Scotiabank Arena – Toronto Rock
Still Rock Solid
There are few examples of how to market a new sports franchise that are better than the inception of the Toronto Rock. Upon moving to Toronto from Hamilton where they were the Ontario Raiders in 1998, the fledgling National Lacrosse League franchise was purchased by a group led by then Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant General Manager Bill Watters. Using his position with the Leafs to gain numerous promotion opportunities, the Toronto Rock became huge in Toronto. The securing of a spot on Canadian Sports television, the Toronto Rock began to re-educate Canadians on the sport of box lacrosse. Parts of the roster would turn out to be legendary, including the coach, and the Rock would go on to massive success early in their existence.
The Rock would also find themselves in a legendary venue, enjoying the final years of Maple Leaf Gardens before they too would move on to the Scotiabank Arena. The Toronto Rock would become so successful that they would be the driving force behind the massive Canadian expansion in the league. Teams like the Ottawa Rebel, Montréal Express, Calgary Roughnecks, Edmonton Rush, Vancouver Stealth and Saskatchewan Rush owe their existence to the success in Toronto.
Not everything remained the same in Toronto as time would move on. Legendary coach Les Bartley would be forced to step down to deal with the colon cancer that would ultimately claim his life and the original roster that was so beloved would whittle away over time. Ownership changes in 2009 would see the Watters Group sell to Oakville businessman Jamie Dawick, who continues to own the team. The Rock would make fewer and fewer appearances on television and eventually the NLL would stream all of their games online and today the Rock are not seen on standard television at all. The initial success that the Rock enjoyed out of the gate, including five Champions’ Cups between 1999 and 2005 also began to wane. With all of the changes in Rockland, the crowds began to drop off also. While the Rock are still a strong draw in the league, crowd sizes are nowhere near the consistent near-sellouts the Rock enjoyed in the early days.
Food & Beverage 4
Concessions for a Toronto Rock game can be a bit of a tease. The Scotiabank Arena has concessions that rival any professional sports franchise out there. However, the full complement of concession options that are available for a Maple Leafs or Raptors game are not available for the Rock. A number of one-off concession stands are closed for the NLL and the upper bowl has a very limited concession selection. However, by no means will Rock fans starve or even be overly disappointed with the concession options. The major concession stands are open and all of the expected items including hot dogs ($6.75), popcorn, sausage, pretzels and nachos are available. Pizza Pizza also has a strong presence at the Scotiabank Arena. Some different items that are available, even for Rock games, include the Chairman’s Chicken Sandwich, Buffalo Chicken Tenders and Fries, Buffalo Chicken Wraps and Nacho Fries. Mr. Sub and Tim Hortons are also available.
Beverage options include Coca-Cola products for soft drink options. Other options include Tim Hortons items and bottled water. The beer selection remains pretty strong, especially at the Molson Canadian Brewhouse. Molson Canadian, Coors Light, Coors Banquet, Creemore, Heineken, Dos Equis and Strongbow Cider are all available. Wine and other liquors are also served at the Brewhouse.
The atmosphere of the Scotiabank Arena begins with the historic nature of the building. Opening in 1999, the Scotiabank Arena was built on the corner of Bay and Lakeshore in what was once the Toronto Postal Delivery Building. The Scotiabank Arena may not show the historic nature on the outside, but entering the Galleria will give fans the opportunity to see the historic transformation of the building that was originally built in 1939, including the facade. The rest of the exterior of the Scotiabank Arena is not over the top, but the Scotiabank Arena has had a number of face lifts. The best place to see what would be considered a main entrance would be on Brenner Blvd. in what has been dubbed Maple Leaf Square. It is in this wide open meeting area where fans gather for Leafs and Raptors playoff games. A huge video screen is on the outside as are the bronze statues for the Maple Leafs. The north side of the building is the entrance to the Galleria.
Inside the building itself, there is no true atrium. If anyplace would be considered the atrium it would be the Galleria. The concourses do feature some historic pictures from Toronto sports moments, including those at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Rock have a special place in MLG-lore as the final event at the Gardens was the Toronto Rock versus the Rochester Knighthawks in a Champions’ Cup Championship in which the Rock would win by one goal on a Kaleb Toth goal in the final second of the game. It is very obvious that the Leafs and Raptors rule the roost here as Rock pics are a little hard to come by.
