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Toronto Toronto businesses got a boost during Maple Leafs’ return to playoffs

Fans react in Maple Leaf Square during a playoff game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

In the Maple Leafs' return to the postseason for the first time in four years, Toronto-area restaurants, sportswear stores, LCBOs and Beer Stores as much as doubled their sales during the team's two-week playoff run.

According to consumer data provided by Interac for the Leafs' six playoff game nights relative to those same dates in 2014-16 (when the Leafs weren't in the playoffs), combined spending with Interac Debit and Interac Flash at Toronto-area bars rose 27 per cent, fast-food merchants saw a 41-per-cent bump, and wine and liquor stores felt a 49-per-cent increase. Meanwhile, the number of transactions in bars, fast food restaurants and beer, wine and liquor stores rose 26 per cent, 34 per cent, and 38 per cent, respectively, on game nights.

From April 12, the day before the Leafs played their first playoff game, to their elimination on April 23, the LCBO saw a 6.9-per-cent increase in sales in Ontario relative to the same time last year, and a 7.3-per-cent bump in the Greater Toronto Area, according to its spokesperson, Christine Bujold.

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Part of that boost was because it was a mid-April Easter weekend, Ms. Bujold said. But the Leafs were also a major factor. On April 21, well past Easter and the night the Leafs played the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of their first-round series, the LCBO had a huge 65.6-per-cent spike in year-over-year sales, Ms. Bujold said.

On Leafs playoff game nights, the Beer Store sees upward of a 10-per-cent uptick in sales across Ontario above and beyond the boost they see on other teams' game nights during the playoffs, according to Beer Store spokesperson Bill Walker.

Based on historical data, Wayne Gretzky's Toronto sports bar had a roughly 100-per-cent boost for each of the Leafs' six games against the Capitals. Those numbers are higher than 2013 when the Leafs returned to the playoffs for the first time in a decade and left in a first-round exit against the Boston Bruins.

And bars see boosts in sales for Toronto Raptors games, or when other Canadian NHL teams play, but nothing like the crowds they saw for this Leafs' playoff run.

"The phone was ringing off the hook for reservations," said Wayne Gretzky's general manager Adam Watkowski, who had to double his orders from the Beer Store and the LCBO to accommodate the "crazy" demand.

Restaurant-goers are at the bar earlier for Leafs games than they are for any other event, too.

"We won't get full bums in the seat until probably tipoff for basketball, whereas for [the Leafs] you'll get them an hour or an hour-and-a-half before the game to make sure they get that spot," Mr. Watkowski said.

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Because the Leafs didn't make the playoffs last season, chains such as Wayne Gretzky's didn't budget for big April bumps in their annual targets. They didn't expect five overtimes in six games, either.

"Everything in the last two weeks has been bonus money," Mr. Watkowski said. "You definitely hope for the overtime for the sales. You don't hope for the overtime for the stress level that it causes because you're so on edge."

In the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment-owned Real Sports Apparel, the Leafs' playoff run meant a significant boost in sweater and jersey shoppers, even after a busy centennial-celebration regular season during which the team offered its Centennial Classic and St. Pats jerseys.

During Leafs playoff games, Real Sports was also able to sell hats and shirts in Maple Leaf Square, providing additional revenue.

"People wanted to capture the moment," MLSE spokesperson Dave Haggith said of Real Sports' playoff bump. "Everything goes to the next level in the playoffs, especially for the Leafs after having not been in the playoffs."

The Raptors, who also sell apparel at Real Sports, didn't see the same kind of boost this playoff run after three strong seasons before that.

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"Leafs fans have been waiting for a few years to get back out there [to Maple Leaf Square and to restaurants]," Mr. Haggith said. "It was busy for both [the Leafs and the Raptors] but just the novelty and the excitement around the Leafs was higher."

It’s no secret that stadiums can be switched from hockey to basketball or vice versa overnight, but few sports fans could tell you how it’s actually done. Watch the conversion crew at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre do it overnight. The Globe and Mail
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