The Ottawa Senators are one of eight teams remaining in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have a bonafide star in Erik Karlsson, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 of their second-round series against the New York Rangers on Thursday night. At last check, the Senators played in Canada.
All of these conditions should, in theory, lead to a sellout crowd at Canadian Tire Centre, as fans are revel in the postseason fervor. Yet in Ottawa last night, the attendance was 16,744, nearly 2,500 fans below capacity according to the Ottawa Sun.
The Edmonton Oilers are selling out their arena so fans can strain their necks to watch a game from Anaheim on the Jumbotron.
The Ottawa Senators can’t sell out a home game.
So what’s going on here?
There are a few excuses or explanations floating around after Eugene Melnyk’s franchise committed what is a mortal sin worthy of instant relocation for an American team from a warm climate.
If you’ve lived in this city, you know all of these arguments. You know it’s not just one single factor for why it’s a challenge for the Senators to sell out their home arena. If you talk to 10 different Senators fans, they will give you 10 different reasons why they don’t attend games on a consistent basis. If this was merely a price point issue, that would be an easy fix. That’s what keeps some fans away, but not all of them.
The situation in Ottawa is a strange marriage of complacency and anger that’s hard to describe unless you live in this market. It’s a deep-rooted and complex situation that does not have a simple solution. The downtown arena will help with one part of the issue, but it won’t solve everything that ails this franchise. It certainly won’t erase the obstacle preventing the federal government from buying season tickets, so there will still be challenges ahead.
Those high up seats were being sold for $100, which is an incredible hike, but still doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Rangers fans are probably piling in cars right now to cash in on a deal for Game 2. Is it the parking thing? Now that I could see. When you raise your ticket prices for playoff games, it’s because the product you’re selling has improved and the stakes are higher. But demanding $10 more for folks to park their car is ridiculous, not to mention sheer greed. It’s still the same old lots. No wash has been included.
Maybe people spent the nicest day of the year at the beach and then didn’t want to leave? Another excuse being floated at the Postmedia end of the press box for the porous turnout: Too many games scheduled in April.
Attendance issues in Ottawa aren’t exclusive to the playoffs. Stefan Wolejszo, writing on The 6th Sens, had a terrific look at these various issues in Nov. 2016, with this summation:
Thanks to one playoff series win in the past ten years and the lack of confidence in Melnyk to deliver a winner, it’s hard to blame fans for what’s essentially a reasonable reaction to this product. Ottawa has a smart fan base and fatigue has set in and they’re voicing their displeasure with their wallets.
That doesn’t mean that this city and its fans don’t support this hockey club. They do. It just means that there’s a serious distrust with the way that their hockey team is operating. Until there’s a significant improvement or the vision for this team’s future outlook becomes less muddied, it’s an issue that the organization will have to address.
So it sounds like you can throw a dart and hit an issue and that’s going to be an issue that kept a fan from dropping coin on a ticket to watch Game 1 at the arena.
Oh, another issue: There aren’t enough of those fans.
The truth of the matter is that Ottawa simply doesn’t have a big enough season ticket base. Though the club never publicly discloses how many season tickets they have sold, it stands to reason that the number is well under 10,000. That means on a nightly basis, the Senators have to drum up enough walk-up sales to fill at least half their building – which is located well outside of the downtown core.
The magic number for Ottawa should be to get to 12,000 season tickets, but it’s certainly a challenge for a market that does not have the corporate support that other Canadian cities enjoy.
Can’t sell out a playoff game. Don’t have enough fans in the fan base.
These are things you hear about places like North Carolina, not Canada.
And if you think Carolina Hurricanes fans – whose team has been put on Quebec relocation watch by segments of the Canadian media for two years – have an iota of sympathy for the Senators, well … just read what Canes Country had to say:
This league’s media is so damn territorial it doesn’t even realize when it’s showing itself right in front of its face. If attendance is a non-issue because of reasons A, B, and C in this case, then that standard needs to apply everywhere. And when it doesn’t – because, let’s be honest, it won’t – feel free to bump this column right back up to the top of the page.
No, the Senators aren’t relocating to Iqaluit. And neither are the Hurricanes. Enough already.
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