Toronto is a decidedly passionate city, and perhaps that’s most evident when it comes to sports. (Case in point: our reaction to the epic Raptors championship win back in 2019!) Thinking of Toronto as a city that hangs on the whims of just a team or two is a mistake, though.
Toronto is unique in the sheer variety of teams and venues. It’s true, we fervently support the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Blue Jays, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a dedicated fan base for the city’s respective rugby, football, lacrosse, or even esports teams.
Toronto, at its core, is a city that offers something for everybody. No matter your interests, you’ll find your crew and your niche. Our teams are deeply embedded into our culture and identity of the city, so it makes a lot of sense to take a moment to see what’s on offer and, subsequently, get involved.
Let’s call a spade a spade: Toronto is a hockey city.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are essentially a religion in Toronto, and one with many devout supporters. It’s been a long time since the Leafs last hoisted the cup, but with their young core and star-studded lineup, a lot of people in the city feel they’re not too far from hoisting another. The energy at most games is downright infectious, and if you find yourself at a playoff game, be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster like no other.
Make no mistake, if the Leafs win the cup, utter pandemonium will ensue, but, until that sweet, sweet day, you ought to spread out your affections to a number of teams. The Toronto Marlies, colloquially referred to as the “Baby Buds,” are Toronto’s AHL squad, and the perfect sporting experience to be a part of if you’d like to get a sneak preview of the Maple Leafs up and coming stars.
The quality of hockey is fantastic and Coca-Cola Coliseum (formerly the Ricoh Coliseum) is perhaps the most underrated sports venue in the city. If you want to turn up the dial on the Canada meter, get yourself poutine at Smoke’s Poutinerie but, for my money, I’m getting the shaved corned beef sandwich at “The Deli.”
If you’re interested in the game of hockey, but don’t necessarily want to see a hockey game, then don’t overlook the Hockey Hall of Fame. No place in the world has a finer array of hockey artifacts and, in recent years, they’ve made the experience much more immersive and interactive, which makes it ideal for kids and families.
The Toronto Raptors have a fierce fanbase within the city confines, but also across the nation at large. As with the Blue Jays, the Raps are “Canada’s Team,” hence their ever-popular slogan, “We the North.” It’s got a bit of that Game of Thrones feel, right? Going to a Raptors game is an entirely different experience from anything else in the city, and you could put forth an argument that they’re Toronto’s loudest supporters. If you’re here during the playoffs, think about linking up with some rabid Raps fans outside Scotiabank Arena at Maple Leaf Square, which is more fondly and famously known as “Jurassic Park.”
Just down the road in Mississauga, you’ll also find the Raptors 905 who compete in the NBA G League. Established in 2015-2016, they’ve got a growing fanbase, which is growing more rapidly due to the success of the beloved Raptors themselves.
The Toronto Blue Jays are a storied franchise and their relatively recent playoff runs are a reminder that the city has nothing but love for the Blue Birds. As with the Raps, the Jays are the only Canadian team in an otherwise American league, which means they’ve got broad appeal across the nation. If you can, go to the Rogers Centre (formerly “The Skydome”) on a sunny day when the dome is open, and marvel at the CN Tower during the game—it’s an experience like no other.
Soccer, or football as it’s called in most places not named North America, is all kinds of popular in the 6ix, and Toronto FC reaps the benefits. Toronto, in general, is a remarkably diverse city and attending a TFC game can be special as you’ll see Toronto FC fans who in all likelihood would cheer for different teams were it the World Cup, all united in harmony. As with the Raps, they’ve got a fitting slogan—“All for One.” No team has risen in the ranks of Toronto culture more than Toronto FC, and their championship in the 2017 season certainly didn’t hurt that trend.
If you’re visiting Toronto and an avid supporter of another club, it’s worth noting that most major clubs have a bar or clubhouse in Toronto. Scallywags, for example, is a notorious Liverpool headquarters, and clubs like Sporting Lisbon even have soccer academies and you can find their home base, appropriately, in Toronto’s Little Portugal.
Lacrosse is one of Canada’s two national sports (the other being hockey—shocking, I know) and that might be just enough reason to show the Toronto Rock some more love. If you haven’t been to a lacrosse game, you’re missing out, as lacrosse is a high-intensity, incredibly physical sport that’s very entertaining in a live setting. The Rock was the first Canadian franchise in the NLL, and, since their induction, no team in the National Lacrosse League has won more championships.
The Toronto Argonauts or “Argos” have been a staple of the Toronto sports scene since 1873. The Canadian Football League, aka CFL, offers something different from what NFL fans might be used to. Firstly, it’s three down football, which means more long bombs and fewer runs, which can actually make for some exciting action. Since they’ve moved to BMO Field, the outdoor facility shared with Toronto FC in the heart of the city, word on the street is that games are more enjoyable than ever.
From a sports perspective, it can be hard to keep track of all that’s going on, especially when the sports news is dominated by the bigger teams. A small incident at a Maple Leafs practice can easily overshadow a triumph of one of Toronto’s lesser-known teams, but that doesn’t mean the lesser-known teams aren’t worth following. The Toronto Wolfpack play out of Lamport Stadium, which is often referred to as “The Den,” and they play top-tier rugby plain and simple. The Wolfpack are historic in that they’re the first fully professional rugby league team in Canada and they’re poised to continue to become a larger part of Toronto’s sports identity.
For those who relish in the lesser-known
Esports are becoming bigger and bigger business and the Toronto Defiant, a member of the Overwatch League, know that well. Their home base in the city is “The Hive”, a bar and lounge which is not far from Yonge and St.Clair. Each game draws a fairly large crowd and it’s fun to drop in to watch, then, afterwards, sneak to the back and take a walk down memory lane while you play a touch of N64.
There are plenty of bars that are perfect for your sporting needs but there’s a handful that stands a head taller than the rest. The most obvious choice is Real Sports, a true sports lover’s sports bar. The claim to fame here is largely that they’re right beside Scotiabank Arena and that they’ve got a screen that’s probably larger in square feet than your home. The food is pretty good as well but you’re ultimately paying for the atmosphere.
The Dock Ellis is a good sports bar in that you can play and watch at the same time. They’ve got ping pong, foosball, shuffleboard, pool and more, which makes it a fairly ideal spot for those who like to keep their eye on the game but also stay focused on their own game as well. If it’s specifically pool you’re after, then your best bet is to go straight to Billiards Academy & Sports Lounge, which has been going strong for nearly fifty years.
If you want to be near the downtown action and Real Sports isn’t your thing, then The Loose Moose isn’t a bad backup. It’s a little less flashy and loud than Real Sports, but they’ve got a variety of beers on tap and TVs galore.
Toronto sports, in sum
The presence of Toronto’s sports culture permeates the city to the core, and in a sense, the city rises up and falls down with the performance of the respective franchise. Hopes and dreams of children and adults alike hang perpetually in the balance and most Torontonians wouldn’t have it any other way. In truth, if you don’t take a moment to understand Toronto’s sports scene, you’ll be missing a large part of Toronto’s cultural identity. It’s ultimately very fitting that, as with everything else, the sports scene once again showcases the diversity and pride of Canada’s largest city. Whether you want to see the Raps shooting hoops, the Leafs shooting pucks, or even if you want to shoot a little pool, it’s here waiting for you in spades.