The NHL All-Star weekend is set to return to Toronto at a time sports business experts agree the city has never been better positioned to host global festivities.
Twenty-four years since the Maple Leafs last hosted the league’s mid-season show, the world of hockey will once again congregate in downtown Toronto in February 2024 for a two-day series of celebrations at Scotiabank Arena that are bound to boost the local economy and increase the brand of the game for a city that’s already known as a hockey destination.
“The timing seems and feels right for the game to come back to Toronto, one of the most important hockey markets right now,” said Tom Pistore, president of Oak View Group Canada, a global sports and live entertainment company.
As the host organization, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has become much more mature than it was in 2000. The organization now boasts a top-class staff, a more comfortable venue and more financial resources to deploy in preparation, said Pistore, who was an MLSE employee during the first All-Star Game in Toronto.
Now that the city’s population has increased significantly, and with the latest advancement in digital technology, businesses and corporate brands are in a better position to benefit from the game and all the events affiliated with it.
“Similar to World Cup coming here in 2026, the economic impact of bringing the NHL all-star to Toronto is in hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “You’re going to see a significant uptick in commercial activities in the months prior to the game and immediately after.”
While there’s a diminished sense of competition attached to all-star weekends in all sports leagues, the mid-season events generate significant revenue for the associations and host cities.
After the NHL hosted its most-recent all-star weekend in Florida in February, commissioner Gary Bettman said the event “brought more than 7,000 guests to South Florida with an estimated economic impact” close to $30 million (U.S.), according to a Sports Business Journal report. In 2016 when Toronto hosted the NBA all-star weekend, it was reported that the city generated between $90 to $100 million in direct revenue.
And that’s in addition to major sponsorships, media and strategic corporate partnerships that come into play whenever an event of such magnitude takes place. That will also come with a huge economic impact, said Peter Widdis, professor of marketing at George Brown College and an expert in sports business.
“If I’m a brand manager, I’m very excited to roll my sleeves up and collaborate,” he said.
Widdis called it “Hollywood North meets the game of the North,” referring to the mixture of sports, arts and entertainment opportunities all in one weekend.
Businesses must start to be proactive in seeking out ways to make their products and services relevant to the festivities, said Widdis. With the diverse communities that make up Toronto, coupled with previous experiences of hosting all-star events in the NBA, MLB and MLS, this is a perfect opportunity for the city to showcase innovation in sports marketing.
“I tell my students every day, you’ve never been living in a city at a more a dynamic and exciting time in the world of sports business,” he said.
“You have a World Cup coming here, a thriving NHL franchise, a thriving NBA franchise that won a championship a few years ago, you’ve got a baseball stadium that’s getting major renovations, the WNBA is coming, I could go on and on. It’s a beautiful fusion.”
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