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The Play-By-Play On MLSE’s Effort To Bring Toronto Back To Its Feet

Inside Luv2Pak’s Pivot To Helping Provide PPE To Front-Line Workers

By Chef Chris Zielinski, Culinary Director, MLSE On June 13, 2019, the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship, for the first time in franchise history, and marked a historic moment at Scotiabank Arena in terms of teamwork, all-out effort and community spirit. Though we might never have

By Chef Chris Zielinski, Culinary Director, MLSE

On June 13, 2019, the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship, for the first time in franchise history, and marked a historic moment at Scotiabank Arena in terms of teamwork, all-out effort and community spirit. Though we might never have imagined it at the time, there was an equally historic moment requiring the same teamwork, all-out effort and community spirit that was still to come.

In March, just as the outbreak of COVID-19 led the NBA, NHL and MLS to suspend their seasons, Scotiabank Arena was among the many venues that seemed destined to sit idle for an indefinite period of time.

At Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), being idle has never been part of our DNA.

Our business is unique, in the sense that our core product can change daily based on the wins, losses and memorable moments. Our business units are used to being nimble, innovative and responsive. This comfort with being flexible is what allowed us to shift our thinking quickly – from the execution of the core business to the execution of a community program to support a core human need.

Besides all the empty seats, the arena was full of food that would have gone to waste. That week, MLSE’s team of chefs came together to help donate over 27,000 lbs. of product to Second Harvest, a long-time partner of ours, which receives donations from MLSE venues throughout the year.

We could have stopped there. Much like the Maple Leafs and the Raptors during their finest moments, the company recognized an opportunity to up its game.

Project Management FTW

Following that initial donation, MLSE began discussions with the City of Toronto and the Province about the urgent needs arising from the pandemic. This inspired the food and beverage team to develop a program that would maximize MLSE’s ‘paused’ resources and infrastructure to make a big impact and support our fans.

Our goal was to build a large-scale meal program that would deliver meals to the vulnerable population and to also thank front-line healthcare workers for all they are doing to help keep Toronto and the surrounding communities safe during this challenging time. Doing so would be a win equivalent to a come-from-behind victory that gets fans jumping up with thunderous applause. With that in mind, there was perhaps no better name for this program than Bringing Toronto back to its feet.

The earliest meal-production volume estimates were ambitious, to say the least, but in some ways, MLSE had a lot of internal skills that paved the way. This included the ability to anticipate and chart a project path. Applying this to our estimates, we identified variables that could alter the original plan and the potential resulting outcomes, and from there, charted potential new paths so we could agilely adjust.

After assigning department leads, building the right communication processes and establishing milestones, we were ready to get started.

Redefining ‘Team Effort’

There were bumps along the way, especially doing it all by phone and video meetings. But thankfully the foundational strengths of the company and the project-oriented skill sets of our employees helped us overcome all obstacles to get the program to launch.

This started with the efforts of MLSE’s executive leadership team, who kept employees engaged and motivated by being transparent, sharing all the relevant information through town halls and weekly updates. They have recognized and acknowledged the hard work of their teams and they have encouraged open and honest conversations at all levels.

Hundreds of employees from different areas of the business came together to support this great initiative by volunteering their time. Every business unit in the company has had a hand in developing and executing this program. It requires clear objectives, concise communication and role clarity to be successful in working with such a broad group – much like that of a sports team on the ice, court, pitch or field.

MLSE’s partners also had a hand in supporting the program. Their response has allowed the program to not only achieve but surpass its distribution goals.

Bring new life to our mission

In that sense, Bringing Toronto back to its feet has been a good example of how MLSE’s mission statement — “Uniting and Empowering our employees to create extraordinary moments for our fans and each other” — is more than just a quote on the wall. It is important for us to be a community builder and play a leadership role. This is one of the ways that MLSE was able to showcase our commitment in a time when our business has halted, and we aren’t able to bring fans together the way we normally would for a game or event.

The feedback that we have received from the people that we are helping has been incredible, and we are very proud of the extraordinary moments we have created.

During this period of uncertainty and the halt of our operations, MLSE has turned one of the most challenging times in the history of our organization and city into an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

MLSE’s commitment to health and safety during this time has also strengthened the relationships and trust between employees and management.

This experience will only make MLSE and its employees stronger and enhance our culture of team spirit and giving back. It has also reminded us of the incredible talent, strength and agility that we have as an organization.

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