Rogers Centre, formerly known as SkyDome, is a multi-purpose stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, situated next to the CN Tower near the shores of Lake Ontario. Originally opened in 1989, it is home to the American League's Toronto Blue Jays, the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts, and as of 2008, the National Football League's Buffalo Bills' second playing venue in the Bills Toronto Series. While it is primarily a sports venue, it also hosts other large-scale events such as conventions, trade fairs, concerts, funfairs, and monster truck shows. The stadium was renamed "Rogers Centre" following the purchase of the stadium by Rogers Communications, which also owns the Toronto Blue Jays, in 2005.
The venue was noted for being the first stadium to have a fully-retractable motorized roof, as well as for the 348-room hotel attached to it, with 70 rooms overlooking the field. It is also the most recent North American major-league stadium built to accommodate both football and baseball.
The stadium will be the centrepiece of the 2015 Pan American Games as the site of the opening and closing ceremonies.
The stadium will also be the main venue for the 2011 IIFA Awards, a major Bollywood (Indian film industry) awards show with most actors and actresses showing up for the show. It will be taking place from June 23 to June 25, 2011.
Rogers Centre was designed by Rod Robbie & Michael Allen and was constructed by the EllisDon Construction company of London, Ontario. The stadium's construction lasted about two and a half years, from October 1986 to May 1989. The approximate cost of construction was C$570 million ($888 million in 2011 dollars) which was paid for by the federal government, Ontario provincial government, the City of Toronto, and a large consortium of corporations.
The idea for building an enclosed sports venue came following the Grey Cup game in November 1982, held at the outdoor Exhibition Stadium. The game was plagued by terrible weather that affected the patrons, who were viewing from stands that were not sheltered. Thousands spent most of the game in the concession section of the stadium, the crowd was drenched, and the washrooms were overflowing, which was on the whole a bad experience for the fans. In attendance that day was then-Ontario Premier Bill Davis, and the poor conditions were seen by over 7,862,000 television viewers in Canada (at the time the largest TV audience ever in Canada). The following day, at a rally at Toronto City Hall, tens of thousands of people who were there to see the Grey Cup winners began to chant, "We want a dome! We want a dome!" So too did others who began to discuss the possibility of an all-purpose, all-weather stadium.
Seven months later, in June 1983, Premier Davis formally announced that a three-person committee would look into the feasibility of building a domed stadium at Exhibition Place. The committee consisted of Paul Godfrey, Larry Grossman and former Ontario Hydro chairman Hugh Macaulay.
Over the next few years various tangible projects emerged, including a large indoor stadium at Exhibition Place with an air-supported dome, similar to BC Place in Vancouver. In 1985 an international design competition was launched to design a new stadium, along with selection of a site for the stadium. Some of the proposed sites included Exhibition Place, Downsview Airport, and York University. The final site was located at the base of the CN Tower not far from Union Station, a major railway and transit hub. The land was a major Canadian National Railway rail switching yard encompassing the CNR Spadina Roundhouse (the desolate downtown lands were part of a master plan for revitalizing the area which includes CityPlace). The price would be $150 million. Ultimately the Robbie/Allen concept won because it provided the largest roof opening of all the finalists, and it was the most technically sound.
Construction was done by lead contractor Ellis Don. Several factors complicated the construction: The lands housed a functioning water pumping station that needed to be relocated, the soil was contaminated from a century of industrial use, railway buildings needed to be torn down or moved, and the site was rich with archaeological finds. One of the most complex issues was moving the John St. pumping station across the street to its new home south of the stadium. Foundations to the stadium were being poured even as the facility (located in the infield area) continued to function, as construction on its new location had yet to be completed.
Because the stadium was the first of its kind in the world, the architects and engineers kept the design simple (by using a sturdy dome shape) and used proven technologies to move the roof. It was important that the design would work and be reliable as to avoid the various problems that plagued Montreal's Olympic Stadium. The 31-storey roof consists of four panels; one is fixed in place and the other three are moved by electrically driven 'train' engines, that run on standard railway rails. The roof, which takes 20 minutes to open, was made out of steel trusses covered by corrugated steel cladding, which in turn is covered by a single-ply PVC membrane.
The stadium was funded by a public/private partnership, with the government paying the largest percentage of the tab. The initial cost was greatly underestimated, with the final tab coming in at C$570 million ($888 million in 2011 dollars). All three levels of government (Metro Toronto, Provincial, Federal) initially contributed $30 million ($46.7 million in 2011 dollars). This does not include the actual value of the land the stadium sits on (as it was part of a deal with the Crown agency – CN Rail). Canada's three main breweries (Labatt's, Molsons, and Carling O'Keefe) each paid $5 million ($7.79 million in 2011 dollars)to help fund the stadium. In addition 28 Canadian corporations (selected by invitation only – no tendering of contract) also contributed $5 million, for which they received one of the 161 Skyboxes with four parking spaces (for ten years, with an opportunity for renewal) and a 99 year exclusive option on stadium advertising. Skyboxes initially leased for $150,000 up to $225,000 ($234 thousand to $350 thousand in 2011 dollars) a year in 1989 – plus the cost of tickets for all events.
But the financing was not without controversy. First of all there was no public tender for supplies and equipment. Secondly, companies that paid the $5 million fee received 100% stadium exclusivity for the life of their contract that could be extended up to 99 years. Some of the companies that signed on included Coca-Cola, TSN and CIBC. This exclusivity even extended to advertising. This was most notable when Pepsi-Cola was banned from raising promotional banners during a Madonna concert performance. Many companies signed on without the contracts being bid on. Pepsi stated at the time that had they known the terms of the contract they would have paid far more than $5 million for the rights. Local media like NOW Magazine called the amount charged "scandalously low" (Now Dec 3-9, 1998).
In a CBC Television interview in the days before the stadium, a member of the general public goes on to ponder "It will be interesting to see five years from now whose stadium it will be, Toronto's dome or a business centre like TD Centre". The stadium was completed two months late, having been planned to open for the first regular season Toronto Blue Jays game. Because of its location south of major railway corridor, new pedestrian connections had to be built; the infrastructure was part of the reason for the high cost of the stadium. Skywalk is a (1/2 km – est.) enclosed walkway that leads from the base of the CN Tower and via a bridge connects to Union Station (and is part of the PATH network). The John St. bridge was built to provide North/South passage over the rail tracks linking Front Street with the stadium.
The stadium officially opened on June 3, 1989 and hosted an official grand opening show: "The Opening of SkyDome: A Celebration". It was broadcast on CBC television the following evening hosted by Brian Williams. With a crowd of over 50,000 in attendance, it was the first test of the new facility. The event was a showcase of Canadian talent, and included performances from a wide variety of acts. The celebrities consisted of Alan Thicke, Oscar Peterson, Andrea Martin of SCTV, impersonator André-Philippe Gagnon and rock band Glass Tiger. The roof was opened by the Premier of the Province, David Peterson, who pointed a laser pen at the ceiling to officially 'open' it. The roof opened, exposing the crowd to a downpour of rain. This while a crowd of famous Canadians sang a song on stage that was written specifically for the opening, with the lyrics: "Open up, Open up the Dome". Yet as the crowd got increasingly wet, they could be heard chanting "Close the roof". But Stadco president Chuck Magwood insisted that the roof fully open. And once open, a group of civilian skydivers flew into the now soaked stadium often skidding across the concrete floor to the cheers of the audience. By the time the roof had opened, most of the crowd had sought refuge in the concourse areas and beneath the overhangs of the various parts of the structure.
The event was broken down into the following acts:
The Opening of SkyDome – A Celebration
Act I – "Prelude to Forever" – "Oscar Peterson will perform this original composition with the Toronto Symphony."
Act II – A Tribute to the Builders of SkyDome – "An Olympic-style entrance of those who represent the thousands of people responsible for the building of SkyDome."
Act III – The Way We Were – "Featuring Theresa Pitt, the lead in Toronto’s company of Cats (the musical)."
Act IV – "We are Toronto" – "From a small settlement and a few hundred settlers, Toronto has become a true window to the world. The people of Toronto representing sixty-eight nations will celebrate the Opening of SkyDome in their native costumes."
Act V – "Open up the Dome" – "Liberty Silver and Tommy Ambrose will perform this very special celebration number and will be joined by our 3,500 volunteer performers."
Act VI – "Open up the Dome" Finale – "Our host Alan Thicke will re-introduce the performers and will join in a final celebration of the Opening of SkyDome."
