Rogers Centre has been called everything from "wonder of the world" to "concrete toilet bowl," not to mention SkyDome. Jays fans sometimes tend to complain about the sheer size and symmetrical blandness of the stadium but when the park opened in 1989 it was seen as one of the greatest venues in all of sport. Combined with back-to-back Blue Jays' World Series victories in 1992 and 1993, and a 1991 Argonauts Grey Cup win, the stadium was positively hopping.
Rogers Centre's history can be traced back to the 1982 CFL Grey Cup. Held outdoors at Exhibition Stadium, the game was marred by November's freezing rain and wind. The next day, people began calling for a domed stadium. In June of 1983 then-Ontario Premier Bill Davis announced that a domed stadium would be considered for Toronto.
Canadian 'starchitect' Rod Robbie drew up plans for the new stadium and won an international design competition. The site chosen was next to the CN Tower, and right in the heart of an upcoming neighbourhood built on a former rail yard. The stadium was to be the most expensive ever built in baseball and it would feature dozens of futuristic amenities including an enormous Jumbotron screen, a hotel towering over the outfield, and the 31-story retractable dome. Under the still-new CN Tower, the dome was to become the envy of the sporting world. Construction lasted three years and the opening of the stadium was met with great fanfare.
The lavish grand opening ceremony of Skydome began with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing an original composition, then an entrance ceremony for the construction crews reminiscent of the Olympic opening ceremonies. After this, a troupe from the popular musical Cats sang about the old Exhibition Stadium followed by big football players from the Argos who performed a lighthearted musical number of their own to the tune of 'Singing in the Rain.' Videos now on YouTube reveal that it wasn't half bad! Following this performance was the "We are Toronto' act, which showcased the city's multiculturalism. Finally, the climax was reached and the dome was ceremoniously opened for the first time. People applauded despite being exposed to a torrential downpour outside. Skydivers dropped in through the thick cloud and a final musical piece concluded the ceremonies.
The pomp and circumstance eventually wore off. In 2005, oft derided telecom giant Rogers angered fans when they purchased the SkyDome and renamed it to the corporate Rogers Centre. Many fans still purposely still refer to the stadium as SkyDome. The building also started to show its age. In an era of retro-inspired ballparks, the once futuristic Rogers Centre had become ironically outdated. The team did not play well on the field and fan apathy grew. Attendance fell and the future of the stadium looked quite bleak.
Then in late 2012, the Blue Jays made a series of trades and free agent signings that were punctuated by the Toronto Argonauts winning the 100th Grey Cup at home. Stadium owner Rogers announced a long-term plan to renovate the Rogers Centre and improve the fan experience. For the 2013 season, an open porch was added to center field, and more interesting food and drink options were added. Over the coming seasons, renovations will continue until a grass field is eventually installed. At the same time the Argonauts are expected to move into a new football-exclusive outdoor stadium elsewhere in the city.
The buzz surrounding the Jays has reached a fever pitch across Canada and the Rogers Centre, or SkyDome if you like, has become the place to be once again.
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".
Options here have increased greatly in recent years, and again for the 2013 season. Many of the concession booths feature local flavours from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. The Muddy York market near section 109 is the most interesting of these, with a number of different stands hawking meals inspired by Toronto's Kensington Market neighbourhood.
Near section 122, the Roundhouse Carvery and Bar serves a popular sirloin steak hand-carved and roasted in an Alexander Keith's beer glaze. Quaker Steak and Lube's first Canadian location serves wings, onion rings, and other deep fried favourites in 134. And in 125 is Shopsy's Deli, a Toronto staple since 1921. Hogtown Grill has a few locations around the concourses and offers BBQ sandwiches on very good ciabatta rolls as well as wraps and pitas. Poutine, the staple of Canadian stadiums, is available almost anywhere other standards like hot dogs and nuts are sold.
Beer is rather expensive at Rogers Centre, with tall boys going for $11. Domestic standards like Alexander Keith's and Labatt Blue are on hand. American imports like Budweiser and Rolling Rock are available alongside a number of European brews. Wines and coolers are sold here as well but the biggest news comes from the beer world.
