Cold Hard Rants: State of the Senate-Ors
As any loyal reader of this humble column knows, my careers have run an interesting gamut. Prior to my illustrious return to the dry cleaning and laundry world (where I currently bide my time), I was a speech-writer (amongst other duties) for a Member of the Canadian Parliament. Now, after you get over the shock that someone actually paid me to put pen to paper, the point of my mentioning this (besides shameless self promotion) is that I spent a few years in Ottawa, and as such became fairly familiar with the Ottawa Senators. Needless to say, after my experiences in Canada’s capital, I am not surprised to read reports this week that the Senators are having some attendance difficulties (paid attendance down 4000 per game, average ticket revenue per game down $300 000, season ticket holders down 3000) and as such are slashing ticket prices (amongst other incentives).
Ottawa is a difficult city, sports wise. As I quickly learned, it’s rare to find someone who is actually a born and bred Ottawanian (Ottawatonian? I never really found a definitive answer what to call someone from Ottawa, which I suppose somewhat proves my above point.) When you have a city like Ottawa that is filled with transplants from another city, and who bring with them loyalties to another city/team it’s hard to build a passionate fan base that will stick with their newly adopted team through thick and thin. All of a sudden, at the first sign of a distinct struggle, the adopted team is of no priority and attending their games is far down the list of things that must be done.
The second problem that is undoubtedly afflicting the Senators’ attendance is the location of their arena. When the Senators are winning, and playing quality hockey, the Scotiabank Place, located in Kanata, Ontario, is a delightful place to watch a winning hockey team. When the Senators are a mediocre team, as they currently are, Scotiabank Place is still a nice facility to watch a hockey game but the fact it is upwards of 30-45 minutes away from downtown Ottawa becomes a real drawback. Oftentimes the alternative of watching the game in a downtown sports bar, and avoiding the hassle that is attending a Senators game is the better option. At it’s core, this is a serious problem the Senators have yet to solve; anytime the fan base thinks getting to the game is too much of a hassle and not worth it, you are going to have serious problems.
Continuing on with the locale difficulties surrounding Scotiabank Place is that, in my humble opinion, hockey fans want an atmosphere surrounding the arena/game. They want to feel a buzz in the local shops and businesses near the arena, adding to the hype and the excitement. This isn’t possible with Scotiabank Place as it’s in the middle of a former farmer’s field, with no businesses around it. There is no spin-off nightlife to the Senators game. You drive to the arena in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you park in the parking lot, and you walk into the game. There are no places to get a pre-game meal or a post game drink. You drive, you watch, you depart. Sure, downtown businesses get on the Sens bandwagon, but when there is a 45 minute drive to the actual game that buzz dissipates to a whimper of enthusiasm.
When I lived in Ottawa, the Senators were an upper-echelon NHL team, icing, at the time, one of the best lines in the NHL with Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson. They played an exciting brand of hockey, and as a result of their style of play and subsequent on ice success, the Scotiabank Place was THE place to be. Of course, as with all teams in professional sports, peaks quickly become valleys, and the Senators began a re-tooling faze. Still, on most nights the Senators are competitive, and a fringe playoff team. What is proven by their attendance struggles this year is that for the Senators to be a hot ticket they must be playing hockey in an upper echelon. As I documented, there are a number of different factors playing into this, but ultimately I think the biggest problem is the lack of born and bred Senators fans. Looking around to the other Canadian NHL clubs, they are experiencing struggles similar to and worse than those of the Senators, and yet they are still filling the building night in, night out. The Edmonton Oilers are still “God-like” in Edmonton, despite playing an atrocious excuse for hockey. I think that this can only be explained due to the intense loyalty of their fan base. Given the truths that Ottawa is very much a transient town, and with this unlikely to end anytime soon, I don’t see these problems dissipating. It’s good to see though that the Senators ownership are pro-active and aware of their trouble spots and are doing their part to try and attract more people back to Scotiabank Place. A “cognizant to the situation” ownership group is a must in trying to solve any problems.
For IllegalCurve.com, I am Drew Mindell.
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