By Daniel Nedecki, IBI Group
About 30 excited ULI Toronto members met on the evening of March 22, 2017 for an exclusive tour of Canada’s premier sporting and event facility. The group’s guide and host was the Air Canada Centre’s very own Security Services Manager, Collin Ritch, who appeared to be as enthusiastic about his job at the ACC as the day he started over seven years ago.
By way of introduction, Ritch explained that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Partnership (MLSE) owns the Air Canada Centre in addition to the Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, Toronto Marlies, Leafs TV and Raptors NBA TV. In fact, MLSE is one of the largest and most lucrative sports entertainment conglomerates in operation in North America. Ritch continued by explaining that the ACC was built in 1999 from an entirely private budget of $265 million and has played host to tens of millions of fans that attend over 270 events each year. The venue’s success is also attributed to its strategic location directly adjacent to Union Station. Indeed, a central location, easy pedestrian access and direct connection to a multiplicity of mass transit options ensures that the high quality programming of the ACC is not only well attended but ranks it just after Madison Square Gardens in New York and the Staples Center in Los Angeles for sheer number of annual attendees.
Beginning in the recently renovated Maple Leafs locker rooms, ULI attendees were able to snoop the immaculate back-of-house space while snapping a few tasteful selfies. The renovation also included the installation of upgraded coaching technology in the form of large screens and instant information feeds regarding statistics of every player playing locally or internationally all updated in real time and accessible with the press of a button. Ritch also spoke to the business side of sport and explained that hockey was by far the most lucrative of the entertainment and sporting at the ACC. He illustrated this point by mentioning that a recent addition of just six premium level seats generated $1.5 million in revenue within latest season.
En route to the second stop of the tour, the Raptor’s locker room, Ritch used the opportunity to explain some of the back of house and security concerns pertaining to the ACC. His main concern revolves around just getting people in and out of the space safely and most nights the occasional fan who’s had one too many is the extent of his concerns. Ritch outlined how the safety and security protocol was in fact regulated and determined by each individual sporting organization. Event spaces like the ACC are to ensure that they are able to meet or exceed these standards which can include requirements like metal detectors for fans entering an arena or more specific security requirements for players
Within the Raptors’ locker room, the group quickly pointed out the size of the doors throughout the space —. each were over seven feet tall and much wider than a normal doorframe. This was a specification of the NBA to ensure their massive stars would have no issue getting around without clipping their heads. In fact, the NBA requires that any door within the stadium through which an NBA star may need to pass be this size or greater. ULI members meandered through the somewhat more modestly decorated space (when compared to the Maples Leaf’s extravagant back of house), including the first aid / rehabilitation space which included a cryogenic chamber for players to shock their bodies with extremely cold temperatures as a way to treat injuries and stimulate other health benefits. A tour of the NBA space of the ACC would not be complete without opportunity to play a little “b-ball” on the Raptors’ practice court and ULI members certainly did not pass up this moment. There were far too many awkward attempts but a few stellar swishes as most of the ULI members took a shot at pro sport. Winded and reminded of why they were not professional athletes, ULI members continued on behind Ritch to a more secretive and exclusive part of the ACC.
The group was given a surprise tour of Drake’s own exclusive club located deep within the building. The Sher Club was named after the 6 God’s grandmother and exudes a retro future vibe of luxury and decadence with furnishings and design completed by Canada’s own Ferris Rafauli. This members only club was built as a partnership between the ACC, Drake and Ferris Rafauli Design and caters to its exclusive membership during ACC events or for private functions. This was certainly the highlight for many in attendance. ULI members took turns trying out the plush high-back seats and benches, including those in Drake’s immaculate VIP area within the club. From the hand blown glass ceiling, the exotic woods, the pony fur couches, the gold leaf to the champagne bottle clad walls, Toronto’s “Champagne Papi” could be seen in every detail. Although there was a strict no picture policy in order to preserve the club’s brand the bragging rights of just being in the space was surely the subject of many event recaps for ULI members the morning after.
Ritch then lead team ULI to a more utilitarian part of the ACC — the pump room where members were able to speak with the engineers responsible for maintaining this massive ice creating equipment. Massive machinery and a team of engineers are responsible for ensuring that the rink is properly iced and maintained. These engineers enthusiastically shared the details of their work and answered questions regarding the mechanics and science of ice generation at the ACC. Members heard about how the building was constructed without an insulated foundational slab and, because the water table is so close to the foundation, a major priority is ensuring this water does not freeze from the coolant circulating underneath the rink ice. To mitigate against this potential disaster, a layer of heated glycol is circulated underneath the glycol coolant for the rink ice to prevent the water table from freezing and thereby cracking the foundation.
As the tour began to wind down, Ritch led the group to the areas of the building responsible for hosting media and other com-tech professionals. Questions about hockey trivia and broadcasting technical details were answered as everyone began to exit the building.
The tour ended at the side of the building where the Jurassic Park is hosted during Raptors games. During the summer, Bremner Street is closed during Raptors’ home games to everything but pedestrians. A massive screen mounted on the side of the ACC displays the game free of charge for fans to enjoy live in a fully liquor licensed space. During the games, this space transforms into a good-natured open-air street party where non-ticket holders can be just as much a part of the energy as those inside the arena. Ritch explained that this is a way for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Partnership to invest in their own fans and ensure that the activities going on inside are accessible and can be enjoyed by everyone. As a major part of Toronto’s downtown, it is great to see this cultural hub thinking long-term and understanding its socio-cultural role in unifying our diverse and engaged city.
Thank you to our Event Sponsor: