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 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 selection at the ACC is really second to none. There is a huge variety of fare available. The expected items are available, at prices to be expected for this league. Pizza is $5.75, popcorn is $6.50, hot dogs are $5.75, soda is $4.75, and beer costs $7.75. Other concessions are also available including cheesesteaks, wraps, burritos and sandwiches. The pizza is from Canadian pizza giant, Pizza Pizza. A newer addition to the regular menu is the Signature Hero Burger, which is a Greater Toronto Area burger chain. Coca-Cola products are the soda of choice and Molson/Coors products are also available for the beer drinker.
The two concessions that you absolutely must plan on taking a gander at are Smoke's Poutinerie and The Dog House. Smoke's offers a variety of different variations on the Canadian classic poutine, including the classic cheese curds and gravy, and with various meat options added. The Triple Pork Poutine is a must try. The Dog House is a popular spot that offers a huge variety of gourmet hot dogs. From the Greek to the Butter Chicken, to the Poutine, The Dog House provides many unique takes on the American Classic. It is not to be missed.
Being in the Air Canada Centre gives an air of hockey history. Not too bad for a Leafs game, but not too great for a Raptors game. It is understandable that a team that has less than two decades of history would struggle to share a building with a team with a century's worth of history.
The nickname for the ACC is The Hangar, and it doesn't stray too far from that look. The ACC is formerly a huge postal building and the history and facade has been maintained on the inner entrance to the building from Union Station. The entrance from Maple Leaf Square also offers a huge videoboard and has made the square a bit of a meeting place and pretty decent spot to catch a special game, especially a playoff game.
The seating bowl inside the Air Canada Centre is pretty typical of a newer arena and the sight lines are clear from just about any seat. The videoboard is state of the art and crystal clear. However, it is in the seating bowl that the fan is inundated with Toronto Maple Leaf lore from the numerous Stanley Cup banners to the numerous honoured numbers. The lowly banners for the Raptor's inaugural season of 1995-1996 and the 2006-2007 Atlantic Division Championship hang above the court. The 2013-2014 Atlantic Division Championship banner will join the others soon.
The in-game promotion that the Raptors put together is really something, The higher energy and music brings a whole different feel to the building than you would expect for a Leafs game. It is here that Drake's influence is being felt. The Raptors are entering the game to "I'm Still Fly" featuring Drake and there is the promise of a new colour scheme, design, uniform, and/or logo on the horizon with Drake's personal stamp of approval.
Downtown Toronto is a fantastic place to spend a day or have a short vacation. There is plenty to see and do downtown. The Rogers Centre, CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame, and Ripley's Aquarium are all right downtown and could easily be a part of your Raptor game weekend. There are also plenty of eating establishments around the ACC.
If you head up to Front Street you will find a huge number of options. Some of the best for sports fans include The Loose Moose, Canyon Creek and Overdraught Irish Pub. The Fox is also a pretty good choice on Bay Street. The talk of the town, however, is the Real Sports Bar and Grill which is in Maple Leaf Square.
The 2013-2014 season has seen Raptors fans make a bit of a resurgence. The new found success of the team has brought the fans back to the ACC and Raptors attendance is back in the top third of the league. More importantly, the Raptors fan is much different than your typical Leaf fan or Southern Ontario hockey fan. Raptors fans are much louder and voice their support throughout the game. They do not really require the prompting by the videoboard or PA announcer that tends to happen at a Leafs or Toronto Rock game.
Getting to the ACC can be a bit of a challenge by car. The Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Blvd can get very congested, especially in the evenings. There is plenty of parking to be found but it is not on the cheap side. A better choice may be to take the TTC Subway to Union Station and avoid the elements and walk through the station to the ACC. Inside, the concourses and washrooms are more than adequate.
A trip to a Raptors game can be a pricey affair. The tickets for the playoffs in 2014 are the most expensive in the league. During the regular season, tickets go for as little as $15. Be selective, however, as the next section over can more than double the price. Dynamic pricing can be VERY dynamic with huge increases for select games. A little patience and a little research may be necessary when planning a Raptor adventure.
An extra mark is awarded to Raptors PA announcer Herbie Kuhn, who does a great job of putting excitement into the game and has been with the team since the beginning.
Two extra marks go to Stripes and the Raptor. Stripes has been the fill-in mascot for the Raptors for the 2013-2014 season as the regular mascot, the Raptor has been on the shelf with a knee injury. The promo staff has put together some interesting vignettes featuring the duo.
An extra mark is awarded for the unique Raptors logo painted behind the baseline. It looks like a 3D placard when you see it on TV.
A trip to see the Raptors may surprise you. There are times when the experience can rival any in the NBA. What is exciting for the team is that there seems to be an air of hope buzzing through the crowd and the city. What was once an experience filled with apathy is now an experience showing some hope on the horizon.
You can follow all of Dave's sporting adventures on twitter @profan9.
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.
146 Front Street West
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