Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto is a national treasure and cultural shrine, and deserves better than to have the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club file a hostile lawsuit against the local university that is trying to keep it alive under its historic name.
If the issue for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. is protecting its brand, it is hard to understand how Ryerson University's plan to revive the arena, with men's and women's teams named the Rams and with just 2,500 seats, threatens that brand. One would think MLSE would be grateful and proud that the arena, which closed in 1999, would remain in existence, name and all, as a kind of living testimony to its cultural impact.
While Torontonians may sometimes misperceive their local icons as national symbols, the truth is that Maple Leaf Gardens is recognized and revered nationwide. Winston Churchill gave a speech there in 1932. Elvis Presley played there in 1957, and the Beatles in 1964, 1965 and 1966. This is the place where Foster Hewitt first crawled along a catwalk to reach the gondola and say to a huge radio audience, "Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland." Built in 1931, during the height of the Depression, by Conn Smythe, it served as the launching pad for 11 Stanley Cups for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The building is part of the heritage of the team's unbeatable brand, which has made the Leafs the most profitable of the 30 National Hockey League franchises, even though they are often quite beatable on the ice. The building is scheduled to open soon, partly as a food store operated by Loblaw Companies Ltd. and partly as an arena run by Ryerson, which scraped together the seed money with the help of an extra charge on all students. With its small size, it will be little competition for the much larger Air Canada Centre owned by MLSE. Even were it to be named the Ryerson Sportsplex, it would always be thought of as Maple Leaf Gardens. And what is the harm to MLSE if the current owners call a spade a spade? Will products sold in such an arena, or university teams playing in such an arena, really confuse the public about who the Leafs are and what their brand is all about?
Hardly. Ryerson and Loblaw are saving a building that Canadians wish to save, and any confusion about what the Maple Leafs represent is being sown by their owners.
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