Toronto's Scotiabank Arena, Canada's Top Venue, Focuses on Fan Experience With Name Change & $800M Deal

Tom Pandi
Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

Don't worry Drake's members-only Sher Club will remain untouched at the venue formerly known as the Air Canada Centre.

Toronto's Air Canada Centre -- Canada's top grossing venue for the past three years -- officially underwent its name change to Scotiabank Arena on Canada Day (July 1). Replacing the signage that has graced the Downtown building since 1999 is just part of a $800 million 20-year deal with the Canadian multinational financial institution. The 19,800-person capacity venue has also undergone improvements to enhance the fan experience, including restaurant renovations, gates entrance fixes and more. The first concert under the new banner was K-Pop band GOT7 on July 3 and Shania Twain, the Eagles and Radiohead (Thursday, July 19, and Friday) have followed. 

Billboard spoke with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Chief Venues and Operations Officer Nick Eaves and Scotiabank Chief Marketing Officer John Doig about the new partnership, what it means for concert-goers, ideas for the arena's new nickname and, of course, Drake

Are there any immediate plans for Scotiabank customers as it relates to the arena? 

John Doig: The building, Scotiabank Arena -- being the busiest in the country across the sports side, as well as the live music side -- is of great interest to us because of the volume of people going through that building. Step one is working with MLSE to figure out how to best improve the fan experience. As fans are coming down to the building, as they're walking through the doors, we're undertaking in the partnership an extensive renovation of The Scotia Club, which is a restaurant facing the actual lower bowl, as well as the gate to Gate 2 entrances and Gate 6 entrances. That fan experience will be improved. Get the people in safely, get them in fast, and get them in in a way that engages them. So step one is the physical stuff. 

Nick Eaves: Scotia Club is the only the arena facing or stage facing restaurant in the Scotiabank Arena. The fact that we're doing a significant renovation of that space to really bring it up to much more contemporary presentation that really reflects the excellence and history and tradition of all that's gone on in the building over 20 years and all that's to come, that will be an area that is going to be a really premium space for concert goers. We're really pleased with that change and think that that will provide great value both for Leafs fans and Raptors fans, but perhaps even more so, because of the sightline to the stage, concert goers. 

Doig: The club is down to concrete; it has completely been gutted.

That's a very small percentage of people who will be attending shows at Scotiabank Arena. From a branding perspective, Scotiabank is involved with hockey through Hockey to Conquer Cancer, but we don't think of Scotiabank as affiliated with music. Can you talk a bit about that?

Eaves: It's more on the sports and entertainment side. Our Scene [loyalty points] program with Cineplex has the big entertainment lifestyle component and we're working with MLSE to see ways where we offer greater access to our 9 million members in that program. There are fans of sports in there, there are rabid music fans in there, and using that data to figure out how to best talk to those consumers and fans and get them down to the event that they are most excited about. For us, it also involves our digital bank, which is Tangerine. Tangerine will become the official bank of the Raptors. That again is a digital savvy younger demographic, which obviously has overlap into entertainment and music. All of those opportunities for us are truly untapped and throughout this 20-year partnership, we know that access to those entertainment fans is going to be a very positive opportunity for us.

Is it your goal to provide incentives so young people will think of Scotiabank in terms of opening up accounts and seeking car loans or first mortgage?

Doig: Absolutely, we want to give access to that building to our existing customers for contests. We do it today with hockey and now we have the opportunity to expand that obviously with Tangerine and basketball and other things that are going on in the building. These are a lot of experiences we can deliver, whether it be our wealth management customers or just general contesting. We've been doing that for years with our partners and MLSE through the Toronto Maple Leafs. We hope to continue that and get more people down and accessing the thing that they want to be engaged with, but also out in the [Maple Leaf] Square. That experience in the Square has increased for the last couple of years -- the excitement increases incredibly out there. So what else can we do in the Square to engage, even those who aren't inside the building?

You have live musical performances in Maple Leaf Square, such as Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy, before a Blue Jay's game.

Eaves: Yeah. We've done all kinds of different events in the Square. We use it for tailgate parties around playoff games; we've had different concerts, different live events. We had a significant presence with PanAm Games when that large event was in town in 2015. Our shared vision for Scotiabank and MLSE is to take that public space that's grown in profile over the last couple of years and find ways to activate it, such that the type of energy and excitement that takes place inside the building 270 or so nights of the year is being replicated outside the building as frequently as we can do that. That's a real opportunity for us to really just go and expand the types of events and activities that we're doing.

On my most recent visits to the arena, it has been a great fan experience. Is there even anything more that can be done to make it better for fans?

