LEGENDARY: Legends Row at Scotiabank Arena features statues of Maple Leaf hockey favorites including Wendel Clark, Turk Broda, Tim Horton, and others. (Getty Images)

‘Toronto punches above our weight’

Scotiabank Arena is the top live entertainment and sports venue in Toronto, according to ticket sales figures submitted to Pollstar since Jan. 1, 2023 — 448,191 for a total of $34,590,430 in U.S. dollars. The home to the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, which has a robust concert calendar interspersed between the schedules of the two pro teams, is owned and operated by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE).

The corporation also invested in and operates Coca-Cola Coliseum (cap. 7,779), which is also used for live entertainment, in addition to BMO Field (40,000), where the MLS franchise Toronto FC and CFL’s Toronto Argonauts play, in addition to numerous practice facilities for their sports teams (BMO Training Grounds at Downsview Park, OVO Athletic Centre, and Ford Performance Centre for Hockey Excellence).

VenuesNow spoke with MLSE senior vice president Melissa Bubb-Clarke, who has been with the company for 12 years, about the changes she has seen in the city and where MLSE currently fits in the city of almost 3 million people.

(This Q&A is part of VenuesNow’s Toronto Market Focus, which was featured in the December 2023 issue.)

VenuesNow: Have you noticed a change in the types of acts that are able to headline Toronto’s biggest arena? 

Melissa Bubb-Clarke, Senior Vice President, Music & Live Events, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

Melissa Bubb-Clarke: Massive. We’re so excited about it and we’re so proud of it. Obviously, we had the pandemic interruption, which was unfortunate, but, since we’ve come back, and leading up to it, we’ve seen the headlining acts evolve. We have a ton of comedy coming into the building. We have artists from all continents coming into the building and selling out. We also program Coca-Cola Coliseum. Three or four years before the pandemic, we used to do a handful of shows there and now we’re doing well into the twenties — 23, 24, 25, 26 shows there annually. Often, we see artists play that venue and then quickly return to sell out Scotiabank Arena, which is super exciting for us from a venue ecosystem standpoint. Fans have so many different ways to discover artists and so many different kinds of artists are finding a platform that’s playing out in our venues.

Thankfully the content providers that bring artists to our buildings are diversifying their content. What do we say all the time? Diversity of thought is good for business. So I think our content providers are becoming more and more sophisticated and global.

Why don’t you stage concerts at BMO Field?
BMO Field is a big question because everyone jokes about the Genesis concert of, oh gosh, what year was that? [2007]. The one and only to date. There’s a bunch of different reasons for that. It’s the way in which it was constructed, the field. There’s been advancements in turf, but it wasn’t built with concerts in mind. So it hasn’t been something that we’ve leveraged today. It’s super expensive, ingress, egress, the load-in, all of it. It’s just not conducive to be able to do shows, unfortunately. And, our climate doesn’t necessarily help that either, based on the show schedule so it hasn’t been a thing. But sometimes we still daydream about the day when that can happen.

Working at MLSE for so long, what is your perspective on the Toronto market now and where MLSE fits?
Toronto really punches above our weight, when we look at the size of the population and the amount of shows that we do and the capacities that we sell out. It’s something that’s super exciting here. Toronto, we love music, we love live entertainment. I’m grateful for that. In other industries, we see sometimes the Canadian marketplace getting a little bit smaller or things closing down or being a bit more U.S.-focused and it’s really great for Toronto and all of the businesses that benefit from it — whether that’s hotels or restaurants or what have you — that Toronto continues to be a top market in North America, as well as globally. We all take a lot of pride in that.

Do you think that once the $350 million renovation is complete, the venue itself will be an attraction that can draw fans by itself?
I hope so is my honest answer. We have a lot going for us. We are right downtown. The fact that we have an NHL team here, an NBA team here, world-class artists playing here. Drake likes to talk about us.

I’d like to think when people come to Toronto, we are definitely on the tourist map, like how I love to go to MSG or the Sphere or what have you. Certainly anecdotally I’ve been at shows where people will say, “We’ve traveled here from Atlanta,” or “We came up from New York.”

Sometimes, I think it’s the dollar, but I do think it’s our robust concert schedule and, hopefully, our venue.