[NHL] Now playing: Leafs on the big screen

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Now playing: Leafs on the big screen

Theatre chain will show seven games

25 sites selected for Ontario fans

Oct. 26, 2006. 05:59 AM



The Toronto Maple Leafs have dominated Canadian sports television ratings for decades. Now they're going to do battle with Hollywood.

Starting with next Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers, 25 Cineplex Entertainment theatres across Ontario ? including six in Toronto and six in the 905 regions ? will show the first of seven Leaf games in high definition and with full theatre sound.

It's the first time Leafs games have been shown on the big screen.

"It's not a recreation of the live event, but it's as close as you can get," said Cineplex executive vice-president Dan McGrath. "You can have the best home-theatre system in the world, but it's still not a 50-foot screen in high def. The picture quality and sound is incredible."

Those kinds of accessories don't come free, of course. Ticket prices will range from $8.95 to $10.95 for the games, which will also be shown on the team-owned digital channel Leafs TV.

Since the channel has slightly more than 200,000 subscribers and Leafs Ontario-region telecasts usually attract about 500,000 viewers on TSN and Rogers Sportsnet, the potential audience is substantial.

"If you live in Owen Sound, Sudbury or Sault Ste. Marie, how often are you going to get a chance to go to a Leafs game?" McGrath asked. "This is something where they can get out with other people and get close to the real experience."

For Cineplex, the addition of Leafs games is part of its search for alternative events to draw customers during weekdays, when attendance is lower.

For the Leafs, this is all about promoting their digital channel and not a way of feeling out the market's stomach for pay-per-view games.

"This is really a promotional thing for Leafs TV and high-def," said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chief operating officer Tom Anselmi. "We've got a sold-out building, and it's an opportunity to get together with a bunch of friends and experience the game in a different environment."

While the thought of seeing Wade Belak on a gigantic screen may deter some, Cineplex is hoping it will match or exceed the 50 per cent theatre capacity its similar events in western Canada have produced.

Cineplex aired 33 games in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton last season, all available only on pay-per-view, and was happy enough with the results to add two more this season. In addition to Toronto, Ottawa is now on board with five Senators games.

Cineplex had hoped to bring the Leafs on-board last season, but the team decided to wait. When Leafs TV hired former Canucks executive Chris Hebb to head its operations, he convinced MLSE that the venture was worth a shot, especially now that all 12 of the channel's games were to be aired in high definition.

McGrath says Cineplex and the Leafs are doing everything they can to enhance the experience in theatres from Peterborough to Thunder Bay.

Leafs alumni, including Wendel Clark and Darryl Sittler, will make appearances at some theatres, along with the team mascot. There will also be trivia contests and draws for prizes.

"Our staff really get into it," he said.

And so do the fans. At western theatres last season, fans routinely showed up in team jerseys and caps.

"I haven't heard of anyone painting their face, but people stand up and cheer, just like they do at a real game," McGrath said.

One thing that will be missing is the traditional arena treat of a beer and hotdog. The latter is available in most theatres, but the former is not possible thanks to Ontario laws.

"We're not allowed to serve alcohol, as much as I'd love to offer a beer and a hotdog," McGrath said.


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