Paul Bronfman was only trying to enjoy a night of U2 at the Air Canada Centre.
But instead, he says he spent most of Tuesday’s concert, craning his neck and watching the backs of thousands of spectators that filled the stadium rather than the Irish rockers who had hit the stage.
And it’s not the first time.
The esteemed film industry executive, who uses a wheelchair and has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, says he has long been making complaints to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the ACC’s operator, about sightlines in the accessibility sections.
Bronfman, who owns $75,000 worth of seasons Toronto Maple Leaf tickets, says every time he goes to an ACC event and a hit song brings everyone in front of him to their feet or an exciting sports play has people biting their nails and standing on their tippy toes, he feels “like a second-class citizen” because he can’t see anything.
“It is terrible. It feels like s–t,” he said, estimating that his view was blocked for about 85 per cent of the U2 show.
When he had an assistant move him to an aisle to get a better view, he says ACC staff intervened and insisted he move back to the wheelchair accessible area until Bronfman threatened to film the scuffle and called for a manager, who relented.
Still, he says he went home “in a rage” and made repeated calls to MLSE, threatening to take legal action over human rights violations.
In an email to the Star, Wayne Zronik, MLSE’s vice-president of facilities and live entertainment, called the situation “a fan experience issue that we take very seriously.
“We continue to explore a number of potential solutions that addresses the issue in a way that enhances the experience for those affected, including Mr. Bronfman,” Zronik said. “His feedback has proven to be extremely valuable to date, and we look forward to having him actively involved as we explore any potential solutions.”
For Bronfman, the incident particularly stings because he says he once took MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum for a tour of the wheelchair accessible sections, pointing out how sightlines could be improved by raising the areas or lowering the seats in front of them to give attendees an unobstructed view when others stand up at events.
“The building is 16 years old, (MLSE) know they have a problem and they have not chosen to do the right thing,” he said, noting that accessibility is much better at Toronto’s Molson Canadian Amphitheatre or American venues he has visited such as Los Angeles’ Staples Center or Boston’s Fenway Park.
“In particular, it feels like the ACC and management at MLSE don’t care.”
Bronfman offered to make either fix through his company, but he said MLSE refused, citing union issues.
The last straw, he said, was after the U2 show when he called MLSE to make yet another round of complaints but says he didn’t hear any concrete vows to improve the stadium.
“I am in a privileged position that I have never really used as an advocate for disabled people or multiple sclerosis or anything, but enough is enough,” he said, vowing to be MLSE’s “worst nightmare” until sightlines are fixed.
Being able to experience music like everyone else means so much, said Bronfman, because he is “dragged out of bed” every morning by assistants and helped all day long, not even able to scratch his nose by himself.
“Even though I am in the film industry, I love going to concerts. It is my joy. It is one of the things that hasn’t been taken away from me,” he says. “I like the sound. I like the visuals. I love the music.”