Another dissatissifying experience at the Air Canada Centre

Oct 28, 2012 by

Another dissatissifying experience at the Air Canada Centre

In my opinion the Air Canada Centre (ACC) is an awful concert venue.  Period.  It’s a cold, sterile, security laden venue owned by the omnipresent Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE).  It’s not that the facility isn’t impressive or has great potential as a place to witness todays great musicians, but it’s how the ACC is governed that makes this venue unwelcoming.  Nearly every time I go there I find myself keenly aware of the Orwellian environment; the all-encompassing presence of security and police and the strange restrictions imposed on the premises make this one of the worst places if not the worst,  in Toronto to experience a concert. Having had the misfortune of making a last-minute decision to buy a ticket to the recent Smashing Pumpkins concert I found myself far too aware of the governance of the ACC and it seriously dampened my experience.  In fact it ruined the evening.  It’s not the first time I felt this way after attending a concert there, and it hasn’t always been a bad place to see a show.  I can remember at least a handful of memorable evenings there where the show left a lasting impression, mainly because the venue didn’t get in the way of letting the act be the main attraction.  However, in recent visits, I find myself more aware of the environment than the reason I’m there – which is to be entertained, and usually at a significant cost.  Now, more often than not, when I leave the ACC I find myself questioning why I went at all.

Firstly, we had general admission tickets which gave us access to the floor area directly in front of the stage, which was the sole reason why I went in the first place.  The Smashing Pumpkins are not the band they were 15 years ago and spending $80 on a ticket to see a reinvented shell of a once great rock band is only marginally appealing.  But there’s that teenager in all of us that sometimes makes a choice for you for better or worse.  I would not have gone if I were stuck in front of my seat somewhere in the stands; it’s counterintuitive to my idea of experiencing a live show.  A rock concert is meant to be lively and fun, where people feel free to dance and sing; being restricted to a seat is for operas or movies – not rock shows.  Nonetheless, we arrive shortly after nine and the show had already started some 20 or so minutes earlier. Concerts of this magnitude tend to start well after nine, but it was our error for assuming the show would start later, perhaps this was an omen for things to come.

Fortunately, the Smashing Pumpkins played their new material first and when we entered the arena you could tell the crowd was not terribly receptive.  Considering Halloween is fast approaching; they were appropriately a zombie like crowd who seemed uninterested and apathetic.  There was no energy in the building and it was sad being a part of this seemingly soulless environment, but at the very least a drink could help me stomach the dreary setting and so I headed to the bar in the lounge area.  I bought the largest beer they had, a draft of flat Canadian for $15, and promptly headed back towards the zombies only to be stopped by the security who prominently stood maybe ten feet from the bar.  Apparently no alcohol is allowed into the general admission area.  If you are sitting on your hands in the stands you are allowed to drink, but if you want to pay a premium and get up close to the show, you are not allowed to bring alcohol inside.  I didn’t bother asking why the contradictory practice was in place, but I think it’s fair to assume that any response would be unsatisfactory.  Security is there to enforce the rules, not make them. As much as I was annoyed I couldn’t bring a drink inside,  I was initially more confused by the placement of the bar in relation to the security and the lack of clarity by the bar staff or the venue.

The bar had no trouble selling me the drink and they didn’t tell me that I couldn’t take the beer inside.  I guess they feel it’s not their responsibility to inform patrons, their job is just to sell the beer, and then impose restrictions on where it can be consumed.  Also, the ACC does not have clear signage that indicates to people that they are not allowed to bring alcohol onto the floor.  However, they do have a small army of security and police officers steps away from the bar, who at the slightest transgression get their gorilla chests up and assert their authority.  While drinking in the lounge area, I witnessed one police officer use excessive force on a young woman who appeared not to have the right Identification for entering the general admission area.  She was just a few feet away from me and I couldn’t make out everything that was said, but she was not aggressive or physical she was simply pleading her case to security. Moments later a police officer grabbed her by the middle of her back pinching a thick fold of skin and forcing her outside in an aggressive and unnecessary manner.  A smirk could be seen on his face, like he was enjoying playing the role of the sadist. The girl seemed confused about his aggression and had little recourse but to be escorted outside.   Whatever the rationale was behind her ejection, the aggression could not possibly be justifiable.  It turned my stomach watching how she was treated and thought how powerless we all are to the bullying of police officers.  If I would have stepped between the officer and her to protect her I would assuredly been greeted with a handful of professional thugs and been beaten and arrested and painted as the aggressor. A more courageous and principled man would welcome such a beating.   While this is going on, patron after alcohol carrying patron are being rejected from going into the arena by the heavy-handed security eagerly awaiting an opportunity to show their strength.  A collection of confused patrons could be seen frustratingly chugging their beers in order to have access to the concert.