Financial problems and fallout
The stadium would later become a thorn in the side of David Peterson's Ontario Liberal government for its overspending in the venture. The Ontario Liberal Party was defeated by the Ontario New Democratic Party in the 1990 Ontario election. A review by the new Bob Rae government in October 1990 revealed that the stadium was so in debt that it would have to be booked 600 days a year to turn a profit. The stadium had only made $17 million in its first year of operations, while servicing the debt was costing $40 million. It was determined that the abrupt late inclusion by Stadco of a luxurious hotel and health club added an additional $112 million to the cost of the building.
As the Province slipped into a recession, Bob Rae appointed University of Toronto professor Bruce Kidd and Bob White (then president of the Canadian Auto Workers) to the Stadco board to help deal with the stadium's growing debt. But by this time it was too late to reverse the costs. The completed stadium started life with a $165 million debt that ballooned to $400 million by 1993. The stadium became a huge liability to the Provincial Government, and as the economy soured, so did public support for the so-called "white elephant". In March 1994, Bob Rae's Ontario NDP government paid off all outstanding debts from the Provincial treasury, and sold the stadium for the massively discounted price of $151 million to a private consortium (including Labatt's parent company – Interbrew).
In November 1998, the stadium filed for bankruptcy protection. One of the main reasons was that most of the Skybox contracts were up for renewal. Most of the 161 Skybox tenants had signed on for 10 year leases; this oversight in business planning, and a marked decrease in interest in the stadium's two sports teams, resulted in a massive decrease in the amount companies were willing to pay for the Skybox. In addition, the Air Canada Centre was under construction just down the road, and selling highly desired boxes for the civic favourite Toronto Maple Leafs and new upstart Toronto Raptors, who originally played in the SkyDome since their establishment in 1995. Many companies could not justify owning box suites at both stadiums. That same month, the Blue Jays re-signed on for an additional ten years in the facility.
In late 1998, Sportsco International LP bought the stadium out of bankruptcy protection for $85 million. Purchase by Rogers Communications and renaming to Rogers Centre. In 2004, Rogers Communications, parent company of the Blue Jays, acquired SkyDome from Sportsco for about $25 million – about 4% of the cost of construction.
On February 2, 2005, Ted Rogers, President and CEO of Rogers Communications, announced that his company would significantly increase the team payroll upwards of $210 million over the next three seasons, beginning in the 2005 season, and announced a three-year corporate contract to change the name of SkyDome to the Rogers Centre. After the purchase Rogers refurbished the stadium by, among other things, replacing the once state-of-the-art Jumbotron with a Daktronics ProStar screen, and erecting other new monitors, including several built into the outfield wall. They also installed a new artificial playing surface called FieldTurf. (The Blue Jays were thus the last MLB team to play on AstroTurf; their home venue has since returned to a newer version of AstroTurf that uses sand and rubber-based infill within its fibres.)
In May 2005, the Toronto Argonauts agreed to three five-year leases at Rogers Centre, which could see the Argonauts playing out of Rogers Centre up to and including 2019. The team has the option to leave at the end of each of the three lease agreements. The Argos also announced that they will not move into a new stadium that was being planned at York University, a project which York subsequently cancelled.
In November 2005, Rogers Centre received a complete makeover in the 100 Level concourse, making it larger. This required some seats to be removed, which lowered its capacity size. They also renovated 43 luxury boxes and converted some of them into larger party suites that can accommodate as many as 150 people. The Blue Jays had planned for renovations in the winter of 2006 to the Blue Jays' clubhouse and weight room, and possibly the visitors' clubhouse; president Paul Godfrey also mentioned a potential long term project to add a façade to the exterior of the stadium, as its concrete exterior has been criticized for appearing cold and imposing.
In April 2006, the Rogers Centre became one of the first buildings of its size to adopt a completely smoke-free policy in Canada. The Rogers Centre made this decision in advance of an act of provincial legislature that required all Ontario public places to go smoke-free by June 1, 2006. Designated smoking rooms, or "puffers" as they were known, will no longer be available to patrons. As a result, smokers will no longer be able to smoke during events due to the pre-existing no pass-out policy, which does not allow for readmittance to the facility after exiting.
The Rogers Centre was dry on April 7, 2009, as the province of Ontario imposed the first of a three-day alcohol suspension at the stadium, for "infractions (that) took place at certain past events," according to the press release.
