Sometimes being a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs means you want to throw your television through the window.
That’s a strange thing for a team to advertise to open an NHL season, but so it was on Wednesday night, with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment going high concept in their latest bid to engage a long-tormented fan base.
MLSE’s new ad campaign, called Stand Witness, focuses on the Leafs’ 100th anniversary. The campaign began with a one-minute TV spot prior to the team’s first game of the 2016-17 season, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Senators in Ottawa.
In the ad, an elderly fan referred to as the “wise man” goes through his ritual of watching the Leafs over a period of decades, remembering past glories – including 1960s Stanley Cup wins – and heartbreaks.
The ad concludes by promising better things to come for fans of the current iteration of the team.
It’s a much more cerebral presentation than the wildly successful and aggressively patriotic, We The North campaign MLSE launched for the Toronto Raptors two years ago. The common thread, however, is the involvement of high-end creative agency Sid Lee, which was integral to developing Stand Witness.
According to MLSE vice-president of marketing Shannon Hosford, the difference in tone grew out of where the two franchises were at the time. The Leafs, entering their centennial season as the youngest team in the NHL, are in the midst of a rebuild after finishing last in the league last year. When We The North kicked off in 2014, the Raptors were playoff bound for the first time in years.
“We’re not telling people that Stand Witness is the We The North [for the Leafs],” Hosford explained. “We’re saying, ‘Get ready for what’s about to come.’ Whenever the club is at that [next] moment, we’ll come out with something different at that time. It’s just not the right time for them right now.
“What we tried to do in this spot is really look at the last 100 years and be authentic about it. So there’s some celebration spots in there, but then, because there were some years that were tough on Leafs Nation, we just want to acknowledge that. We tried to do that.”
Hence the TV going out the window.
In the ad, the set that hurtles through glass toward the pavement below is cleverly broadcasting a game where beloved former Leafs captain Darryl Sittler is in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform, one particularly ugly reminder of the franchise’s mismanagement during the 1980s under owner Harold Ballard.
The ad ends with a series of snapshots from the current Leafs team, including one of coach Mike Babcock.
“I am jealous, said the wise man,” Canadian actor John Ralston intones in a voice-over. “I am jealous of what you will stand witness to in your lifetime.”
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan was closely involved with the Stand Witness project, as was the case with the team’s new logo, approving the idea of a sombre reflection on the franchise’s past with a nod to the future.
“Brendan is always a part of everything that we’re doing,” Hosford said. “That’s very important to him and the front office that we’re representing their vision properly. He has seen every part of this.”
Wednesday’s initial broadcast of the ad marks the beginning of the Leafs’ centennial celebrations.
On Thursday, statues of former team greats Dave Keon, Tim Horton and Turk Broda were added to round out the 10-player Legends Row in front of the Air Canada Centre.
On Friday, the team will announce its list of the 100 greatest Maple Leafs of all time. (One wonders where Auston Matthews will rank after his record-setting four-goal debut in Ottawa on Wednesday.)
Prior to the home opener on Saturday, meanwhile, the Leafs are promising a surprise. Fans with tickets to the game are being encouraged to show up at 5:30 p.m. – 90 minutes before the opening faceoff – for “one of the most historic evenings in Leafs history.”
What that entails is a closely guarded secret, but it’s safe to say that many of the franchise’s former players will be on hand.
To encourage the notoriously late-arriving ACC crowd, MLSE is offering fans who arrive early a free beer, courtesy of Molson Canadian.
“This is going to be a moment that people are going to want to be a part of,” MLSE spokesman Dave Haggith said. “They’re going to want to be in their seats.”Report Typo/Error