The lack of communication between the ACC bar staff, its customers and security is dumbfounding.  The optics of this display make the ACC appear like petty amateurs posing as hospitality professionals. They do realize that they are offering a service don’t they?  Or maybe they are just taking for granted their high paying patrons? By treating adults like children or potential criminals for purchasing a beer is so petty and offensive to its patrons, it is reason enough to stop going to the ACC.  The truth is they don’t care about their consumers, and we are collectively to blame for fostering this abuse.  We tolerate it, the paying public –we are to blame.  They govern the building like they don’t care how you feel or what you want and we continue to go.  If you want to go to a concert it will be on their highly restrictive terms and we stand by and tolerate the abuse like pathetic lemmings drinking their soulless $15 cool-aid.

When I finished my beer I headed towards the stage and thankfully the Smashing Pumpkins started playing old material and a significant shift in mood took place.  Suddenly the arena felt alive and for a half-dozen songs or so, a palpable buzz could be felt.   If not for lead singer Billy Corgan’s pot belly and grotesquely visible plumber butt from wearing questionably  tight pants, one would think that we had been transported to the mid 1990’s-the apex of their career. He exuded a youthfulness that powered a fun and intense final hour.  But even during this time you could see the security meddle their way into the environment.  On several occasions I noticed them directly behind me, lingering around, shining flashlights at my feet and others nearby, presumably looking for leprechaun’s or a lost iPhone they could sell on Craig’s list.  Their presence was unwelcome, unnecessary and gratuitous.  Again they became part of the show, and they seem untrustworthy and looking for trouble.

Its securities job to foster and safeguard the venue, and it’s a tough job.  There is a delicate balance between maintaining their presence while blending in.  I can appreciate the difficulty of their position, but better discretion has to be shown.  The show should be on the stage not in the recesses of the building performed by the uniformed bully. Security should be a strong force that’s only visible when it’s necessary and not over trivial issues or for the sake of their own curiosity. It’s easy to cast blame on the ground troops and they deserve to be criticized, but the lion share of blame must be placed on the upper- management who tolerate and encourage their behaviour.  The front of the line staff is a reflection of the desires and needs of the ACC.  Based on what I witnessed it must be assumed that security have carte blanche authority to do as they wish and ensure they rule with an iron fist.  In turn, it makes the venue feel like a mean, confrontational and unappealing place.  It’s not fun, or a place where I want to spend my hard-earned money.  I only go in the rare exception that I have the best tickets to the shows I must see, but that list is growing shorter.  I would much rather pay exorbitant scalper prices to see emerging bands at more intimate venues like the Mod Club or the Guvernment. At least life breathes in those hallways, people are allowed to have fun and show some emotion.  Even sitting down for a 2 hour show at Massey Hall is infinitely more enjoyable than spending a minute at the ACC.  I know it’s not the last show I will see at the ACC, but it should be and every year I consciously go there less and less. I don’t enjoy being subject to arbitrary and oppressive rules nor do I enjoy spending so much time navigating through the omnipresent and thuggish  security.  I just want to have a beer and enjoy the show, is that too much to ask?






  1. Sec

    Firstly, I’d like to say that I’m sorry that had a bad time at the ACC. I’m a guard myself over there and I’d like to think we do a pretty good job. Secondly, I’m sorry that you weren’t told by the beer servers that you couldn’t bring alcohol into a GA floor. One of the reasons for this is because of pass-offs. There’s almost ALWAYS a young generation at any concert, regardless of what concert it is and to prevent them from getting alcohol while on the floor is really hard to determine, as opposed to while inside the bowl seats. Even if we allowed it (alcohol inside a GA floor), obtaining a possible under-aged drinker’s ID in a packed floor (where there is pushing / shoving and no real place hold the patron) is not the easiest thing to do. Not to mention that beer could be thrown onto the stage and so forth given the opportunity, since you’re right up against the stage.