Eaves: We agree that it's a great experience in the building for all kinds of events, concerts included, but where we think there's a real opportunity -- and John touched on the depth of Scotiabank's Scene program and the 9 million members and we've got a significant fan base of our own -- is to learn more about those fans, particularly those that are coming for live events in our building. And as we're discovering more about them and learning their preferences and understanding what it is they're looking for when they're attending an event, we then have the information we need to go and add greater value to their visit to the building for a Radiohead concert or whatever the case is.

Your competitor TD Bank sponsors a lot of music events -- will Scotiabank expand across the country and start getting more involved with music events?

Eaves: Scotiabank proper won't be. There's opportunities with our Scene program. We've sponsored many or been involved with many music festivals with Scene. You show your Scene card and get VIP entrance and access and those sort of things. There's different events throughout the country that it makes a lot more sense for Scene to be involved with. The benefit to Scotiabank is that those Scene members are often our customer or soon to be our customer.

It's taken Torontonians a long time to call SkyDome by its Rogers Centre name, as well as Molson Amphitheatre that's now Budweiser Stage. It's going to take a while before we call it Scotiabank Arena. Is there an abbreviation or nickname you guys have bantered about? 

Doig: Two things we know, one is that we can't dictate it. The fans are going to land on something themselves. The second part of that piece is we went out and talked to lots of people. We think it's going to land at Scotia. We're perfectly fine with that. We know that name changes are difficult. The name is part of the city. We know we have to work really hard on improving the fan experience and earn the fans' acceptance of it ... and that will give some credit to the Scotiabank name being on the side of that building.

Eaves: People are already referring to it as Scotia. John often describes how over time -- Scotiabank and MLSE are working really hard at this already -- it's really about earning the right for people to only refer to the building as Scotiabank Arena or Scotia, whatever the case may be. I think that happens in large part by just the way that the experience is going to be pretty immersive and just how routinely a lot of the fan experience improvement and a lot of the value that a fan ends up getting -- they then associate with the fact that that has come out of the new Scotiabank partnership. The ability to improve the experience, both the live experience in venue but also the one-on-one costumer relationship that we'll maintain with live music fans on an ongoing basis, I think is going to be in lockstep ultimately with the Scotiabank relationship with our building.

Doig: It's interesting, Nick's talking about that interaction down there, the things you go down for, you sign up, you buy a ticket, you're super excited to see your favorite band, hockey player, basketball star, and there's that moment that gets created and we want to be associated with that and that also leans over to a conversation. When we announced the deal back in August, one of our contacts at Instagram called us up and said the most Instagrammed building in Canada is 40 Bay [the arena's address]. So again, even on the social media side from creating memories, it's a destination, that building is the heart of the city now.

Eaves: This is a fantastic moment in time for Scotiabank through the partnership, but obviously all of us who love live music and who are fans of the Leafs and the Raptors, because we take nothing for granted, but things are really on the move to the point that John's made. As things continue to happen, as memories are made, as iconic performers continue to come to our building even more than they have in the past, as our teams go deeper into playoff rounds, all of that is happening in Scotiabank Arena. We all remember whatever it is that's important in our lives, we remember where we were and we fondly recall that event at the location that it happened. That's part of, as John said, Scotiabank sort of earning the right for the name to be used, but our part of the deal is making sure that we continue to have more and more of these iconic events and that the teams provide thrilling memories that people just want to keep talking about what they saw at Scotiabank Arena. We've done a lot of that over the last few years and I think it's fair to say that that's only going to continue to escalate.

So Stanley Cup in the Scotiabank Arena.

Eaves: Great acts being booked and a championship.

Is this $800 million figure accurate that has been reported?

Doig: The number is accurate. But again that's for all the components that we're speaking of. A lot of this is also educating people what's in the deal: it's Tangerine being the official bank of the Raptors, Leafs and Scotiabank being the official bank of Leafs, obviously the name on the building. But there's a very large youth MLSE Foundation link. Our belief is helping kids to reach their infinite potential and there's an eight figure component of this deal that is a cash injection into the MLSE Foundation.

Eaves: The first concert at Scotiabank Arena was GOT7 and we'll all discover over time how memorable that was. But the first event at Scotiabank Arena was the once in a generation signing of the top free agent obviously being [hockey star] Jonathan Tavares. Great example of on the first of July, day one of this new partnership, the first memory which I think a lot of people are going to remember for a very long time was crystallized. And there will be countless of those kinds of things that really enshrine in the minds of people. The announcement, in this case, that was so meaningful to them and where it happened. That's the type of really genuine coming together of memory and location that I think it what's really going to set the difference here.

Has Drake been in the building yet?

Eaves: Has Drake been in the building since July the first? Probably not.

Is his members-only Sher Club untouched? 

Eaves: Yup. Obviously Sher Club is still a big part of the arena. Drake is playing three nights at Scotiabank Arena in August, so obviously that's just another example of some pretty unique memories that will be made in less than a month.