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Brock U expert weighs in on 'quiet' Leafs fans ahead of Game 5

Criticism of fans not doing their part to cheer on team is 'unwarranted', professor says
View of last year's playoff series between the Leafs and the Florida Panthers as seen in file photo

As the Toronto Maple Leafs look to extend their playoff run beyond Game 5 Tuesday, their fans are shaking off accusations of an arena gone quiet.

Brock University Associate Professor of Sport Management Michael Naraine says the recent criticism of fans not doing their part from the other side of the boards is “unwarranted,” though there is need to examine the changing demographics in the stands.

“Whether fans, affluent or otherwise, decide to lose their voice at a game is their prerogative, but the greater issue is the displacement of non-business oriented fans for business-oriented ones,” Naraine says.

The team’s overall performance is only part of the reason Leafs games are in high demand. There’s also the business world’s preference for hockey to consider as well as the fact that the Leafs play in the heart of Canada’s corporate capital, he says.

Seats are being purchased by and associated with luxury suite holders and businesses, with the ticketholders often in other areas of the arena — or even still in transit — rather than in their seats during pivotal moments of the game.

This, along with tickets businesses aren’t able to give away to employees or family members due to scheduling conflicts and other issues, gives the appearance of a quieter arena presence, Naraine says.

The rising cost of tickets — especially with a “premium sport product” like the Leafs — is also driving change in the stands, he says.

“Despite their lack of Stanley Cup wins in recent decades, contrary to some negative sentiment, the Leafs are a popular team and transcend local market status. They are beloved from coast-to-coast-to-coast,” Naraine says.

“They are also despised by many, and that also drives attention to the product, too. It’s a draw for fans of other teams to purposefully purchase tickets to Scotiabank Arena to see their team beat the Leafs.”

That equity, paired with inflationary pressures that are driving up costs both in and beyond the realm of sports, will continue to make it harder for those without significant disposable income to grab themselves a seat, he says.

“Whether it’s the Leafs, Yankees, Lakers, Manchester United or even Taylor Swift, these experiences are going to cost more and more, and that trend is not going to fall — even as interest rates drop and more people can borrow money,” Naraine says.