Brewed literally across the street from Rogers Centre is Steamwhistle Pilsner. For a long time fans have begged for Steamwhistle and other craft beers to be sold here and finally, in 2013 Steamwhistle tall boys were brought across the street and into the dome. Fans have celebrated by drinking lots of it. There is hope that more craft beers will go on sale in coming years.
The downside to the interesting foods at Rogers Centre is the prices. A slice of pizza will run you $5! Thankfully fans are allowed to bring in their own food and drink provided it is not in a hard ice box. A 200-level outdoor patio opens during the warmer months providing fans with views to the nearby lake.
The atmosphere has improved tremendously at Rogers Centre. The biggest addition to the stadium this year is the center field open deck on the 200-level. Fans from all levels of the stadium flock to the new deck and it has become a place of relaxed conversation and great views of the field. There are TV screens and multiple levels of porch. The fans mingle and drink lots of beer. Although the patio is breezy and relaxed, a fan who wants to heckle an outfielder could do so effectively from this perch.
When the dome is open, the CN Tower looms over the ballpark as a reminder to fans that they are right in the heart of Canada's largest city. The Jumbotron is the size of three large houses and is crystal clear, accented by LCD ribbons around the field and on the outfield wall.
Even when the dome is open, but especially when it is closed, you realize what the Rogers Centre is not; an outdoor retro ballpark. The stadium is tall and wide and not designed to emulate older parks. There is a lot of concrete - the stadium was built in 1989 - but big windows and TV screens minimize the impact of all the grey. The 500-level concourse has excellent views to the nearby lake.
Fans love to lament that the stadium is so close to the lake but is not open to it. Anyone who can remember the old Exhibition Stadium on a peninsula, will tell you that lake breezes aren't so nice in April or October and so the dome is perfect for a city like Toronto.
On Junior Jays Saturdays the plaza on the west side of the dome is turned into a pre-game entertainment zone for kids with rides, games, and lots of giveaways.
They could not have picked a better location for Rogers Centre. The iconic CN Tower is located across a plaza from the East entrance of the stadium. Under construction on the other side of the same plaza is the new Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, which is slated to open in autumn of 2013. North over the pedestrian bridge and the train tracks is the Entertainment District with its hundreds of restaurants, bars, and clubs. On Front Street, the CBC has their headquarters which makes for an interesting visit. A few minutes east on Front; at Yonge, is the Hockey Hall of Fame. Just a block east on Bremner Blvd. is the Air Canada Centre and the newly developed Southcore area, which has a host of shops and restaurants as well as hotels. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre is here as well. Just south of the stadium is the Harbourfront neighbourhood, with plenty to do year-round. Just a few blocks west is historic Fort York, where Toronto (then called York) was defended from the invading Americans in the War of 1812.
A major attraction right across Bremner is the Roundhouse, which was used as a part of the old rail yards and is now a rail museum. There are lots of old locomotives on display outside. Steamwhistle Brewing also operates out of the Roundhouse, and offers tours as well as a gastropub where you can enjoy their famous pilsner without paying $11 for a tallboy like at the Jays game.
There are numerous pubs to sit at before or after the game including Overdraught and The Loose Moose on Front Street. Across the street are two sports bars; St. Louis' and Hoops. There is good sushi to be had at Mi-Ne, also across Bremner. There are plenty of hotels within a five minute walk of the stadium ranging from the Ritz on down.
Anything you could want to do before or after the game is almost certain to be very close to the game.
Blue Jays fans had all but given up on the team for a long time, but the Jays became cool again when they went back to the retro uniform and logo set in 2011. It is strange to think that just changing the logo and colours would attract so much support, but immediately after the change was made, everyone had Blue Jays hats and clothing. This change coincided with the promotion of electric Canadian youngster Brett Lawrie, whose intensity and Canadian-ness have made him the fan favourite, even more than Jose Bautista.
Lawrie has been helpful to the Jays off the field, too. The team has been making a concerted effort to become 'Canada's team' and embarks on Winter Tours to different cities across the country every year. They added a minor league affiliate in Vancouver, who play at Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium. This new focus has drawn fans from coast to coast to coast. On my most recent visit to Rogers Centre I met a family from Prince Edward Island and some friends from Winnipeg. This cross-country mix of fans leads to an interesting experience at the ballpark.
