Fan Fest A Missed Opportunity

Jeff Veillette
September 07 2014 10:14AM

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When I first heard that the Toronto Maple Leafs were having a "Fan Festival" to "give back to the community", I was pretty stoked. Several other NHL teams have had similar initiatives, and it's a good way to connect with fans that aren't usually in the stands. More importantly, something like that is almost impossible to mess up.

Leave it to the Toronto Maple Leafs to do just that, in what turned out to be a complete disaster.

Before getting into the actual activities, let's talk about the ticket prices. After all, an event like this shouldn't cost much. You're not going to see a game; you're either watching people talk or doing small activities. But the reality is, it cost more to go to these events than it costs to go to a regular season game in many markets

Once you got Ticketmaster fees out of the way, it cost $50-$65 to attend Friday night's festivities, and $40 to go to to either of the Sunday events. VIP passes cost $500. These passes also got you a drawstring bag, a printed out hockey card of a random player, and a voucher for a free popcorn and mini-can of coke. That's a lot of money; you can buy tickets for a Los Angeles Kings game on Stubhub right now for less. 

But let's keep with the fan festival comparison. The Ottawa Senators are three weeks away from having their event. They're also doing theirs inside of the arena, but are limiting it to just one day. For $10, fans get a bobblehead, get to watch two practices (Ottawa and Binghamton), an intrasquad game, and like the Leafs, get access to a full autograph session, a Q&A, or (technically and, but time permitting) a centre-ice puck drop. If you're a season ticket holder, the event is free.

This to me makes a staggering amount of sense. Yes, the fact that the Senators are largely irrelevant by comparison plays a factor, but it seems like a more suitable amount of money if your mission statement is to "give back" to the fans. Not gouging them would be a nice change of pace.

Even the incentives seemed a little bit cut throat. They hyped up that booths would be selling concession items at "Maple Leaf Gardens Prices". While technically correct, what you would guess meant "the glory years" was more like "the day we left in 1999". A slice of pizza and a small pop for $5 is cheaper than what you'd pay at a Leafs game today, but isn't exactly better than what Pizza Pizza charges in store or the cost at a local rink. They had a bunch of moved player (aka, literally hundreds of Bolland jerseys/shirts) items for sale, but even then rounded the numbers up a bit instead of going with their usual 75% off. Your voucher for a free coke didn't apply to the bottles, as they knew you would get frustrated in the hour-long line (we'll get to that later) and buy a bottle for double what it costs outside of the building. 

Capitalism at it's finest. I don't blame them, but again, contradictory to the mission statement.

On to the event. We'll start with Friday; gates opened at six, but you weren't allowed to go to your seat until 7:15. But hey, you got the chance to check out stuff that would be available this weekend a little bit early! That's neat, right?

Sort of. They ran out of dressing room tours within minutes, and the centre-ice puck drop was packed too. But hey, time to eat pizza, chat, and wander. Can't complain too much. Eventually, we're allowed in and get to wait another 45 minutes for the night's festivities to get under way.

On the agenda? A Q&A with Leafs management, one with some of the players (Bernier, Phaneuf, and Lupul), and the presentation of new rings to a bunch of Leafs alumni. The only real advantage to being there? Some people got to ask questions, and a couple of others got to scream things. Screaming things definitely happened; one man started screaming unintelligibles about David Clarkson (to which the fan who was supposed to ask a question at the time responded "this isn't Yuk Yuks, no heckling"), and another yelled for Joffrey Lupul to be given the C (as he sat next to Dion Phaneuf). 

Other than that? You paid for a worse experience. The speaker systems weren't set up properly - for the first few minutes only the VIP section was getting proper sound. Certain mics would cut out in certain spots. Dave Nonis' mic didn't work at all. You were better off watching everything on the Leafs website for free afterwards. Though it was pretty neat to see the rings being presented.

I had hopes that Saturday would be better. Not so much for me; I had no real interest in doing any of the events, but I wanted others to have a good time. As you may have seen on Twitter, this didn't happen for many. The event was rammed with guests, way too many to allow for access to any of the "things to do".

From what many people have told me, meeting players and getting autographs required a commitment of two to three hours in line. What's worse is the fact that the guys making the appearances weren't going to be there for that long, so you would get in line for one person and see another (with no schedule). Eventually, staff were cutting people out of lines entirely after already waiting long periods of time. 

It wasn't just the players that drew lines either. The on-ice stuff was a zoo. The Leafs dressing room was an impossibility. The combine centre was jammed. Members of Leafs management wandered the halls to give people some sort of entertainment as they waited, but this just lead to areas of the building being straight up impossible to navigate as mobs formed around them.