Inside the seating bowl, fans will be immediately struck with the massive, state of the art video board. It is huge and crystal clear. Those with tickets close to the action can still see the video board through the four small screens under the video board designed specifically for those fans. Among the plethora of Leafs and Raptors banners, Rock banners are not intermingled. A quick turn to the west and fans will see the banners honouring Toronto Rock achievements. Banners honouring the 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2011 Champions’ Cup victories are joined with the retired numbers of Bob Watson and Colin Doyle as well as a banner honouring legendary coach Les Bartley. Unfortunately, when the Rock are not playing, those banners are not out for all to see.
The seating bowl is two levels separated by a level of luxury boxes with more luxury boxes and bars at the east and west ends. The upper level is steeper than in many other arenas and offers great sight lines. The floor runs from east to west and the south side offers the best view for that centre logo picture.
The game day experience at a Toronto Rock game is unique. The constant action on the floor is only matched by the constant upbeat, excitable music. The Rock’s in house DJ sits up in the south end of the arena keeping the energy up. The PA announcer is loud and excitable and consistently keeping the home fans into the game. The brilliance of the Rock moniker is felt after each Toronto goal. A rotation of approximately four classic rock songs, all featuring the word Rock, are belted out sending the fans into a frenzy. The Rock mascot Iggy patrols the stands and the Rock cheerleaders act as the promotions group as well as performing at down times. Overall, the Rock provide a fantastic atmosphere that will keep fans interested.
Scotiabank Arena may be in the perfect spot. Located neatly between Front Street and the Harbourfront, the surrounding neighbourhood is an overwhelming plethora of options for either pre or post game fare. Front Street alone is littered with recognizable chain restaurants including Jack Astor’s, Texas Lone Star Grill, Canyon Creek, Casey’s and Boston Pizza. Fans who are looking for something a little more original may want to try Joe Badali’s, The Loose Moose, The Fox, or Hoops. Right across from the Scotiabank Arena, in Maple Leaf Square is Real Sports Bar and Grill, an absolutely massive place with more TV screens than staff. If you have a little extra time and a little extra money, having a drink in The Library Club at the Royal York hotel or having a nice dinner at 360 at the top of the CN Tower will be some uniquely Toronto experiences.
To go along with the plethora of eating establishments downtown, you will also find a ton of things to do. The Scotiabank Arena is shared by the Rock along with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA and Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL. Just up the street you will find the Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays. Further up Front Street to Exhibition Place you will find the Ricoh Coliseum, home of the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Also on the Exhibition grounds is BMO Field, home of Toronto FC of MLS and the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Just north of Scotiabank Arena is the University of Toronto which fields a host of athletic teams at various locations. The former home of the Rock was Maple Leaf Gardens, which has been purchased and renovated by Ryerson University. The Rams play both basketball and hockey in the iconic building.
The Hockey Hall of Fame, just east of the Scotiabank Arena, is great spot to hit. North of the Scotiabank Arena is the Eaton Centre, which is the centre of a great Toronto shopping district. The Theatre District in Toronto is possibly second only to Broadway in New York City. Of course, the iconic CN Tower is also a great destination to the west of the Scotiabank Arena. Forget coming for the night, or spending the weekend. You could jam pack a full week in Downtown Toronto and still need to return to catch what you missed.
There are a number of quality hotels that are well within walking distance of the Scotiabank Arena. However, the downtown location leads to a fairly expensive stay. The Westin Harbour Castle offers a prime location which can overlook the harbour and is just south of the Scotiabank Arena. For a truly classic Canadian experience, you should consider staying at the Fairmont Royal York, one of the oldest, most famous hotels in all of Canada. An option that is a little more affordable and also within walking distance is the Strathcona.
At one point, the Toronto Rock wrote the book on NLL fan support. A combination of ownership changes, massive success early on and a changing media landscape have all aided in bringing Rock attendance back down to earth. The Rock have averaged approximately 9,500 in each of the past three seasons (2018, 2017, 2016). They have a solid lock on 5th place in league attendance, right in the middle of the NLL. Considering that the Rock have fallen significantly from the top spot, it is not unrealistic to expect a little more from the Toronto fans. Those in attendance are the true fans for the most part and are well versed in box lacrosse. They are loud when necessary, but more of them would provide a better ambience.
