Attendance in Montreal looked like a potential problem even before the Alouettes' playoff game Sunday against the B.C. Lions, but just how bad it was was illustrated after kickoff. Empty seats were in evidence everywhere, with huge gaps in the end zones in particular, and although some of that was initially blamed on a downtown protest holding up shuttles, the eventual announced attendance of 15,107 is just awful for a postseason game, and well below what the Alouettes have typically drawn in even the regular season. Montreal went on to win 50-17, but did so in front of very few fans. What caused such a low turnout? There may have been a few factors.
The cold: It snowed overnight in Montreal, and temperatures at kickoff were +3 Celsius, which felt like 0 with the wind. That's not bad by CFL standards (and substantially better than the forecast for the late game in Edmonton), but it's not all that comfortable to sit through for four quarters. Watching on a TV at home or in a warm bar may have seemed like a better option to many. The Alouettes have typically played playoff games indoors in Olympic Stadium, but the deteroriating condition of that stadium's roof now means games can't be played there when there's any possibility of snow. Of course, while some more tickets may have been sold for an indoor game, the cavernous Big O may not have been an ideal venue either with Montreal's current attendance issues.
The Alouettes' poor season: While Montreal turned things around impressively following a 1-7 start to make the playoffs, that start may have hurt their reputation in the minds of the local populace. Their offence also hasn't been great, scoring a league-worst 20.0 points per game on the season, so fans looking for entertaining, high-scoring shootouts may have stayed away. Replacing a legend like retired quarterback Anthony Calvillo isn't easy, and the team didn't appear to do a good job of that until Jonathon Crompton's mid-year emergence. The Alouettes have struggled to draw fans all season long, averaging just 20,675 fans this year and not coming close to a sellout. Still, this playoff turnout is by far the worst of the year (the previous low was 19,440 against Ottawa).
The short turnaround: Until the final-week loss to Hamilton, Montreal was set to win the division, have a week off and host the East Final next week. That meant the Alouettes had less time to prepare and sell tickets for this game. To their credit, they appear to have still done admirably with various promotions (including billboards, ads, a pre-game party, and a "four tickets for the price of three" deal), but an extra week undoubtedly would have helped.
Ticket prices: While the cheapest ticket price of near $30 doesn't seem that unreasonable, it's still extra money to shell out, as playoff tickets aren't included in the Als' season ticket packages. Better seats would cost substantially more, too. Diminishing the price even more could be problematic, but it's understandable why not everyone would pay $30-plus a head to sit in the cold for hours and watch a team that hadn't been great this year.
Local competition: The Canadiens are doing well, and they're always the top draw in Montreal, plus it's a city full of concerts and events. Montreal is also set to host the Vanier Cup in a couple of weeks, and the hometown Montreal Carabins could be in that, so some may be saving their money for that event. Still, the Alouettes have always done much better before despite a crowded marketplace.
While some or all of these factors may have played a part, this is still a bad look for Montreal and the CFL. Here's hoping it's just about one game and not a sign of the Alouettes' diminishing importance in the city.