Monday, November 09, 2009

Senators attendance drop should raise red flags

... but have you seen many displayed on cars lately?

The Sens Army is lying pretty low.

There's a malaise in Hockey Country, no question. Ottawa Senators attendance is down more than 1,100 fans per game compared to the same point last season. (The average is 1,191 after Tuesday's game vs. Edmonton.) Take a look around the next time you're out, in a non-sports context. You could shoot a cannon through a Tim Hortons during the noon rush and not hit anyone wearing a Sens hat or hoodie in some parts of town.

(Update: Forbes magazine NHL valuations are out: Note which team lost money.)

There was "grumbling" (Ottawa Citizen) about the $14 cost for the tickets to the game the club's American Hockey League farm team played at Scotiabank Place last weekend. Two seasons ago, after the run to the Stanley Cup final, parents would have paid twice that to give their kids a Bag O' Glass if it had the Senators logo.

At the very least, though, the Senators' fall from grace is an issue. Will anyone write about it in this town? In Ottawa, make the barest inference the hockey team's doing poorly and you'll taste hemlock in your chicken shawarma. You're either a naysayer, a hater or a Leafs fan — theres always a label small minds fall back on. Plausible deniability, don't you know.

The media here is understandably in the tank for the organization. It's the city's only claim on major-league status. Pointing out anything negative is a sure ticket to the shit list. So, no one is going to suggest that the Senators can only be profitable and fill the arena when they're winning even though that's a bad business model in a salary capped-league. They only will if the Senators end up cap-in-hand again like they were in 1999 and 2003 and, personally, let us hope that does not recur.

People who are not beholden to the Senators for access are starting to ask these questions about owner Eugene Melnyk's plaything. Some mental red flags went off in October when there were 2,000 empty seats for a home game vs. the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Around the same time, James Mirtle made a parenthetical comment the Sennies "could lose millions this year if they miss the playoffs."

All told, the Sennies are down an average of 1,141 fans from the same point as last season (from 19,484 to 18,343 after nine home dates). Late last night, you could have gone on the team's website and reserved four 100-level tickets for Tuesday's home game vs. Edmonton without having to sit behind the net, even with the game a little more than 36 hours away. FOTB Jean-Pierre Allard reports, "The Orleans SENS Store has closed its doors with Christmas just around the corner."

It would be glib to say this points to a downward spiral that will end with the franchise becoming the Mississauga Senators between now and the next time the Leafs make the playoffs. To be clear, it's nowhere near that point. (Granted, that might explain why the Eunibomber lashed out at Jim Balsillie back in the summer when he was trying to move a team into Southern Ontario.)

There are outside influences weighing on the franchise. The NHL is a mess. Gary Bettman's NHL is designed to make all 30 teams semi-watchable about half the time. That has hurt the Senators, who had a stacked team from 2003 through '06, more than some franchises.

Many passive sports consumers who got on the Senators bandwagon might be backing another team. Most sports consumers in any city are fluid in their tastes. It's the nature of the beast, not matter how it angers the diehards who are there for all 82 games, since getting a life is not an option (GAC).

What's happened?

It's a combo of discontent with how the team has fallen (7-7 this season vs. a suspiciously spongy schedule), the economy, Ottawa's demographics and the city's cultural paternalism.

Ottawa is not a town of front-runners. You typically hear, "this city loves winners," when someone is trying to make an argument about bringing a CFL team back to town (and I do hope it works). That's off.

It is a town of followers which loves whatever maintains the status quo. People claim the CFL teams died because of poor on-field performance. However, the Rough Riders had decent support throughout the 1980s, when they didn't have a single winning season. It took a solid decade of losing, a league-wide crisis in the CFL and owners from (affects scary voice) out of town before people started staying away.

Institutions govern so much of life in Ottawa that people fall into herd mentalities. It happens to the best of us and most of us are nowhere near the best, present company included. Those government-town stereotypes are true to some extent. This is one of the few places where a team could even use a slogan as militaristic as "Sens Army" and "A Force United" (which some culture-jamming bloggers altered to "A Farce United" last season) without getting some media outcry.

