Having recently heard the new "anthem" they've started playing right before Leafs games down at the ACC - Free to Be - I'm left with two questions.
One: Does signing the lead singer of Glass Tiger to write a classic-rock ballad about the Leafs count against the salary cap?
Two: What was MLSE thinking???
Don't get me wrong - there are some serious production values there. If you closed your eyes, you'd swear you were listening to an above-average pickup-truck commercial. It's the lyrics I'm having difficulty with, specifically "Oh! Oh! Oh! This is Canada's song" and "From the Isle of Vancouver/To the Labrador Sea" and "Oh! Oh! Oh! That's Canada's dream (go Leafs go)."
Is it me, or is this kind of pan-Canadian vision of Leafs Nation both weird and obnoxious? The word lebensraum, oddly comes to mind, or leafensraum. Do they really think hockey lovers in places such as Edmonton, Montreal and Calgary think the Leafs winning the Cup is "Canada's dream" ? Aren't hockey fans in those cities supposed to be the people Leafs fans hate? I want to hate them, and now Free to Be won't let me.
The song is all part of the revamped "game-day experience" down at the Air Canada Centre. The suits at Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment have unloaded a whopping $48-million - or 0.000002 per cent of gross condo revenue - on 300 flat-panel TVs for the atrium and a whole bunch of spiffy new fast-food outlets.
Foremost among the latter is Burkie's Dog House, where Leafs fans willing to part with $6.95 - and what's $6.95 after you've spent $187 on a ticket? - can now enjoy a Poutine Dog. (A marginally better deal than the Kobe Dog, which isn't made from genuine Kobe beef, and costs $7.25.)
What I want to know is, did coach "Burkie" willingly let his name be used, or was this buried in the fine print of his contract? Because serving a lukewarm wiener underneath a layer of cheese curds and sludge-like gravy and then a sprinkling of Hickory Sticks - that's right, Hickory Sticks - isn't what I expected from the guy who strong-armed the Bruins into giving up Phil Kessel. It's probably not such a good idea for the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs to lend his name to a substandard sausage product that doesn't live up to its overpriced ingredients.
MLSE can do better. I know this to be true because they already have. It's called a Raptors game. The food is still awful, but at least they don't play egregious amounts of classic rock - chances are better than good, in fact, that you'll hear rhythms and melody by people whose skin colour is an actual colour. Carlton the Bear is the worst mascot in both leagues, while The Raptor gets my vote for the best. And the corporate tie-ins seem more, well, nuanced.
During Leafs games, on the other hand, the branding experience has gotten so intense even Dick Cheney would say it's torture. The number of lit corporate logos in the ACC numbers, I would guess, in the hundreds, and that's not including the beyond gratuitous promos: the Metro Food Frenzy, the Pro Line Shoot for Loot, the Molson Canadian Best Seats in the House, or the 407 ETR Forward Pass. There was even a moment during the second intermission last Tuesday when 18,830 paying fans found themselves staring at the scoreboard watching TV commercials. (I don't know how many or for how long, because the Poutine Dog had put me in a catatonic state.) Does Richard Peddie sit there in his luxury box the whole time, stroking a hairless albino cat while hissing, "Yes, children, yes" ?
But there's one thing MLSE still hasn't figured out: a Leafs Nation slogan. They wisely dumped "The Passion that Unites Us All," probably because they realized the thing uniting us is actually stupidity. But the new one, "Spirit is Everything," isn't quite working. (Winning, after all, is supposed to be everything.)
What they need is a slogan that gets across the grim sense of hopelessness that pervades the Leafs Nation: the inevitably bad team, the wealth that will nevertheless be spun by the MLSE brass, the powerlessness of fans to do anything about it, and, now, the disgusting hot dogs. I think I have a slogan that might actually work: "God help us."