The name "SkyDome" was coined by Kellie Watson, a private citizen of the town of Wallaceburg, Ontario, who entered a province-wide "name the stadium" contest in 1987. Sponsored by the Toronto Sun, ballots were offered for people to submit their suggested name. Over 150,000 entries were received with 12,897 different names. The selection committee narrowed it down to four choices: "Towerdome", Harbourdome, SkyDome, and simply "the Dome". The judges' final selection was SkyDome. Over 2,000 people proposed SkyDome, and as a result a winning name was drawn from all the similar entries. Premier David Peterson chose a name from a lottery barrel. The selected winner won lifetime seats to any event at SkyDome (including concerts). The two seats are located just behind home plate. In the press conference announcing the name, Chuck Magwood (president of the Stadium Corporation of Ontario) commented: "The sky is a huge part of the whole roof process. The name has a sense of the infinite and that's what this is all about".
Several restaurants have views of events, Windows restaurant looks onto the playing field.
The venue was the first major team sports arena in North America to sport a functional, fully retractable roof (Montreal's Olympic Stadium also had a retractable roof, but due to operational issues, it was replaced with a permanent roof). The roof is composed of four panels and covers an area of 345,000 square feet (32,100 m2). The two middle panels slide laterally to stack over the north semi-circular panel, and then the south semi-circular panel rotates around the stadium and nests inside the stack. It takes 20 minutes for the roof to open or close.
Even though the retractable roof would technically permit the use of natural grass, the stadium has always used artificial turf. The original AstroTurf installation was replaced with FieldTurf from 2005 to 2010. The FieldTurf took about 40 hours to remove for events such as concerts or trade shows, as it used 1,400 trays that needed to be stacked and transported off the field. Prior to the 2010 baseball season, to reduce the amount of time required to convert the playing field, a new, roll-based version of AstroTurf was installed. Similar to FieldTurf, the current installation uses a sand and rubber-based infill within the synthetic fibres. The Rogers Centre is one of two remaining venues in Major League Baseball using artificial turf (the other one is Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida).
There are a total of 5,700 club seats and 161 luxury suites at Rogers Centre. The complex has a Hard Rock Café restaurant (the restaurant will close when its lease expires at the end of 2010). The Renaissance Toronto Hotel is also located within Rogers Centre, with 70 rooms overlooking the field.
Over $5 million of artwork was commissioned in 1989:
The Audience – by Michael Snow is a collection of larger than life depictions of fans located above the northeast and northwest entrances. Painted gold, the sculptures show fans in various acts of celebration.
A Tribute to Baseball – by Lutz Haufschild – located above the Southeast and Southwest entrances of Gate 5.
The Art of the Possible – by Mimi Gellman – located inside along the north side of the concourse on Level 100. The glass and steel sculpture incorporates the signatures of 2000 builders of SkyDome, and is a tribute to their work. Some of the artifacts found during excavation such as musket balls and pottery have also been included. The brightly illuminated sculpture became an issue to baseball players when the stadium first opened. The bright lights were considered a distraction to batters.
Salmon Run – by Susan Schelle, located outside by the South East entrance; it is a large fountain that has various stainless steel salmon cutouts.
Spiral Fountain – by Judith Schwarz.
Rogers Centre videoboard
The main video screen in the Rogers Centre is called the Rogers Centre videoboard and is also known during Blue Jays games as "JaysVision". Designed by Daktronics, the screen is 33 feet (10 m) high and 110 feet (34 m) across. The panel is made up of modular LED units that can be replaced unit by unit, and can be repaired immediately should it be damaged during an event. Originally, this screen was a Sony JumboTron before it was replaced.
The videoboard and the stadium played host to several television events, including the series finales for Cheers and Star Trek: The Next Generation, along with live coverage of the funeral of Princess Diana.
Besides baseball and Canadian football, Rogers Centre was the original home of the National Basketball Association's Toronto Raptors, who played at the venue from November 1995 to February 1999, while the Air Canada Centre was being built. It proved to be somewhat problematic as a basketball venue, even considering that it was only a temporary facility. For instance, many seats that were theoretically in line with the court were so far away that fans needed binoculars to see the action. Other seats were so badly obstructed that fans sitting there could only watch the game on the replay boards.
For most games, Rogers Centre seated 22,900 people. However, the Raptors sometimes opened the upper level when popular opponents came to town, expanding capacity to 29,000.
Rogers Centre has also hosted exhibition soccer, cricket, Gaelic football, Australian rules football and four NCAA International Bowl games. The 1992 World Series and 1993 World Series were played at Rogers Centre. The World Wrestling Federation hosted WrestleMania VI and WrestleMania X8 at Rogers Centre in 1990 and 2002.
