Depending who you ask or which article you read, Toronto is either a great sports city or it isn’t. In 2011, the now-defunct ESPN The Magazine dubbed Toronto as the worst city for sports in North America. Six years later, Rolling Stone opined: “Is Toronto the Next Great North American Sports City?”
Not only did the former criticism draw the ire of most Torontonians, then-Maple Leafs president and GM Brian Burke called it “absurd and offensive,” while claiming he didn’t think “ESPN knows squat about Canada. I don’t think they know squat about hockey.” Ironically, a decade later, the NHL returned to ESPN beginning with the 2021-22 season following a seven-year, multiplatform agreement announced that March.
While the debate whether or not Toronto is a great sports city continues in some circles, Canada’s most populous city continues to cement itself in the global sports conversation, most recently by hosting the 2024 NHL All-Star Game.
“Toronto fans are among the most knowledgeable and passionate in our game and the city’s rich hockey history dates back to the creation of the sport,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said when Toronto was named host. “What better place to play host to our annual midseason celebration of the best and brightest in the NHL?”
The roots of the NHL All-Star Game date back to February 14, 1934 when the Maple Leaf Gardens hosted an “all-star” game benefit to serve as a fundraiser for forward Ace Bailey who suffered a career-ending injury during the 1933-34 season. Toronto also hosted the first official NHL All-Star Game in 1947, while the 2024 event was the ninth time the Maple Leafs and Toronto hosted NHL All-Star activities and the first since 2000.
Fittingly, in front of more than 18,000 at Scotiabank Arena, the Leafs’ four all-stars—Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner—helped guide Team Matthews to a 7-4 win over Team McDavid to win the 2024 NHL All-Star Game and $1 million prize.
“I think special’s the perfect way to describe it,” Matthews said during an in-game interview. “No better place to have an (NHL) All-Star Game than in the best city and the best hockey city in the world.”
Fans not only made their voices heard in the arena by constantly cheering on their local stars while jeering the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov, they were out in full force throughout the city all weekend, whether it was at bars and restaurants, taking advantage of the NHL’s free “hockey for all rink” at Nathan Phillips Square, or by setting an NHL All-Star merchandise sales record.
According to the league, merchandise sales revenue in Toronto eclipsed the previous high mark set in Nashville in 2016 by 65%, while also increasing 128% from last year’s all-star weekend in South Florida.
“Early estimates suggest about $50-60 million in economic impact for Toronto, which is driven by spending at a variety of businesses including hotels, venues, restaurants, retail, transportation and more,” said Ashley Rochefort, media relations manager at Destination Toronto. “Longer term, there is a reputational lift that comes from experiencing the city’s festive and energetic atmosphere and being seen as the home of hockey and a hub for major sporting events.”
While hockey is undoubtedly king in Canada and the Greater Toronto Area has produced some of the game’s greatest players, soccer’s popularity continues to skyrocket. According to the 2023 Canadian Youth Sports Report, 16% of all Canadian youth between 3-17 participate in organized soccer, or approximately 1 million out of the 6.1 million children in the country.
Toronto will again take center stage in two years as one of the host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Out of the six matches to be played at BMO Field, the first on June 12, 2026 isn’t just Canada’s opener at the tournament, but will be the first-ever men’s FIFA World Cup match played on Canadian soil.
But the city isn’t stopping there. Currently completing the second phase of a major makeover to Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays and City of Toronto hope to welcome the MLB All-Star Game back to the Great White North. Toronto has only previously hosted the 1991 MLB All-Star Game.
With the next three MLB All-Star Games already announced for Texas (2024), Atlanta (2025) and Philadelphia (2026), Toronto, Boston and Chicago are reportedly top candidates for the 2027-29 festivities.
“The process we’ve gone through has been both formal, where we’ve submitted and answered their questionnaire and said here are some ideas in Toronto showing our written commitment, and then there’s been ongoing dialogue with us and the league with Mark (Shapiro, Blue Jays president and CEO), stating our interest,” Blue Jays’ executive vice president of business operations Marnie Starkman told Sportsnet. “They’re well aware that we’re interested.”
Regardless of when Toronto will be awarded the Midsummer Classic, the multicultural metropolis continues to position itself as a significant player in the global sports industry.