Following widespread criticism, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has backed away from its plan to change the name of Maple Leaf Square to Ford Square.
Last Wednesday, MLSE chief commercial officer David Hopkinson confirmed a deal to go with "Ford Square" in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
"We're really talking about the plaza outside of Air Canada Centre that we'll be calling 'Ford Square,'" he said at the time. MLSE and Ford had scheduled an announcement for early this week.
But by Tuesday, plans had changed. Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. and MLSE announced the space will instead be called "Ford Fan Zone at Maple Leaf Square."
The naming deal is part of a five-year deal to renew Ford's sponsorship of MLSE, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors.
The announcement of the new name comes after people took to social media to voice their concerns. Some objected to the link it might suggest to the Ford family, and to Toronto's controversial mayor. Others criticized the decision to grant corporate branding to a public space.
Both companies were backing away from the unpopular "Ford Square" moniker on Tuesday.
"We considered throughout this process, many different names," said Sarah Rae, Ford Canada's partnerships and events manager, adding that the final name had not been firmly decided upon last week.
"We referred to it internally as Ford Square," MLSE's Mr. Hopkinson said. "… What we're doing with the final name is trying to make sure that people understand where it is physically located."
Last week, when asked whether it was difficult to let go of the Maple Leaf Square name for the outdoor plaza, Mr. Hopkinson said that was discussed within the MLSE organization.
"It was not something we undertook lightly," he told The Globe. "We understood that if you're going to go and name something, you have to have the right partner. For Ford, they're one of the partners we'd be willing to do it for, a long-term partner that's making a long-term commitment to us. An iconic brand. You wouldn't do it for anybody but for Ford. That made a lot of sense."
Many fans did not agree.
Not all the objections had to do with the mayoral associations. Some took to Facebook to express disappointment over the choice to display corporate marketing in a public space.
While Ford now does not have full naming rights over the square – keeping Maple Leaf Square in the new name – the financials of the agreement have not changed, Mr. Hopkinson said.
"I still think, as does Ford, that this is clearly a title opportunity," he said.
As reported last week, the new sponsorship deal also includes a ticket program that will see Ford give away roughly 200 seats every Maple Leafs game. Many of those seats will be located in a newly named "Ford Fan Deck" area inside the arena. The final name for the square was partly designed to differentiate the outside space from the new seating area, Mr. Hopkinson said.