company of the Raptors, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, hired former Anschutz Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke and a new path for the company was forged. Masai Ujiri was hired as the new General Manager. In what was generally viewed as a move to facilitate tanking for a better draft pick, the Raptors traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings, and then went on to win the Atlantic Division in 2014. This new found success along with an intriguing partnership with Toronto rap star Drake, has brought some sizzle and excitement back to the basketball community in Toronto.
The Raptors are owned by the same holding company that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, and their farm team the Toronto Marlies, as well as Toronto FC of MLS. They also own the Air Canada Centre, where the Raptors and Leafs play. MLSE is owned by competing media giants Bell Canada and Rogers Canada. Money is not an issue for the parent companies, and the demands for a winner in Toronto are high. With a couple of small changes, the Raptors have provided some hope for their fans where there was only apathy. Where the Raptors go from here, we will see, but there is no doubt that an improved team on the court makes for an improved experience in the seats.
The 2014-2015 season marks the 20th season of NBA basketball for the Toronto Raptors.Though they have been in the league for two decades, the 2014-2015 campaign feels like the true birth of the club. In a city accustomed to continual lack of success with other franchises, the Raptors have provided a refreshing relief by building from the ground-up into a very young and exciting team that looks to contend for years to come. Raptors support in Toronto was galvanized after a remarkable playoff round against Brooklyn Nets where the team was able to capitalize on strong nationalistic sentiment and capture Canadian fans' hearts.
Buoyed on by allegations of match-fixing and the feeling that the NBA wanted nothing to do with a Canadian team in the playoffs, Raptors fans sick of hearing about how they were irrelevant in the otherwise completely American league, came together under the “We the North” banner and showed levels of support never before seen in the NBA.
Fans were unbelievably loud in the 2014 playoffs, frequently causing players to miss whistles on the court, and even prompting the Nets to take to Twitter in praise of an atmosphere comparable to a European Champions League football match.
The Raptors have finally broken through on the Leafs-dominated sporting landscape in Toronto and basketball games at the Air Canada Centre are a treat.
Typically, the Toronto Raptors have been an also-ran in the NBA. They have been a team without much of a following outside of Toronto save for a star player here or there. That all changed in 2014. With the 2014 edition of the Raptors came a birth in the NBA playoffs and an awakening of the Toronto fan who has been craving success in Canada’s largest city. The Raptors made a whole lot of noise, not just inside the Air Canada Centre where the arena was sold out and the roof was blown off of the Hanger, but outside in Maple Leaf Square, where to the surprise of the entire NBA a new fan experience was born with 10,000 fans cheering and watching on the big screen outside in what has now been dubbed Jurassic Park.
The Raptors have been a part of Toronto since their expansion days in 1995. After beginning their tenure in the SkyDome, the Raptors moved, along with the Toronto Maple Leafs, into the Air Canada Centre in 1999. Both the Raptors and Leafs are part of one of the most unique ownership situations in all of sports with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) also owning the ACC, Toronto FC and the Toronto Marlies. The holding company is owned by corporate rivals Rogers Communications and Bell, each controlling an equal part with Larry Tannenbaum owning the final portion.
The Raptors have become a central part of the changing cultural landscape in the city of Toronto, with the team’s popularity increasing all the time. They have linked themselves very closely with rap star Drake, and rolled out a new look and logo for the 2015-2016 season. The Raptors have latched on to the “We The North” moniker which began as a simple hashtag, and exploded to be central to the team’s marketing. In 2016, Toronto will be on display with the Raptors hosting the 2015-16 NBA All-Star Game. The Raptors continue to make waves in the NBA and are proving to be a spot on any basketball fan’s bucket list.
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