On May 31, 1997, the venue hosted a post Olympic track and field event that pitted Olympic track champions Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson, in a 150m race that was billed as a competition for the title of the "World's Fastest Man". Bailey won the race, completing it in a time of 15 seconds and winning the 1.5 million dollar prize. Johnson pulled up lame at the 110m mark claiming a quadricep injury.
Soccer matches have been regularly held in recent years; they had been rarely played at the venue when its AstroTurf surface had been in place.
Rogers Centre is the site of several major high school and collegiate sporting competitions Prentice Cup for baseball and, from 1989 to 2003, the Vanier Cup championship of Canadian Interuniversity Sport football (then SkyDome). Since 2008, the Rogers Centre is the host of the Greater Toronto high school's Metro Bowl.
In January 2007, Rogers Centre played host to the first ever International Bowl, an NCAA college football game between Western Michigan University and the University of Cincinnati. In 2008, Rutgers played Ball State in the second International Bowl. The University at Buffalo Bulls and the University of Connecticut Huskies played in the third International Bowl on January 3, 2009. In November 2007, it hosted the 95th Grey Cup, its first since 1992 and third all-time. It was also the venue for the 2007 Desjardins Vanier Cup on Friday November 23, just two days before Grey Cup Sunday. It was the 16th Vanier Cup hosted at SkyDome/Rogers Centre, returning after a three year absence in which it was hosted by Hamilton, Ontario (2004 and 2005) and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (2006). It was the 56th Grey Cup hosted by the city of Toronto since the championship's inception in 1909, and the 40th Vanier Cup hosted by the Toronto since that championship's inception in 1965.
The National Football League's Buffalo Bills announced its intentions to play five "home" games (and three pre-season games) in Rogers Centre in October 2007; the first of these regular-season games took place on December 7 of the 2008 NFL season versus the Miami Dolphins. It marked the first time an NFL team has established a "home" stadium outside the United States. The Bills played a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Rogers Centre on August 14, 2008. (See Bills Toronto Series for more information regarding this.)
Games in the first round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic were played at the Rogers Centre.
In 2007, Bruce Power, Canada's largest private nuclear operating company, struck a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays that would allow the energy producing company to power the Rogers Centre with emissions-free electricity.
On July 16, 2010, the stadium hosted a friendly soccer match between England's Manchester United F.C. and Scotland's Celtic F.C. Manchester United F.C. defeated Celtic F.C. with a score of 3–1.
By the 2015 Pan American Games, the Rogers Centre will be used for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as baseball.
Facts and figures
The stadium roof has a patent, preventing its design from being easily copied: U.S. Patent #05167097. Officially registered on December 1, 1992 to dome architects Rob Robbie and Chris Allen.
To accommodate American fans, United States currency is accepted throughout the stadium.
The original mascot of the stadium was a turtle by the name of Domer.
When the retractable roof is open, people standing on the observation deck of the nearby CN Tower can look down on the field.
50 million people have visited SkyDome/Rogers Centre.
When the roof is open, 91% of the seats and 100% of the field is open to the sky, covering an area of 3.2 hectares (8 acres).
The roof weighs 11,000 tons, and is held together by 250,000 bolts.
The stadium's inward-looking hotel rooms have regular two-way windows, yielding instances of what some could consider indecent exposure. When SkyDome first opened, a couple engaging in sexual intercourse was televised on the scoreboard Jumbotron during a baseball game. Days later, a man was caught masturbating during a game in full view of the packed stands. The man, later tracked down by a Sports Illustrated reporter, calmly said, "I thought they were one-way windows." Patrons now have to sign contracts stipulating that they will not perform any lewd acts within view of the stadium.
When the stadium first opened, the Toronto Transit Commission was worried about the challenge of moving the large crowds. As a way to streamline the entry to the subway and to encourage public transit use to the stadium, all tickets for the first 30 days also worked as a Metropass.
The stadium corporation has been requested to help in the planning of other venues from the U.S., Netherlands, England, Australia, New Zealand, to Singapore, China and Germany (Source Rogers Centre Press release).
It was the most expensive stadium in both the CFL and Major League Baseball, constructed at a price of C$570 million ($888 million in 2011 dollars). This record was passed by the New Yankee Stadium at a cost of US$1.3 billion. If Montreal's Olympic Stadium (which used to be the home field of the Expos, only used for CFL playoff games since the late 2000s) were counted, it would take the title, with a 1976 cost of C$1.6 billion ($2.49 billion in 2011 dollars).