At the Rink: Toronto Maple Leafs Follow Production Blueprint From 2020 NHL Bubble at Scotiabank Arena
Last summer’s collaborative experience involved professionals from other teams
The National Hockey League was the last of the four major U.S. sports leagues to host a non-bubble regular season. As fans gradually make their return to the seats, how is that affecting in-venue productions and digital content? Similar to At the Ballpark, On the Gridiron, and On the Hardwood, At the Rink looks at the operations of NHL organizations to see how they are coping with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and adapting to a sense of normalcy.
In the NHL’s newly created North Division, which is composed of all seven Canadian teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs are accustomed to hosting games without fans. Last summer, the NHL chose Edmonton’s Rogers Place and Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena as the locations for the postseason bubble. The experience helped the Maple Leafs’ production team devise new methods of entertainment and navigate the obstacles of the current season.
“We hosted the Eastern Conference, and, during those first few weeks, it was a bit of a grind,” says Taylor Dean, manager, game presentation, Toronto Maple Leafs. “Whether it was a music cue or a video in a certain scenario, you wanted to make sure that you were focusing on the things that were important to each team.”
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Hosting Duties: Franchise Works With League, 12 Other Clubs in NHL Bubble
The Toronto half of the NHL bubble involved multiple parties throughout the league. At the top, NHL Senior Director, Event and Game Presentation, John Bochiaro and Director, Game Presentation, Renée Riva worked alongside Dean to develop a concise run of show that would highlight the designated home team. Then, the game-presentation staff of the 12 Eastern Conference teams making it to the playoffs met with Dean to discuss the important aspects of each show. With the Maple Leafs qualifying for the bubble, Dean and her crew were tasked with their own shows as well.
“Our crew was amazing with adapting to 12 different shows,” she says. “We tried to put their experience and flavor into every show.”
During a normal season, the crews wouldn’t have the chance to learn from each other since responsibilities would be hyper-focused on their respective teams. Being in the host city allowed Dean to learn new ideas from league colleagues without having to travel to other venues.
“After we got started,” she says, “I felt like I knew the [show of the] Philadelphia Flyers or the Tampa Bay Lightning really well. I have so much respect for my counterparts, and I felt pretty fortunate to be someone that they trusted.”
Nearly seven months after the last contest in the Toronto bubble, a 3-2 Lightning win in double overtime on Aug. 31, the effects of the playoffs are still being felt at Scotiabank Arena. The in-game–production strategy has changed in the 2020-21 regular season, but some elements, such as virtual fans, are still around.
“Through [the] Tagboard [storytelling platform], we’re able to put pictures that people are sharing on Instagram and Twitter up on the videoboard to make it feel like [the fans are] being brought in,” Dean explains. “When we were in the bubble, we did the first exhibition games without any crowd sounds, and it was an eerie experience. We’re now using the audio sweetening to replicate an in-game experience as much as we can, so that includes the continuation of some of our rituals and traditions.”
Digital Content: New Material To Engage Fans at Home
With fans still watching from home instead of the stands, the club’s social-media and digital teams have kicked their coverage into overdrive. Similar to the deployment of Tagboard in the arena, popular social-media platforms are being used to create content and reach the fans no matter where they are.
“[The crew has] been really good at engaging the fans on channels like Twitter and Instagram,” says Dean. “Right now, we’re looking into some really cool experiences that, hopefully, we can roll out as we go along.”
Through its social-media strategy, the production team wants to maintain a high level of interactivity during big moments of a game.
“If Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner scores, you’ll get that graphic that rolls on your Instagram feed, and people will start to comment,” she explains. “It’s a different vibe because you’re not sitting next to somebody inside the arena, but you’re still talking after important plays in the game.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names of Maple Leafs’ Production Team
The Maple Leafs portion of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) sets the tone for NHL productions north of the border. Even without fans onsite, Dean and her crew — including Director, Game Presentation, Anton Wright; Specialists Vanessa Cecconi and Melissa Bromley; and Coordinators Sadie Perfetto, Aiden Coleman, and Evan Richardson — continue to do the behind-the-scenes work that not many fans notice on a typical game day.
“I don’t think everybody realizes how much goes into a show,” says Dean, “but I’m proud of the way that they’ve been able to adapt and stretch their creative minds to bring life to this situation that we’re in. I love going to the rink every day.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs return to Scotiabank Arena to host the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, March 27 at 7 p.m. ET.