In effect, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has just admitted their hockey team is no more watchable than Canadian university hockey.
Call it a testament to corporate bullying and the death of common sense, with a sad reminder of what could have been for junior hockey's profile in Toronto, Canada's largest city tacked on for good measure. It sounds bizarre, but MLSE is seeking an injunction against Loblaw Co. and Ryerson University over the use of the historic Maple Leaf Gardens name.
That's how far MLSE will go to protect its brand — silly you for thinking the Maple Leafs name derived its power from generations of fan support and not Phil from Marketing's product-positioning savvy — and monopolize the Toronto hockey market. From Adrian Morrow:
"The company is demanding Ryerson stop using the name Maple Leaf Gardens in connection with the site and suggests it fears the school's new 2,500-seat venue will compete with the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs' current home.
The marquee project is of tremendous importance to the university, whose students are paying a special levy on top of their tuition fees to make sure it is completed. It is part of an ambitious building program that Ryerson hopes will add much-needed space to its compact downtown campus and raise the school's profile.
The redevelopment is also a long-awaited resolution to the problem of what to do with one of Toronto's landmark buildings and hockey's greatest shrines, which has sat mostly empty for a decade.
The legal manoeuvring comes just three months before the first phase of the development is set to open. (The Globe & Mail)
Far be it say the historic building cannot not be called Maple Leaf Gardens. The name is so ubiquitous in Canadian culture that it likely defies trademarking. For instance, another downtown Toronto landmark, the Eaton Centre, is still known by that name even though Eaton's is no more, because people realize the historical significance. Farther be it to wonder why MLSE waited this long to lawyer up. The complex, which was green-lit in late 2009, is on track to open this fall, although the finishing touches won't be made on the 2,500-seat arena that will house Ontario University Athletics' Ryerson Rams likely won't be made until after Jan. 1, 2012. Farthest be it to wonder at the hypocrisy of MLSE committing an affront to the Leafs' history.
This is typical of MLSE, which is why it's so ridiculous. It stands to reason people will likely refer to the renovated MLG as Maple Leaf Gardens whether this is resolved in MLSE's favour in court. However, frankly, I don't give a Jay Rosehill rookie card what MLSE, as per The Globe & Mail, says about how it is "not trying to bar Ryerson from building an arena, but is only displeased with some aspects of the project."
Basically, it's the big behemoth riding herd on a university which found a novel way to better provide for student-athletes and improve the quality of campus life. It was exciting, speaking as a university sports aficionado, in December 2009 when Ryerson president Sheldon Levy (right in photo), announced the project would become reality (although granted, that's coming from someone who didn't have to pay the student levy). The quality of Canadian Interuniversity Sport hockey, both men's and women's, is criminally underrated (full disclosure: I vote in the CIS men's hockey media poll). Coach Graham Wise's men's team and the first-year women's hockey Rams under new coach Lisa Jordan will hopefully develop a decent fan base now that they're finally playing on campus instead of renting time at an off-campus city rink. Even the biggest university sports lover, though, will concede neither CIS hockey or basketball is truly formidable competition for MLSE's marketing might. The same likely holds for any concerts arena manager Global Spectrum would stage. The arena will hold just 2,500 to the Air Canada Centre's 19,800.
But hey, I'm sure concert promoters of big stadium acts always try to keep local bars from booking bands on the night when U2 is in town.
The sad part, from a junior hockey point of view, is this just reminds us there was a major missed opportunity in the 1990s. Maple Leaf Gardens could have been renovated much sooner for major junior hockey, where the original St. Michael's Majors and Toronto Marlboros each played at times until the latter moved out of the city in the late 1980s. A major junior team would command a higher profile than the AHL's Marlies do at Ricoh Coliseum. Perhaps then there wouldn't be the constant talk that the GTA won't support the OHL. It also would have been a more accurate reflection of Toronto's sports history, but as we're seeing, MLSE could give a rip about that.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).