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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The NBA D-League added its 19th franchise in the summer of 2015 when the Toronto Raptors established their own affiliate in the nearby suburb of Mississauga. Dubbed Raptors 905 after the city’s area code, the team is the first Canadian entrant in the league.
The club plays out of the Hershey Centre, a hockey rink most of the time and home to the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League. Stadium Journey paid a visit to their second-ever home game to get an idea of how the Raptors plan to make minor league basketball work in Mississauga. Note that all prices are in Canadian dollars, which at the time of writing is about 75 cents US.
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".
Hershey Centre has two open concession stands, naturally called Hershey Bars. Here is where you can find typical stadium fare, such as a jumbo hot dog ($4.25), French fries ($4, add 75 cents for gravy), nachos with cheese ($4.75), six chicken nuggets ($4.25), a slice of pizza ($4.25), pretzels ($4), onion rings ($4.25) and an Oktoberfest sausage ($4.75). The Canadian specialty poutine is also available for $6.
Of course, as this is the Hershey Centre, chocolate bars and bags of candy are available with the family size going for $4 and the regular size for half that. The Hershey Bars are quite busy at halftime so get your eats before the game if you plan to have something here.
There are a few other choices. A couple of specialty stands can be found on the main concourse: nuts, cotton candy, and caramel corn are available next to section 7, while an ice cream stand is close to section 20. If you head to the top of the seating bowl above section 7, you will find the Premium Lounge with a few more options, including Jamaican beef patties for $3 that are quite popular. A pound of wings is $13, and there are three varieties of sandwiches on a bun (chicken and veal are $6.25, pulled pork is $5.75).
Access is supposed to be limited to those with premium tickets, but I did not see anyone checking, so you can try your luck up here.
Non-alcoholic beverages are provided by Pepsi, with bottled pop and juice at $3.50, water at $3, and Gatorade for $4. Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are $1.75. Beer is sold at separate stands, with tallboy cans going for $8.75. Smirnoff Ice, a vodka drink, is $9.50 for the same tallboy.
As soon as you walk into the seating bowl, you will see that the court lies in the middle of the floor and there are no floor seats behind the baskets. When the stadium is empty, it is an odd sight, but as the fans fill the middle sections, you don't really notice it.
Before the game, loud music plays while the teams warm up. The anthems are recorded, though as the team gets more press, I expect that singers will be brought in to perform. Note that the flags are above section 20, surrounding a picture of Queen Elizabeth, and all fans and players face this way during the anthems.
The mascot is Stripes, a miniature version of the Raptor, who he replaced during the 2013-14 season. Stripes doesn't do that much other than run around with a flag, but it is still early and he should create some routines in the near future.
During the game, a host tries to get the crowd into it and announces the various promotions, which include the usual t-shirt toss and shuffle game. A couple of unique touches are a Canadian slang video where the players try to guess the meaning of Canadian idioms, and the limbo cam.
The dance team is the Sauga City Dancers, who perform a couple of times and stand behind one of the baskets for much of the game.
The scoreboard is nice and has good quality video, but it lacks basketball stats. Team fouls are displayed on the Shots on Goal boards on the walls behind the nets, but there are no individual statistics available.
The Raptors have done a good job in the early going to entertain the fans during the breaks and to provide a professional atmosphere. As the team develops a following and finds its niche, I expect more creative promotions to follow.
The Hershey Centre is located just southwest of the intersection of Highways 401, 403, and 410 on Kennedy Road, a few miles south of the Powerade Centre, home of the Brampton Beast. There is very little in the immediate vicinity as this is mostly an industrial area.
The intersection of Hurontario Street and Courtney Park Drive is about three miles northwest and has a few chains such as Turtle Jacks and Moxie's. Further north is Hoops Sports Bar and Grill. Head south on Hurontario to reach the Square One Shopping Centre, which has several bars and restaurants.
I was surprised at the number of fans and impressed with their enthusiasm for a team that is just getting started. The Raptors have a few well-known players including some high draft picks, as well as a few Canadians, and the fans know who they are and cheer appropriately.
They also demonstrate a decent knowledge of the game, particularly during my recent visit when the officiating crew struggled with some calls late in the game. The parent Raptors were playing the Cavaliers on the same night, so it was good to see a sizable crowd out for this one and it bodes well for the future.
Despite its location right next to two major highways, driving in is a bit of a pain as there is no direct exit to Kennedy or Matheson, the two thoroughfares with access to Rose Cherry Place. The easiest way to get there from the 401 is to take the Dixie Road coming from the east or Hurontario coming from the west and go south to Matheson Blvd. It certainly isn't inconvenient, but it is a couple of miles of extra driving.
Parking is plentiful and free. There are community rinks in the complex so you might find a few more cars than you expect, but the size of the lot is more than adequate. There can be a very short wait after the game as there are only a couple of exits back onto Rose Cherry Place but as there is no traffic other than that from the game, everything moves quickly enough.
There is a single seating bowl with about 20 rows of maroon seats. Legroom is good, though most sections are less than half full so you won't have any problem moving around.
Restrooms are small but sufficient, and concourses are more than wide enough for the crowd.
There are four general seating areas: Sides Premium for $26 (includes access to the Premium Lounge), Sides for $24, Corners for $20, and Ends for $14. Note that the end seats are quite far away, though you can move freely around as ushers don't check tickets yet. There are also court level seats ranging from $75 to $90, which also give access to the Premium Lounge.
I find the NBA D-League to be one of the best sports values out there. You are getting some quality hoops talent, including first-round picks, for a fraction of the cost of an NBA game. Basketball is a game that really requires you to sit close to appreciate the athleticism and physical play that goes on, and at Hershey Centre you can do just that.
There isn't much here yet for the Raptors, other than an inaugural season banner. The poles around the concourse are decorated with logos for local minor league hockey teams, which is a nice touch, and there are some pictures of other events that have taken place here in the Premium Lounge. A point for the phrase "Road to the Six" to signify the path to the NBA, as Toronto's area code is 416.
It is always a bit of a problem doing a review so early in a franchise's existence and as such I've been a bit generous with the scoring here. There are kinks to be worked out, fans to be wooed, and traditions to be developed. The Raptors have done well over their 20 years in Toronto and I expect their marketing experience to filter down to their new D-League affiliate over the first season so that by year two, Raptors 905 will be the talk of Mississauga. Head down to the Hershey Centre next time you are in Toronto and check it out for yourself.
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