Game Day

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. IMG_20191025_2131588

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. IMG_20191025_2149540

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.

4 comments

  1. charliecheapskate · · Reply

    Quebec City and Seattle applied for teams last expansion – only Seattle won. Maybe there’s a connection. Bettman said Quebec City didn’t meet all the requirements to get a franchise.

    Getting an arena downtown would be nice but it looks like it’s a long way off. I’m not holding my breath.

    Agreed – for all the cities that have arenas downtown, public transit is the best choice.

    Yesterday was another home game and another bus fail – late and the driver didn’t know the route.

    If I lived in the suburbs – all the southern and eastern parts of the city, I wouldn’t want to be driving to the arena. Direct bus service is so much easier. I do not know why it was removed but I can guess. You have to be really dedicated to bus to the arena now.

    Also, the mayor wants his LRT project to be a one size fits all and all riders should be funneled through it. Makes me wonder if transit planning here is backwards. Is it trying to make the riders fit management’s plan instead of designing the network to fit the needs of the passengers.

    Some weeks ago I wrote a letter to my councillor and Senators season ticket rep after a night when the bus didn’t show at all and my ticket rep said they have no control over what they get from Transpo. That made me wonder what the Sens are doing to improve their attendance issues. They should be working with Transpo to arrange routes that work for fans. Or was it the vicious circle – ridership was down so routes got cut because they weren’t used enough together with this team seemingly operating on a shoe-string budget.

    Next home game I will roll the dice on bus service again.

    1. Admittedly the team isn’t responsible for the bus service – but they could subsidize it, as is done at the other arena in town.

      I was writing to the mayor about some water rate concerns and mentioned the bus issue. Got an immediate response on the water bill, nothing on busing to the games.

      I went to one game this fall, thought about going to more but talked myself out of it when I remembered that I would be using public transit.

  2. charliecheapskate · · Reply

    There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle.

    The departure of Alfie was a big blunder and some fans thought it was about the owner being unwilling to pay the going rate – “cheaped out”.

    Lebreton Flats – everything seemed good until it wasn’t and apparently there were hints of trouble behind the scenes before everything publicly blew up.

    Watching top players leave has been painful but the message from the GM was that they didn’t want to stay here for whatever reason and to me getting something back in a trade is better than watching elite players leave at the end of their contract with nothing in return. Other fans don’t see it that way and point the finger back at the owner. And maybe the burning question is why they didn’t want to stay here – finger pointing at owner again?.

    I have watched every home game the last few years and last year was painful to watch with so many defensive mistakes but this year has brought exciting fast-paced hockey with fewer breakdowns.

    I’ve heard comments about arena parking – delays getting out and price too high but I can’t say much about this because I take the bus to the arena though I see the lineups on the way out. Also parking rates in other cities are higher. I doubt the parking charges here are anywhere near what is charged in New York at Rangers games.

    Every former fan has their own reason for not attending but I think one of the reasons is financial. The multi-government cock-up that is the Phoenix pay system is defintely an issue. Uncertainty about getting paid and being able to pay your bills puts hockey tickets way down the list of priorities.

    I don’t see moving the team on the immediate horizon but it could happen. Look at how much effort the NHL has put into keeping hockey in Arizona. But if the team did move, this fan wouldn’t be very happy.

    1. I see a team move to Quebec City as a strong possibility.

      I’m sure you do have to pay more for parking in New York. But NYC has great public transit, no need to take your car downtown.

      Ottawa’s arena is in the suburbs and the direct bus to games from my area was eliminated last year. Not because people didn’t use it but because OC Transpo wanted to funnel riders to the new LRT. That adds considerable time to my game-day trip, and, as I told the mayor, makes it less likely for me to attend games or other events at the arena. Who needs the hassle?

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