After 22 months of planning, Leafs TV finally became a reality on Friday night. Hosted by Bob Harwood, the launch attracted Leaf defencemen Dmitry Yushkevich, President Ken Dryden, former Leaf Rick Vaive and broadcaster Joe Bowen. Various members of the local media were also on hand to cover the event.
With the flick of a switch, the Leafs own television channel hit the airwaves at 6 p.m. (ET). Leafs TV is unique because it's the only specialty channel in North America dedicated exclusively to one sports team.
"I have two children at home and this is like giving birth again," said Executive Producer John Shannon. "The great thing is that this is a milestone for all of us here that they will never be able to take away from us. We'll be able to say to our friends, peers and family 'hey, I was there when it began.'"
The inaugural program on the new channel included a tour of the state-of-the-art home for both Leafs TV and Raptors NBA TV. Since the announcement that Leafs TV will be on Rogers and Cogeco more Leaf programming has become available.
As an example, it was announced during the program that the Leafs first preseason game, against the Montreal Canadiens on September 16 in St. John's, will be televised exclusively on Leafs TV.
Leafs TV will provide viewers with an authentic, insider all-Leafs environment. There will also be pre- and post-game shows along with an in-depth look at the Leafs community involvement. Former Leaf goaltender Glenn Healy will offer his analysis of the franchise and all Leaf games, punctuated with insightful, insider commentary.
"The Leaf fan wants more," said Richard Peddie, President and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Ltd. "Right now what they get is a mile long and an inch deep. We're going to give them a yard long and a mile deep. We're going to give them all kinds of things that they want to know about their favourite team."
While it may seem that Leafs TV could set the standard for other teams to follow, there may not be a market for duplication. A fan can only tolerate so much news from their favourite sports team. However, Leafs fans seem to crave any nugget of information that they can get their hands on. So can another pro team make that claim?
"I think that what you need is a team that has that kind of very broad and deep following like the Leafs," said Dryden. "You can imagine some of the NFL teams and a few baseball and soccer teams like that. But I think that it is the elite teams that are going to be able to do this in the near future and pull it off."
The aim for Leafs TV is really to get the fans closer to the team and their favourite players. With all the programming happening 24 hours a day, fans will get plenty of Leaf news and more.
"It's an opportunity for fans, especially the little ones, to find out more about the organization," said Yushkevich. "It's gives them a new look from the inside. I guess everybody wants to know about us and I think it's great."