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Fans react in Maple Leaf Square as the Toronto Raptors play the Brooklyn Nets during game 7 outside of the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Sunday May 4, 2014 (Mark Blinch)
Fans react in Maple Leaf Square as the Toronto Raptors play the Brooklyn Nets during game 7 outside of the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Sunday May 4, 2014 (Mark Blinch)

Maple Leaf Square becomes Ford Square (not that Ford) Add to ...

When people in Toronto hear the name “Ford” lately, it’s fair to say most don’t think of automobiles. But Ford Canada is hoping that’s exactly what they’ll do when visiting the newly christened Ford Square.

As part of a five-year renewal of its sponsorship deal with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the auto maker has purchased naming rights to the square outside the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto, which is currently known as Maple Leaf Square. Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. plans to announce the name change early next week.

Throngs of unusually optimistic basketball fans gathered in the square last spring as the Toronto Raptors made a remarkable run during the National Basketball Association’s playoffs. Ford is already a sponsor of the Raptors, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and of the Air Canada Centre that hosts both teams’ home games. All are owned by MLSE. Ford’s Raptors sponsorship is in its 20th year, and the other elements of the sponsorship go back 15 years.

The renewed and expanded sponsorship deal will also include Ford-branded signage at the Air Canada Centre. The building adjacent to the square, which houses condominiums and the 3,000-square-foot Real Sports Bar, will continue to be called Maple Leaf Square.

The renewal agreement came into effect on July 1 and financial details of the sponsorship deal were not disclosed.

“They came to us and started talking to us about ways they could meaningfully impact fans at our games, not just with more signs,” said David Hopkinson, MLSE’s chief commercial officer.

Another element of the expanded marketing partnership will involve Ford giving away 200 tickets per Leafs‘ game. The majority of the tickets will be for seats in a new specially-marked area in the 600 section of the ACC called the Ford Fan Deck. Despite the team’s less than winning record, access to Leafs’ tickets has always been difficult for many fans, since roughly 80 per cent of seats for home games are spoken for by season ticket holders. The rest sell out quickly.

“Frankly, they’re out of reach, financially, of lots of families,” Mr. Hopkinson said of hockey tickets, noting that giveaways will be done mainly through minor hockey teams and community associations.

As for what will soon be called Ford Square, MLSE has been making efforts for some time to highlight the area as a gathering place for fans – especially as the company approaches the Leafs’ 100th anniversary season in 2016-17.

Earlier this month, the first bronzed statues celebrating past Leafs players were unveiled in a new area of the square called Legends Row. They included statues of Ted Kennedy, Darryl Sittler and Johnny Bower.

This season, there are plans to occasionally move TV broadcasters’ desks into the square and to host musical acts.

“As vibrant as that square has become, we’re going to associate it directly with Ford,” Mr. Hopkinson said.

But it could take some time to establish how that association will be advertised.

“We’re working through some of those issues with the city right now ... because any third-party signage needs to go to council for approval,” Mr. Hopkinson said. “We’re going to be referring to it as Ford Square. There will be some temporary signage in the beginning – might be things like flags – and then over time we’d expect more full signage.”

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