TORONTO – MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke may be new to his job but he knows all about the Air Canada Centre’s most expensive seats being empty when the puck drops to start each period.
Leafs fans with the option of enjoying the exclusive Platinum Club and other perks are notoriously late taking their seats.
The Canadian Press raised the issue in an interview with the Maple Leaf Sports&Entertainment boss at the request of a longtime Leafs season-ticket holder who believes the empty seats lead “to a national perception that MLSE and its most affluent seat-owners care little about winning and more about the bottom line.”
“It’s been a topic,” Leiweke responded Monday in an interview. “I wonder about it. I wondered about it before I got here and I wondered about it when I got here.”
Part of his thought process was whether it was distracting to the team, given the comings and goings behind the Leafs bench.
But he said it comes down to the kind of environment he is after.
“I want a team that ultimately no one wants to miss a minute,”he said.
“I think you have to build an atmosphere at the games where suddenly there is an anticipation and a demand and an excitement and an enthusiasm each and every minute for this team,” he added. “And we have to find a way to make sure that people want to be in their seats in the beginning of each and every period, to be a part of what this team’s trying to create.”
But he said the problem is not restricted to Toronto. Hockey fans in L.A. are sometimes late taking their seats.
“But during the playoff games, every seat was full and everyone was there before we even took the ice and introduced the starting lineups. There was an atmosphere there that was special and no one wanted to miss it.
“I think it’s upon us as an organization to build an atmosphere where people want to be out there and they don’t want to miss a minute of the game. And we’re going to try to do that.”
Leiweke said there were “some simple operational things”that could be done, such as making people better aware that the period was about to start.
But it’s more than merely stopping the service of food and drinks, he said.
It’s about building a product that puts people in their seats.