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Workers begin to remove the Air Canada letters from the west side of the Air Canada Centre Saturday, June 30, 2018. The directional signpost for the arena gates lies on a truck in the foreground.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

The home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors has officially been renamed Scotiabank Arena, as Canada Day marks the start of the Bank of Nova Scotia’s 20-year venture to burnish its brand and attract new customers.

Now the hard work begins in earnest to prove that the eye-popping $800-million Scotiabank is spending on the arena’s naming rights and other sponsorship can pay off.

The deal struck last fall was a landmark in Canadian sports marketing, with a price tag and scope that surprised many in the industry. Scotiabank sees the former Air Canada Centre as a rare jewel and was willing to pay dearly to compound its competitive edge in marketing to hockey fans. For the past nine months, the bank has been working with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), the building’s owner, on a complex logistical plan to remake its appearance and, more importantly, the overall experience for fans.

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The heavy lifting began on the Canada Day weekend with the removal of signs bearing the name of Air Canada, the arena's main sponsor for its entire 20-year history. In its place, there will be temporary signs advertising Scotiabank Arena until a new sign made out of video screens can be installed on the building’s west face over the coming months.

There were 154 categories on a list of items that need changing or rebranding around the arena, from the logos at the end of 2,700 rows of seats to an overhaul of the club-level restaurant, now called Scotia Club. “It’s really endless,” Nick Eaves, MLSE’s chief venues and operations officer, said in an interview.

For the first puck drop in the revamped arena on Oct. 3, when the Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens, “the fan is going to notice a significant difference in venue,” he said. But he views the new partnership as “a bit of a journey” bringing gradual change over several years.

“We want to be able to change stuff regularly,” said John Doig, Scotiabank’s chief marketing officer. “What is really cool and innovative today, two, three years down the road may be really outdated.”

The bank’s decision to pay MLSE an average of $40-million per year − securing Scotiabank as the Leafs’ official bank, and its low-cost banking subsidiary Tangerine as the main sponsor of the NBA’s Raptors − was a calculated gamble.

For years, Scotiabank has been streamlining a once-scattershot approach to sponsorship, dropping affiliations with the Canadian Football League and cultural events like Nuit Blanche to concentrate its spending. And nothing improved Scotiabank’s brand more than associations with hockey, which includes supporting thousands of youth teams across the country.

“The research we have says consumers who are aware of our hockey programs are three-and-a-half to four times more likely to do business with us when they’re looking at financial services products,” Mr. Doig said.

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Workers remove the Air Canada Centre sign from Southern facade of 40 Bay Street in Toronto, on Saturday, June 30, 2018.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

In a crowded media market, where Canada’s Big Five banks have peppered their names and logos across skyscrapers and sprawling branch networks, Scotiabank Arena offers “something that the green bank and the blue bank doesn’t have. And that’s really hard to do in financial services,” Mr. Doig said. “We can come up with a really cool mortgage and it gets copied tomorrow. A [better interest] rate gets copied the same day. So partnerships are the differentiation.”

Scotiabank has also announced plans to add at least a million new customers over the next three to five years, citing partnerships like this one with MLSE as one of the pillars of its strategy.

In industry jargon, creating “stronger consideration” among potential Scotiabank customers “means a lot,” said Gord Hendren, chief executive officer of Charlton Insights. It can improve retention of existing customers and help attract new ones, and “I think the potential profitability of this in the long term is very significant,” he said.

Both companies are also counting on troves of data to help point the way. When Scotiabank made its pitch to MLSE last year, it promised access to its Digital Factory innovation hub in Toronto to help develop digital and mobile experiences for fans. MLSE has already worked with IBM on analytics, but Scotiabank can selectively share data from nine million members of the Scene loyalty program it runs jointly with Cineplex Inc., should they choose to opt in.

“We’ve done some good things in that area, but we think this element of the Scotiabank can really help us leapfrog into a more sophisticated position,” Mr. Eaves said.

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