The team has become trendy again among the fickle18-35 condo-dwelling crowd, and the dome has been fairly full to begin 2013. The addition of all-stars like R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, and Melky Cabrera couldn't have hurt, but the marketing job from the front office has definitely been a factor.
Getting to the game on public transit is a piece of cake; bustling Union Station is connected by the SkyWalk to Rogers Centre. Subways, regional GO Trains, VIA Rail, Ontario Northland, and Amtrak all provide rail service in from out of town. If you happen to be taking the car in, the stadium is located just north of the Gardiner Expressway. Driving and parking in Toronto is not the easiest thing though, and public transit is recommended.
Within the stadium, the concourses are plenty wide and washroom lines are not usually too bad. Moving between the different levels is easy because of wide ramps. Even concessions lines are not too long anywhere throughout the stadium. There has been criticism of the uniformity of the round design of the stadium but it certainly improves traffic flow.
Tickets can be had for a reasonable $15 in the 500 level with the price rising slightly during 'Premium' games against divisional rivals. Kids get half-price tickets on Saturdays. The ability to bring your own food into the stadium is a big cost-saver because concessions are kind of ridiculous. Rogers Centre has the fourth-highest concessions prices in the MLB. A big price point error is the seats back of first and third base. They cost almost as much as seats over the dugouts but are much further from the action. For that reason, they tend to be pretty empty during weeknight games and look really bad on TV shots of the pitcher from the side.
For those planning to park, expect to pay between $10 and $25 depending on which lot you end up in.
A huge bonus point for the Fan Experience Ambassador programme, where fans can phone or text ideas to improve the fan experience at the park and meet with an Ambassador to discuss.
A bonus for the hundreds of millions of dollars committed by Rogers to refresh the Rogers Centre.
An extra point for the location under the CN Tower and right in the heart of things. It is really cool when the dome is open and the tower is lit up Blue at night during home games.
An extra point for the incredible work done by the Jays Care Foundation, who recently won the MLB Commissioner's Award for Philanthropic Excellence.
The Rogers Centre started off as an extraordinary venue before deteriorating into an aging venue. Now, it is becoming a very cool place to watch the game again. If the renovations continue at the stadium, it should be able to last as one of the classic venues of baseball. It will take a while but one day Rogers Centre may be looked at as a next-generation Fenway or Wrigley. For now, though, it is a good place to catch a ballgame and enjoy the buzz surrounding the Blue Jays.
In 1989, Toronto opened the SkyDome. It was state of the art in every sense of the word and was casually referred to as the next wonder of the world (right after Andre the Giant). It helped put Toronto in the centre of the sporting universe and made the Blue Jays the envy of the league. The SkyDome put the Jays at the top of the attendance heap in Major League Baseball and gave the team the needed revenue to help them build World Series Championship teams in 1992 and 1993. SkyDome has also hosted some significant events, including major concerts, two WrestleManias, Grey Cups, NCAA Bowl Games and public showings of the final episodes of Cheers and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and recently the biggest UFC event in history.
The city of Toronto eventually sold the SkyDome to media giant Rogers Communications and it was immediately renamed. Rogers also purchased the Blue Jays, who had fallen on hard times. Original owner, Labatt's brewery had been purchased by Belgian beer conglomerate Interbrew and the exodus of key executives, including Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick, began. Interbrew was not interested in running a professional sports franchise, and began cutting costs.
Much has changed in the twenty plus year lifespan of what is now known as the Rogers Centre and there are rumblings from local fans that maybe it's time for something new. What remains certain is that this wonder is at the very least a revolutionary stadium that led to many of the amenities and features that are now commonplace among newer stadiums. There's a funny thing that's happening in the MLB. The quest to create new and original stadiums has left the league with numerous stadiums that are very similar. This has left the Rogers Centre as a rather unique alternative.
Back in 1989, the Rogers Centre (previously the Skydome) emerged as a modern marvel of architecture. Thanks to its retractable roof, after 20 years it still stands as one of the most unique ballparks in the majors.
I remember my first visit to Skydome back in 1990. My Tigers were in town, and the place was electric. The Jays were on their rise to prominence, and the dome was seeing the highest attendance is the Majors.
