Leafs take aim at NHL pixel title

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

After three years out of the playoffs, the Maple Leafs can safely say they'll look much better on the scoreboard in 2008-09.

That's what $7.8 million buys -- a new multi-screen HD video system and state-of-the-art control room.

On the same day general manager Cliff Fletcher advised that his rebuilt team might wallow in the standings for another year or two, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., was confident in calling its new audio/visual toy the best of the 30 NHL rinks.

Bob Hunter, executive vice-president of Venues and Entertainment, said updating of the board and the planned expansion of the Air Canada Centre next year is part of the company's off-ice plan to win back disgruntled supporters. MLSEL has research showing fewer people listed themselves as hardcore Leafs backers the past couple of years and the company is aware that the changing demographics in the GTA show a decline in amateur hockey registration.

"This is like an IOU for the fans in our books," Hunter said. "It's like us trying to keep up with the Joneses in the league."

Only the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston and Washington's Verizon Center have similar technology, according to MLSEL officials. The new control room alone cost $3 million, almost as much as the entire system back in 1999.

"A lot of teams invest in their scoreboards, but not their back end," said Curtis Emerson, MLSEL's manager of venue services and content deployment and the man running the control room on game nights for the Leafs and Raptors.

MORE SPACE

The upgrade, using Mitsubishi equipment, will see 20% more space on the four main screens, plus 12 smaller boards added to the top and bottom. Overall, there will be a 500% increase in pixels.

A 60-by-40 foot screen for non-ticket holders to watch Leafs and Raptors games will be added outside the new west-end plaza of the ACC as part of the $26-million extension of the property.

A $2-million broadcast centre, that will allow fans to look right into the studio, also is coming.

"Because the original footprint of the ACC was so small, we never really had a grand entrance," Hunter said. "But we want to have a New York Times Square sort of feel."

The plaza will link with the Maple Leaf Square condo development and include a new ACC restaurant, plus shops and a proposed street-level pedestrian mall, all of it linked through the city's underground PATH walkway.


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