    The reason why guards continue to patrol the floor is because of smoking. Sometimes it is requested from the bands themselves to not have contraband around them as well as video, etc – taking that into consideration, what do you want us to do? It’s our job.

    It’s funny that you mention we (security guards) are looking for reasons to get our “gorilla chests up and assert our authority” because believe it or not, we don’t want to ruin anyone’s night. Rules are rules and we have to follow them. We too are human, we too know how it feels, we too have been to concerts. We get it.

    The truth is, we do care about our customers, everything we’ve done have had reason for them – sorry you don’t like them. If you ever do come back, hopefully it will be a better night.

  2. Firstly thank you for your comments and for attempting to defend your brethren. Assuming someone at the ACC didn’t put you up to it, I think its honorable of you for trying to protect your colleagues. Saying that, as a collective I don’t think you do get it. Security presence at the ACC is far too omnipresent. I don’t mind paying premium dollars to experience a show, but I do mind when the show I’m forced to watch is the massive security and police force imposing their presence on the event. Additionally, as an adult, I do not like being told that I’m not allowed to have an alcoholic beverage at a rock concert – this isn’t a grade school play I’m attending. I’m not judging the ACC on a single event, but on dozens of experiences and this particular show forced me to finally speak up about it.

    You’re comments imply that you feel like you can justify inhibiting an individuals evening, as an adult having one or two alcoholic beverages, simply to protect yourselves against the slim possibility of someone passing alcohol to a minor or for getting the stage wet? Seriously? Listen I get that you buy the corporate Kool-Aid and that you’re “just doing your job”, but adults don’t like being treated like children. You can’t punish everyone and be free of criticism because of an insignificant minority doing relatively trivial things. And really what are they doing that’s so awful? Don’t you remember when you were 16 and went to a show and you sneaked a small bottle of whisky and shared it with your best friend? Wasn’t that a memorable night at the time? Did you go randomly destroy things that evening or did you bask in the moment and just enjoy the show? You were probably more scared at getting caught that night, the last thing you would want to do is draw attention to yourself right? I’m not encouraging that behaviour, but I’m assuming as a well trained security guard or police officer you know how to distinguish between a 14 year old trying to sneak a drink out of his pants from a 30 year old responsibly enjoying a beer. From a liability standpoint I get your position, but I don’t care about the ACC minimizing losses based on hypothetical situations unfolding. I don’t blame you as an individual for doing your job and making a living, but I do blame the management that imposes the rules and than asks you to blindly enforce them. You see you’re the face to my disgruntlement, but the truth is the decision makers are the ones to blame. I know you have to do your job, but maybe as a group you can learn to back off sometimes and show some discretion. People don’t like being bullied and as a team you can be very imposing and create a threatening and unwelcome environment.

    I appreciate the fact you felt compelled to act as a customer service agent for the ACC, but I’m not looking for apologies or freebies or “hope you have a better show next time”. I’d much rather speak candidly about a terrible a concert experience one can have at the ACC – especially for adults who don’t wish to be treated like prisoners while the guards hover around looking for any minor transgression to impose their will. If you want to exchange a meaningful narrative on how to improve the spectator experience at the ACC I’d be happy to engage you or your team in that conversation; but if you look closely I’ve already given you a pretty good starting point.


    • Adam

      My wife took our 10 year old to a nickelback concert in Edmonton in 2008. The funny thing is…people were smoking joints in their seats, and no one was expelled from the building, but when my wife and daughter got up to dance during a song, they were threatened with expulsion from the arena unless they sat back down (Rexall Place). I myself dont like indoor concerts. I prefer outdoor venues where you kinda feel like you have a little more ” freedom” to do what you want…sing, dance drink your smuggled in whisky!!

  3. Yeah Adam you certainly do have to watch out for the no-fun police at these large indoor concert venues – because one way or another their gonna find ya, their gonna getcha getcha getcha…

Leave a Reply