Views / Opinion

Air Canada Centre name change greeted with a shrug: Keenan

One corporation who has nothing whatsoever to do with the building or its purpose will be exchanged for another, Ed Keenan writes.

The Air Canada Centre, home to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors, and MLSE will become Scotiabank Arena in 2018.

Torstar News Service

The Air Canada Centre, home to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors, and MLSE will become Scotiabank Arena in 2018.

The Air Canada Centre’s days are numbered. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment announced Tuesday that as of July, the building that is home to Leafs and Raptors games will be known as Scotiabank Arena.

And you know, there wasn’t a wet eye in the city when the news got around. Along Bay St., you could hear a resounding yawn emanate from Torontonians, a breeze sweeping under the rail bridge created by the co-ordinated shrugging of shoulders.

One corporation who has nothing whatsoever to do with the building or its purpose will be exchanged for another. Who cares?

Well, presumably Scotiabank cares, enough to pay a reported $800 million over 20 years for the naming rights. And it’s probably a good bet that MLSE, recipients of that money — roughly equivalent to the price of a pair of Leafs season tickets! — are excited about it. But I can’t say I can muster up any real emotion about it at all.

And I’m a sentimental guy. Longtime readers will know I’m prone to getting misty eyed and eulogizing rusty old boats as they’re hauled out of the harbour and waxing nostalgic for half-abandoned malls. I’ve spent quiet moments reflecting on the removal of parking meters. I tend to notice the changing city and want to commemorate it.

Back when Maple Leaf Gardens first closed, and then when it was announced it was being replaced by a grocery store, I was livid. It felt like some sacred ground was being sold out. I admit I still call the place the Blue Jays play the SkyDome, not in some grand anti-corporate protest gesture, but because it seems like the actual name of that building in my mind.

And yet, the name Air Canada Centre holds no poetry, stirs no emotions, conjures no affection. From the time it opened and the building got its name, it was a pure cash transaction. A billboard we were all supposed to pronounce. From the beginning, it was a name completely divorced from the form, purpose and ownership of the place it named. So who cares?

Gather ’round children, and I’ll tell you how, once upon a time, this would have seemed weird. Back when our phones were connected to the wall by a cord, and we all tied onions on our belts, the names of buildings were usually related directly to what they were or what they were used for or to who used them. So, for instance, the Toronto Maple Leafs played at Maple Leaf Gardens and the New York Yankees played at Yankee Stadium. The mall in downtown Toronto called the Eaton Centre had a giant department store in it called Eaton’s.

Not every place was named for a tenant, but you could still often figure out the purpose (and often the location) of a building by what it was called: The Blue Jays originally played in a stadium at Exhibition Place called Exhibition Stadium, and then moved into a dome that opened up its roof to the sky called SkyDome.

You see, the names seemed to mean something. Some of them were stupid names, but they were connected to what you’d do or see in them. Which might, eventually, be the kind of thing you’d eventually grow attached to. You know, a name that would evoke memories of what you experienced in a place.

No one that I know of ever took an airline flight in the Air Canada Centre. And pity the person who wakes up out of a Rip Van Winkle slumber and goes into the new building on Bay marked Scotiabank next year looking for a mortgage. (Although, of course, if old Van Winkle decides to buy Leafs tickets while he’s there, he’ll need a mortgage, so there is that.)

But here in 2017, no one names their sports venue after its location or after the team that plays in it anymore. Now the names are ads. Often enough, they are ads for the same products. In the NHL, as of 2018, there will be seven Canadian teams: two play in arenas named after Rogers, two in arenas named for Bell, and two in arenas named for Scotiabank. There’s one more that plays in an arena that used to be named for Scotiabank.

Oddly, the team whose home is in the TD Garden, named for the Toronto Dominion Bank, plays in Boston. And BMO field, named for the Bank of Montreal, is in Toronto.

Anyhow. Scotiabank Arena. It’s boring, but it’s probably fine as corporate sponsorships go. It feels, in a way, like Leafs and Raptors fans dodged a bullet. Because over the past decade or so, many of the corporate names attached to sports venues sound plain silly.

Back in the 1990s, David Foster Wallace satirized the rising corporate naming rights trend in his novel Infinite Jest, depicting a future in which years were marked not by numbers but by names such as Year of the Trial Sized Dove Bar or Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment. Some sporting facilities are making the parody look less like ad absurdum and more like prophecy.

Look at Jobing.com Arena (since renamed) in Phoenix, Petco Park in San Diego, O.co Coliseum in Oakland. Look at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, or the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. Look at the KFC Yum! Center in Kentucky.

The name Scotiabank Arena may smoosh two words together in the branding of the bank, but at least it doesn’t have any punctuation in the middle of it.

The new name is a yawn. So was the old one. Let’s hope the games played inside the building are more exciting.

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