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Why Hasn’t The Skydome/Rogers Centre Held A Hockey Game?

Photo Credit: Toronto Blue Jays

This month, a Toronto landmark marks its 35th anniversary as a hub for sports and entertainment for the entire country. The Rogers Centre or (more affectionately known) originally as the Skydome continues to exist as an achievement in engineering for its retractable roof. While the building has become a comfortable sight and there have been newer sport venues providing more than what the Skydome could provide in 1989, there is a lot of charm in a space that has hosted concerts, shows, NFL games and, of course, the Toronto Blue Jays including during the successful 1992 and 1993 World Series runs. 

The Skydome’s commemoration identified the complex as a multi-use facility like no other built at this time. In addition to the before-mentioned efforts for the current tenants of the Rogers Centre, the Toronto Blue Jays, other team’s of the Canadian city that played inside the retractable roof sporting complex included the Toronto Argonauts from 1989 to 2015 as well as the Toronto Raptors during their initial NBA seasons before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team in 1999 at the newly-opened Scotiabank Arena (opening as Air Canada Centre). Other notable uses for the venue were for the Metro Bowl (the championship game for high school football teams within the Greater Toronto Area), floor space for the Canadian International AutoShow, site of the World Wrestling Entertainment’s WrestleMania VI and 18, an occasional home field for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills from 2008 to 2013 as well as opening and closing ceremonies for the 2015 Pan American Games. Another major one-off spectacle was a 150-metre run in 1997 pitting Canada’s Donovan Bailey against American Michael Johnson where Bailey prevailed. All of these events are just a small sample of occurrences inside the walls of the domed sporting arena in 35 years not mentioning some of the outstanding performances by world-class musicians such as Madonna, the Rolling Stones, U2 and Taylor Swift this summer. 

Concept Image of Skydome from 1987 Marketing Brochure

While the Blue Jays, Argonauts and Raptors have played inside the Skydome, the Maple Leafs is one major Toronto sport team has notably not. Was there ever any serious thought of staging an ice hockey inside the stadium? It could be surprising to learn the idea of had been built into the Skydome as it was slated to open. 

In a booklet released ahead of the facility’s opening, a number of event floor plans were proposed. Arrangements for basketball, soccer, wrestling and, of course, a baseball diamond was all exhibited in addition to a conceptual layout for a hockey rink. The allure of the modern multi-sport arena, sizable crowd capacity greater than 50,000 as well as the state of the aging Maple Leaf Gardens led to some to imagine the Toronto Maple Leafs playing inside the Skydome. No plans were seriously undertaken to have an NHL game through the 1990s but the hockey league’s successful experiments with outdoor games in the mid-2000s gave new considerations for the sport. A November 2003 article published in the Globe and Mail written by Tim Wharnsby investigated the idea of a Toronto Maple Leafs game taking place in the Skydome with the roof opened. President of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Richard Peddle commented “Don’t get me wrong, we are interested in this concept,” as the organization was studying an outdoor game but suggested any plans as “speculative”.

Image from Skydome Marketing Booklet Published Ahead of Opening 

Obviously, the Toronto Maple Leafs outdoor hockey game in the Skydome never materialized nor had an indoor match. The closest Torontarians would ever get to an ice show occurring inside the Skydome/Rogers Centre was Disney on Ice held for many years. So what reasons may have prevented an NHL event inside the complex? One of the simplest obstacles to the idea was securing the venue. While attracting fans to a Toronto Maple Leafs game in a special location is an almost certain guarantee, the investment in such an event isn’t certain to pay off enough to justify it. Renting the Skydome/Rogers Centre, logistics and other costs become a factor that makes less sense when the Maple Leafs’ regular home is only separated by 1.7 kilometers. 

The second and perhaps more difficult complication come with an outdoor hockey game being played inside the domed stadium. During Toronto Blue Jays games, temperatures dipping under the mid-teens in Celsius would result in the roof closing. In fact, sources suggest the complex mechanics of the roof means temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius or lower could prevent closure. The idea of an outdoor ice hockey game being played in warmer weather is not ideal. 

One team did play games regularly in a complex with a retractable roof. From 1967 to 2010, the Pittsburgh Penguins home was the Civic/Mellon Arena (affectionately nicknamed “The Igloo”) that incorporated a retractable roof. However, the Penguins never played a game with the Arena’s roof opened though the Pittsburgh Phantoms, a short-lived roller hockey team, would play a match under an opened roof in August 25th of 1994. On new year’s day of 2024, an NHL game would finally be held inside an opened retractable roof sport complex when the Seattle Kraken faced off against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2024 NHL Winter Classic at T-Mobile Park (the home of the Mariners’ baseball team).   

Finally, stadiums that were designed to accommodate baseball as well as football has always been challenged with a compromised layout making it less inviting for fans and players of both sports. With no football games held inside the Rogers Centre since the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts moved to BMO Field in 2016, the Blue Jays have been the only professional sport calling the venue home. Through the ‘Next Level’ renovations that took place through the off-season before the 2023 and 2024 baseball seasons, the Rogers Centre has been more tailored to baseball. The Next Level upgrades might additionally complicate any slim chance of an ice hockey game in the stadium for the future.

Rogers Centre Infield After Renovations (Photo Source: Toronto Blue Jays)

The Roger’s Centre of today differs greatly from the Skydome of yesterday but the sporting spirit of Toronto has remained strong. Imagining a past chapter where the Toronto Maple Leafs game would face-off against a foe inside the city’s domed stadium might have been one of the more memorable moments.

Non-linked reference:

Wharnsby, Tim (2003, November 19). Hockey may come to 'Dome. The Globe & Mail, S1


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