Leafs, Raptors to prioritize season ticket holders with capacity cut to 50 per cent

·5 min read

TORONTO — Tom McDonald didn't get much sleep Wednesday night.

In the hours after the Ontario government announced capacity at sports venues will be capped at 50 per cent in response to the latest wave of COVID-19, the senior vice-president of ticket sales and service for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment — owner of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors — and his team went to work.

Calls, plans, meetings. All virtually, of course.

"It's been a little busy," McDonald said Thursday afternoon in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. "Yea, you could say that."

MLSE announced Thursday it will prioritize Leafs and Raptors season ticket holders through mid-January at Scotiabank Arena following Ontario's move to cut capacity to 50 per cent in response to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

"No real warning, although we've been thinking about it," McDonald said of the provincial government's decision to reduce seating at major venues. "We had prepared for reduced capacities going into the season, and in fact had reduced capacities for our pre-season games.

"We were prepared on that end of things, but it's a whole other thing to have to undo a fully sold building, and for multiple events."

Season ticket holders make up about 85 per cent of seats at Leafs games, and roughly 70 per cent for the Raptors.

MLSE has decided all holders of non-season seats will be refunded for NHL and NBA games scheduled at the venue over the next month. The same goes for non-season tickets purchased for individual games on the secondary ticket market.

Ontario announced Wednesday that beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday indoor venues with a capacity greater than 1,000 people — including sports facilities, theatres and concert venues — will move to 50-per-cent use following a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

"We are fully supportive of the province's direction and the health protocols, whatever they deem necessary as far as our capacities and protocols," McDonald said. "Totally supportive."

B.C. health minister Adrian Dix said Wednesday health officials there are considering similar capacity measures to Ontario.

The Montreal Canadiens, meanwhile, announced late Thursday afternoon their game set for 7 p.m. at the Bell Centre against the Philadelphia Flyers would be played without fans following a request from Quebec health officials.

The Canadiens said they will be providing an update on Saturday's home game against the Boston Bruins, but add the organization has been assured it will be allowed to play in front of partial home crowds beginning in the new year.

Back in Toronto, season seat holders for both MLSE teams will be divided into two groups to ensure "equitable access" to games beginning Saturday when the Raptors host the Golden State Warriors.

The Leafs are currently on the road and only play once at home before Christmas — Dec. 23 against the St. Louis Blues.

"The goal here is to do this as fair as we can, but understanding that there's nuances to all of this," McDonald said. "As far as the seat selection with members go, we have divided up the building and have gone section by section, and literally have said one season ticket holder is 'Pack A' and the next one right beside is 'Pack B.'

"Members will get every other game until mid-January."

The Leafs have averaged 18,819 spectators through 17 home dates this season, while the Raptors have averaged 19,777 in their 15 contests.

McDonald said the aim is for the teams to play in front of 10,000 fans when private suites are taken into account.

"I think everybody's just questioning how this is going to be managed and handled," McDonald said. "Fans understand the complexity to all this."

The province's move to cap capacity is also impacting the Ottawa Senators, two American Hockey League teams, the Ontario Hockey League, and the Raptors' G League affiliate, Raptors 905.

The Senators, who have averaged 11,545 spectators this season at the 18,652-seat Canadian Tire Centre, host the Boston Bruins on Sunday. The new requirements mean attendance will be capped at roughly 9,300 spectators.

McDonald said the key for MLSE has been communication.

"Everybody wants to know how their tickets have been impacted," he said. "We had sent some communication (Wednesday), just frankly, asking for patience with everyone as we figure this out."

MLSE said Wednesday it was already planning an enhanced mask protocol at the venue beginning with Saturday's Raptors game called "Operation Mask Up (or out)" that will require "attendees to strictly adhere to all mask-wearing protocols or risk ejection from the building."

In terms of resales, and apart from MLSE's efforts, StubHub states on its website that tickets invalidated to implement social distancing requirements — like the ones being brought in by the Ontario government — will be treated as a cancelled order.

Buyers can either get a full cash refund or a credit of 120 per cent, according to the broker. StubHub's website adds that sellers won't face consequences under its dropped order policy, "but we may ask them to send proof their tickets were cancelled."

McDonald said MLSE is hopeful current capacity limits don't stretch beyond the middle of next month, but the company will be ready for whatever comes.

"Like everyone, we're taking this day by day and we'll look to the province for direction," he said. "We put a pause on our (individual ticket) sales for the time being and have mapped this out until mid-January.

"We'll need to re-evaluate as we get closer to those January dates."

Sleep, meanwhile, will have to wait.

"I got a few hours," McDonald said. "I'm very fortunate to have a great team and lots of people reaching out to help.

"We're doing OK."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2021.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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