Some days it seems as if time flies by. Today’s post was written in October, but somehow got stuck in my phone and never published. So, a little later than intended, here it is.
There were plenty of tickets left, and with the rest of the family out of town, I took in a hockey game last night.
You would never know Ottawa was a big hockey town by recent attendance for the Ottawa Senators games. The arena has been half empty. Some nights they don’t even announce the attendance. When I last regularly attended games it was tough to get a ticket – the games were usually sold out.
This is Canada and the NHL, the top league in the world. It isn’t supposed to be like this.
It isn’t just that the team is bad, finishing last in the league last year and not expected to do much better this season. After all, the visiting teams are good. It is the off-ice issues that have caused many to fall, if not out of love with hockey then out of love with this team.
First was the departure of team captain Daniel Alfredsson in 2013. Alfie was the most popular player on the team, a perennial All-Star who led them to their only Stanley Cup appearance. Letting him leave to free agency was a sign of disrespect that didn’t sit well with many fans.
Then there was the downtown arena. The Senators won the bidding to develop what is arguably the most prized piece of downtown real estate, LeBreton Flats. Then the whole thing fell apart (lawsuits are still flying).
In the process the team president, who was in many ways the face of the organization in the community, was let go. He was judged by the team owner to not be up to the challenge of downtown development. Turns out nobody was.
Add to that a couple of losing seasons, a reluctance to spend money on players and an arena parking lot that can take an hour to exit post-game, and fans began finding reasons not to attend. Even perennial draws that used to command premium prices, Montreal and Toronto, are no longer guaranteed sellouts.
I could tell things were bad when I was offered a free ticket for every ticket purchased in October. Or five games in November for $99. Sellouts are extremely rare these days.
Yet the hockey remains good. At some point the fans will return, I think. Maybe the owner will decide to sell the team, and fans appreciating a fresh face at the helm, will return to supporting the Senators.
Or maybe a winning streak will generate some excitement and the crowds will improve. If they don’t, I can see Ottawa losing its NHL team. That would hurt, but fans would get over it.