Flash forward to today, or my most recent trip which was two years ago, and it just doesn't have the same pizzaz. For one thing, I don't know that the upkeep has been appropriate. There is lettering along the facades that have fallen down, and the place in general feels older than its 20 years.
The lack of enthusiasm from the fans certainly contributes, as does the personality free turf. While I like Major League Baseball in Canada (and I love Toronto), I wonder sometimes if there is a city that would be more in love with baseball than folks in Toronto seem to be.
Losing builds that apathy. Maybe that's all the venue needs- a little attention and a little winning.
Such a great city to visit, but the Skydome just leave so much to be desired. That turf just looks awful.
Once a revolutionary development with the retractable roof, the Skydome has suffered over the years, falling behind other new stadiums much as the team has fallen behind their competitors. Prices are high, especially for food and drinks. Fans are too spread out and are obnoxious without being funny.
I'll always have a soft spot for the place where the Jays 93 team won the World Series, but think the team needs to be more creative to get fans into the stadium and into the game.
I took in a game on 9/13/12 vs. the Seattle Mariners. This was the first MLB game I've been to in at least 15 years (Baltimore Orioles). It was also only my second time to Canada (I came up from Buffalo just for the game).
Food & Beverage:
Selection seemed very good...and yes, there was poutine :). Just a tad expensive. The $8.50 Commemorative Coke Zero was still refreshing though.
Atmosphere/Fans: Awesome! The stadium is a marvel, although it took me a second to adjust to the look of AstroTurf. Watching the game was definitely the #1 priority of most people attending!
There was excitement in the air, despite what looked to be pretty poor attendance. To be fair, it was the last game in the series, it was a weeknight, and the Red Sox were rolling into town the next night. Canadians are wonderful, polite, and love their Blue Jays! Now I do too!
Neighborhood/Access: Rogers Centre is located in a pretty swanky downtown area. Parking was pretty expensive, but there were plenty of garages to accommodate.
If you're going to a 7pm game on a weeknight, I would recommend planning ahead, as you will most likely get stuck in some traffic. Another thing to note is that parking prices takes a dive in many garages at 6pm. If I had parked at 5:45, this particular garage would have cost me $21. Since I waited, it only cost me $9. I parked a ways away from the stadium though.
Return on Investment: I think the ticket prices for some of the 100 and 200 level seats are a little high based on the demand. It seemed like you could get a really good deal on anything in the 500 level. Why the 500 level patrons didn't all sneak down to better seats is beyond me... All that said, I would totally go again...but I would go much more frequently if the prices dropped a bit.
Extras: Caught a foul ball! Doesn't get any better than that! Ace (the mascot) came around a bunch and was happy to take photos. We were also treated to a rendition of both the Star Spangled Banner and O Canada!
Conclusion: Loved it. I would definitely go again. If you want to see some no-nonsense baseball, this is the place.
I've been to the Skydome for 3 games now and I really enjoy being there. It looks like a dank basement on TV but it's actually very open and clean in person. The area around is exactly what you'd expect from the downtown of a major North American city; fountains, lakeshore, skyscrapers. Toronto is like a clean Chicago. I've seen two games with the dome open and the CN Tower looming over the field adds to the scope of the Skydome as a multipurpose facility. The hotel in centerfield is also a classy touch. The street musicians playing bucket drums on the way in and out of the stadium was very fun. Overall, it was much better than I expected.
I really enjoyed the stadium. I imagined it to be bigger than it really is, but it's plenty spacious. The food selection on the first level was very nice, but its quite thin as you go up the levels. The fans arrived in force the day I was there in anticipation for the 2013 season. It was great to see a packed house, even in a loss. The seats were adequate up in the 500 level - what I expected from a 20+ year old stadium. The surrounding area is nice with a brewery, some good restaurants, and the CN Tower directly next door.
255 Bremner Boulevard
Toronto, ON M5V 3M9
146 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5J 1G2
310 Front Street W
Toronto, ON M5V 3B6
156 Front St W
Toronto, ON M5J 2L6
30 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M5E 1X8
301 Front Street W
Toronto, ON M5V 2T6
One Blue Jays Way
Toronto, ON M5V 1J4
(416) 341 7100