The Scotiabank Arena is located right downtown in Toronto, just north of the Gardiner Expressway, between the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 427. The Gardiner is significantly south of Highway 401, which is the main highway through Southern Ontario and basically the location of Pearson International Airport. Traffic is a regular occurrence in this area of downtown and getting to the arena from the east or west can be a chore, especially if you are braving rush hour during the workweek. A little tidbit if you are coming from the west, consider avoiding the majority of the Gardiner Expressway and take Lakeshore Boulevard. Often Lakeshore is the much faster option.
The Galleria, which is attached to the north side of the Scotiabank Arena, offers a direct link to Union Station from the Scotiabank Arena. This is fantastic for fans who prefer to take public transit. The TTC subway stops right at Union and there are a variety of GO Transit buses and trains that come into the station. The Via trains also stop at Union for those coming from a short distance out of town. The GO Transit and TTC websites offer maps, schedules and other planning tools to help you in your quest to get to the Scotiabank Arena.
There are quite a few surface and garage parking lots in the immediate area for you to choose from if you are bringing your vehicle. Parking will not be cheap, but can be found for $20 or less. There always seems to be significant construction activity in the area of the Scotiabank Arena so the best plan would be to give yourself plenty of time to find and secure parking so you do not end up being one of those late-arriving Toronto fans. There are some prepaid parking options on sites like ParkMe, or Parking Panda but those are not as prevalent as their American counterparts.
The main ticket windows are located within the Galleria at the west end. With almost no tickets going on sale game day, lineups at the ticket windows are not usually an issue. The main and most popular gate is found within the Galleria. Increased security measures have slowed down the process a fair bit, but Scotiabank Arena officials have been making a concerted effort to speed up this process. The other gates are not nearly as popular, but will require patrons to wait outside.
Getting around the Scotiabank Arena is not a huge issue. A near capacity crowd most of the time will, of course, bring heavy foot traffic in the concourses, however they are quite big and the traffic flows at a pretty decent clip. There are ample washroom facilities and washroom traffic also moves fairly quickly.
Return on Investment 5
The Toronto Rock offers unsurpassed value in the City of Toronto. Fans have the opportunity to sit in seats at the Scotiabank Arena that they could not possibly hope to sit in for a Maple Leafs or Raptors game without re-mortgaging their home. Tickets for the Rock run between $72 and $23. Lower bowl seats can be purchased for as little as $32, less than ANY Raptors or Maple Leaf tickets. With frequent ticket packages and deals available, checking the Rock website and social media for current deals is a must before making a purchase. Parking and concession prices may be a little on the high side, however they will not break the bank. Combine the prices with a family friendly environment focused on the entertainment, a super exciting product on the field and a ton of promotional and environmental excitement and a family outing is not only do-able, but an amazing experience.
An extra mark for the brilliance of marketing the Toronto lacrosse team as the Rock. The musical connections alone are too numerous to count.
An extra mark for the Toronto Rock striking out on their own. The Rock are currently the only professional sports franchise in Toronto that are not owned by either Bell, Rogers or MLSE.
An extra mark for the influential nature of the Rock leading to significant expansion of the NLL based off of their success.
An extra mark for the who’s who of lacrosse royalty who have come through Toronto and donned the Rock jersey. Rock royalty includes Les Bartley, Terry Sanderson, Colin Doyle, Bob Watson, Jim Veltman, Kaleb Toth, Glenn Clark, Steve Toll, Anthony Cosmo, Mike Poulin, Kim Squire, Josh Sanderson and Steve Dietrich.
Although the attendance for the Toronto Rock has fallen off a bit, there is no doubt that the Rock remain a fantastic, exciting sports experience that the whole family can enjoy. With prices continuing to increase for the other sports that share the Scotiabank Arena, the Rock remains the most economical choice of the bunch. What else can be said except that the NLL in Toronto remains Rock Solid!
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Latest Crowd Reviews
I went to a game in 2006, glad to see the team is still drawing strong at the ACC.