When I purchased the tickets to the first ever Toronto Maple Leafs Fan Fest a few weeks ago, I was quite excited about the event. A chance to meet a few Maple Leafs and check out the inner workings of the Air Canada Centre, what could be wrong with that? Well, as my two friends and I found out this past Saturday afternoon, a lot could go wrong with Fan Fest. The whole event never really felt inviting at all. It wasn’t a welcoming party for thousands of Leafs fans to a new season, but instead felt like a very cold and un-inviting cash-grab, where you could have the privilege of standing in long lines at the Air Canada Centre to pay for over-priced merchandise, on top of the $56 that most people paid to get into the building. In fact, this gathering should not have been labelled “Fan fest,” but instead should have been named, “Come Stand in Line at the Air Canada Centre.”
To be fair though, it was not all negative, and Fan Fest did receive a few “thumbs up.”
- The Statue Unveiling: It will be nice to say that I was there to witness Ted Kennedy, Johnny Bower, and Darryl Sittler be honoured with statues on Legends Row, and to hear Sittler’s little joke that when the wind blew his notes away, that was, “the Harold Ballard influence.” Even the unveiling had issues though, as too much area was blocked off for the VIP pass holders (which cost $500 for the weekend) and family of the honoured, leaving little room to be able to see what was actually going on for the rest of the fans.
- The Interviews: The interviews done by Leafs TV’s Paul Hendrick and in-arena host Lauren Howe (both of whom were very nice by the way) with the players (Phil Kessel, Cody Franson, Tyler Bozak, and Nazem Kadri) and management (Cliff Fletcher, Kyle Dubas, and Steve Staios) on the stage occupying a third of the ACC floor were okay, and it gave the fans a chance to ask questions.
- The Mistaking of Reimer: My friend bares a striking resemblance to James Reimer, and was mistaken by at least five people for being the Leafs goaltender. That gave us a few yuks to make up for some of the disappointment throughout the day.
While there were a few positives, the day was mostly filled with the aforementioned disappointment.
- Real Sports Store: The new team store inside the ACC was being hyped up for many weeks. Once inside, it was very underwhelming. It is maybe half the size of the store that used to be across the street, with poor selection as well. I was going to buy a Jonathan Bernier Winter Classic-style jersey. They didn’t have that. Team set of cards? Nope, look elsewhere. My friend was looking for 8 x 10 photos. None of those either in Real Sports.
- Team Sale: There was a team sale with many cheap items available. If you wore extra large clothing or really wanted a Dave Bolland or Nikolai Kulemin jersey, then this sale was for you. If not, then this sale had very little variety for most people.
- No Broadcast Booth Tour: This was something I really hoped would have been available, a chance to go to the broadcast booth to see where the likes of Bob Cole and Joe Bowen call the games. Unfortunately, this was not an option.
- The lines: If you were a fan of standing in line, then this was the event for you. Even if you skipped trying to get autographs, you still may not get to see all that was offered because of the lines. Want to drop the puck at centre ice? Better prepare for an hour/hour and a half wait in line. Want to tour the Leafs dressing room? Better make sure you are prepared to wait another two hours to do that. The lines were worse at the ACC Saturday than they would be at an Amusement park.
- Autographs and player accessibility: Hands down this was the worst part about Fan Fest. What do most fans who come to these events want to do? They want to meet the players. Imagine how disappointed many fans were then when they found out the following setup. If you were going to try and get autographs on Saturday, your frustration level would have been through the roof. First of all, the planning went against all common sense. There was just one long line to meet players, and it was very confusing as well, with what was explained to me as a cutoff point midway through for a picture with a player, and then continue on for an autograph. This one line stretched for so long on the 300 level that if you were there at 9:30 to meet Bernier (as I did), then by the time you got to the front of the line, it is likely Bernier or the player you wanted to meet would be done signing already. If you wanted to try and meet the players, not only would you have to have spent your whole day in line, but you would have maybe met three or four players. Even the setup to meet alumni made no sense at all. They put them right at the top of an escalator exit to get up to the 300 level, so not only did you have to wait in upwards of one/two hours to meet Mike Johnson or Darcy Tucker, but the lines cause commotion by blocking off the escalator and stairs.The whole autograph and meeting scenario led some to argue with security, complain to fan services, and even one guy who began collecting signatures to protest for a refund.
This should have been the plan instead: have half the players spread throughout the arena to cut down on lines. Have half of them sign from say 12-2pm, and the other half from 2-4pm. Fan Fest organizers learned from their mistake by doing something similar to this on Sunday, but that was too little, too late for those who attended in hopes of meeting the Leafs on Saturday.
Overall, Fan Fest was a major letdown, and hopefully they can make up for a the disappointment with a better event next year, or maybe with a Stanley Cup this season…yeah, a Cup win would suffice.
Photo credit: blogs.thescore.ca