In the end, the Leafs did some cool things on a long-term scale this weekend. Giving the alumni their rings was nice. The new statues look really cool. But these things could have been done as smaller mini-events of their own, and not made into features of a cash cow. Leafs fans found themselves stuck in crowds of disappointment, and walking out empty handed and emptier walleted. Come to think of it, maybe they did give the "game experience" to those who usually don't get it.

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Managing Editor of Hockey Content at the Nation Network. Just here so I'll get the opposite of fined. If you'd like to collaborate or simply have a question, email me at jeff@veillette.me
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#1 WesternDP
September 07 2014, 10:31AM
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First!!

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#2 Jeffler the Bedwetter
September 07 2014, 11:36AM
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Can you go one article without turning it into a mouthpiece for your liberal agenda? This is supposed to be about hockey, not about you not understanding how capitalism works.

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#3 Ilija
September 07 2014, 11:39AM
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Great event, and I enjoyed it. Pricey, but amazing.

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#4 Ilija
September 07 2014, 11:39AM
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Great event, and I enjoyed it. Pricey, but amazing.

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#5 Peter B
September 07 2014, 12:58PM
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Hey Jeffler, I didn't attend FanFest and only when I got home and went on Twitter did I realize why there were so many Leaf jerseys on the TTC...in September. So all I have to go off is the 2nd-hand griping of people that went. I agree with all you wrote here except about the price.

Does lowering prices for these things make sense for the Leafs? We've established that they're the most popular pro sports team in the nation. If they made it cheaper, people like ME--(student living outside GTA)--would actually consider it and then the crowds would be RIDICULOUS. Unless they are prepared for the worst (numbers-wise), I see the sense in keeping prices high-ish for such events. The demand is too great for prices regular joes can comfortably afford, even if we are the bigger portion of the fanbase (over against wealthy business-types). I don't like it, but I understand it, and probably would do it too.

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#6 mroberts85
September 07 2014, 01:04PM
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1 little edit for you..

it wasnt shanahan who said no heckling this isnt yuk yuks, it was the fan who had the mic and was trying to ask a question

i went to fridays festivities and was underwhelmed . it was typical mlse... gouge fans even more with lame events. glad i didnt have to pay for my ticket.. i dont think id go to this ever again

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#7 Jeffier the Bedwetter
September 07 2014, 02:38PM
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Jeffler the Bedwetter wrote:

Can you go one article without turning it into a mouthpiece for your liberal agenda? This is supposed to be about hockey, not about you not understanding how capitalism works.

I really want to apologize for this comment.

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#9 Jeffler the Bedwetter
September 07 2014, 05:54PM
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@Jeffier the Bedwetter

Site owners letting fakes like you run around is embarrassing. You can't even spell my name right.

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#10 John Lofranco
September 07 2014, 09:43PM
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"Members of Leafs management wandered the halls to give people some sort of entertainment as they waited, but this just lead to areas of the building being straight up impossible to navigate as mobs formed around them."

This means Cam Charron showed up, right?

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#11 Kat
September 08 2014, 06:40AM
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Two to three hours was only the wait time if you got there at 9:30. I lined up at 10:15 and waited over five hours.

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#12 Phrankie
September 08 2014, 06:44AM
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There goes Jeffler's press credentials for the season

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#13 SeenItAll
September 08 2014, 08:44AM
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Sounds like it was a disappointing way to treat the fans. Hopefully some feedback will get MLSE to put a little more planning into these events in the future.

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#14 Mook
September 08 2014, 08:45AM
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Hopefully they improve on this for next year, from what I was reading Sunday improved over Saturday.... They actually had a schedule for Sunday and moved the players into 3 different levels. I went Friday and Saturday and didnt bother going Sunday even though I had tickets... I like the concept but needs work..... more staff and better access. And by better access I mean to the players not the fans wallets ....

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#15 wes
September 08 2014, 08:05PM
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Jeffler the Bedwetter wrote:

Can you go one article without turning it into a mouthpiece for your liberal agenda? This is supposed to be about hockey, not about you not understanding how capitalism works.

This is not supposed to be about hockey. It's about Jeff's experience at an event. But even if he was misunderstanding capitalism in this article, why don't you just demonstrate for him what he needs to understand?

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#16 Hugh Jardon
September 08 2014, 10:13PM
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No matter where you go, there's always going to be chronic whiners.

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#17 AllanJ
September 09 2014, 11:05AM
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I'm a little surprised at the price comments, to be honest, as someone as connected as you should have been aware that the profits from the weekend went to charity.

I certainly didn't mind the cost with that in mind. Not sure if you were not aware of this, or if you just failed to mention it in the article.

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