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Volume 23 No. 25
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Closing Shot: Welcome To Jurassic Park

Outside plazas are a relatively new discovery for sports venues and few do them better than the Toronto Raptors and their monstrous outdoor celebrations in Maple Leaf Square.
Raptors fans bring the energy as they watch the broadcast of Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals outside Scotiabank Arena.
Photo: getty images
Raptors fans bring the energy as they watch the broadcast of Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals outside Scotiabank Arena.
Photo: getty images
Raptors fans bring the energy as they watch the broadcast of Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals outside Scotiabank Arena.
Photo: getty images

It’s become standard operating procedure for teams to build plazas outside their arenas to host fanfests, watch parties, farmers markets and a variety of other events that drive interest with year-round programing.

Take, for instance, Maple Leaf Square. It sits adjacent to Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto and opened in 2010 originally to host events for Maple Leafs hockey fans. But it became far better known in 2014 as fans first flocked to the space during the Raptors’ surprising run to the Atlantic Division title and nicknamed the square Jurassic Park. Since then, the square, which is half the size of a football field, has grown wildly popular because of the Raptors’ success.

In June 2019, as the Raptors roared to their first NBA championship, about 5,000 fans jammed Jurassic Park to capacity with another 10,000 or so fans accommodated by street closures around the area. Fans lined up early in the morning to gain access to raucous watch parties around both home and away games.

“It came to life in 2014 and it is a fan-driven name and it ties right back to the team name,” said Shannon Hosford, chief marketing officer for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Raptors. “When we started, we had around 3,000 fans and it grew last year across the street to about 15,000 people.”

Jurassic Park has also allowed the Raptors to sell sponsorships and activate around many elements in the area, including the Coors Light stage.

“Many of our local broadcasters are there as well as American broadcasters,” Hosford said. “We have a ton of giveaways and there are a number of interactions and partner elements that go along with it.”

Other teams have copied the Raptors’ Jurassic Park playbook, including the NHL’s 3-year-old Vegas Golden Knights, who have added a touch of Sin City entertainment to their watch parties at Toshiba Plaza located outside T-Mobile Arena. In the past that has included multiple events like Vegas-style weddings, live entertainment, DJs, concessions and retail trucks, and activations by Topgolf and other team partners.

Today, the newest NBA arenas in San Francisco’s Chase Center and Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum have made outdoor plazas a key part of their footprint, but even the most venerable facilities have borrowed from MLSE’s approach. The Chicago Cubs added the 30,000-square-foot Gallagher Way next to Wrigley Field that hosts year-round free and ticketed events as well as serving as as the 106-year-old ballpark’s backyard on game days.

But it’s Jurassic Park that has taken the plaza popularity to new heights.

“Coming into work, you wonder how many people were lined up,” Hosford said. “For the people who show up there, it is a core part of their identity. They want to get in.”