Ottawa is like a city composed of insecure teenage girls. The analogy fits Toronto, too, except in T.O. the creature has sharper claws. If Toronto is the character Rachel McAdams played in Mean Girls, Ottawa is the one played by Lacey Chabert. Fitting in and doing whatever is popular at that moment is everything, because they know they can be cast out and won't be missed.

That seeps into sports. "Hey, let's get the CFL back! ... "Hey, Toronto has a World Series baseball team, so let's get a Triple-A club one year before a strike devastates the professional baseball industry and accelerates the death knell of the closest MLB team, the Montreal Expos." They were late to the party.

When the CFL comes back, people will attend because Roger Greenberg, Bill Shenkman, John Ruddy, Jeff Hunt and whoever becomes mayor after Legal Suit Larry O'Brien say they should. The culture is that top-down.

The Senators are not as much of a thing to do among people who only get into sports when it's part of a socially approved mass movement, the ones who are needed to sell out the building and make impulse buys. It's of a piece with having a well-educated populace which has spent a tremendous amount of time in institutions like universities, which are paternalism in a can.

Never mind that mindset has actually put the team behind the 8-ball since the early days and that they've managed to make it work as much as they can. Institutionalized NIMBYism (in the form of the National Capital Commission) eventually led to the Senators building an arena way out yonder in Kanata in the mid-1990s, far from the city's population core. In Toronto, the teams might (might?!) suck and blow, but at least you're downtown once the Blue Jays, Raptors, or TFC are through indulging their flair for mediocre public display.

In Ottawa, you're stuck waiting a half-hour to get out of the parking lot before driving home. People in the public sector were willing to trade sleep for seeing enthralling, winning hockey, as opposed to what they're getting.

That should hopefully help explain there are somee small warning signs are there. It's certainly fair game at a time whe the Canadian hockey mafia start speculating whenever any U.S.-based team has a small crowd (granted, we're talking less than 10,000 in some places), but oh no, you couldn't possibly suggest Bettman's idiotic-times-eight business practices will impact a small-market franchise in Canada playing in a poorly located arena.

As for the Senators organization, as someone who's interested in successful group dynamics and leaderships — call it compensation for some career-related issues — one does wonder who keeps Melnyk in line. (This is speculative, to be sure.) Former GM John Muckler and former president Roy Mlakar were old-time hockey guys. One can imagine them telling Melnyk to shut up and that the only thing he knows about ice is that it's needed to make diaquiris. You wonder who's there to tell Melnyk he's not going to recover that $4-million bonus he had to pay Dany Heatley since it was a binding contract, or that suggesting fans and critics should "get a bomb and blow themselves up" is unbecoming.

Deny, deny, deny, all you want, but the Senators have some issues off the ice (as for on the ice, let's leave that to the professional sportswriters). The easy way out is to say it's the economy, calibre of opponents or people staying home to save local television by making sure they watch all 3 CSIs on CTV.

It will get harder to ignore if the Senators keep sliding. No one can stand here in 2009 and tell you where the NHL will have teams in 2019. Just don't be too smug.

(For anyone doubting the 1,191 figure, I counted. Bear in mind it's a small sample size and there are variables such as day of the week and opponent. For instance, last season's 10th home game was on Saturday afternoon, this season it was Tuesday:)
Opponent '08-09 '09-10 Total
Det/NYI 20,182 18,075 -2,107
Phx/Atl 20,179 19,360 -819
Bos/Pit 19,318 17,014 -2,304
Fla/TB 18,952 17,732 -1,220
Ana/Nsh 19,762 18,970 -792
Wsh/Bos 18,485 20,154 +1,669
Phi/Atl 18,938 17,297 -1,641
NY/TB 19,061 17,511 -1,550
Mtl/NJ 20,475 18,971 -1,504
NYR/Edm 19,619 17,977 -1,642

Avg. 19,497 18,306 -1,191


57 comments:

Kat said...

1) The Renegades left because of poor management. All Bill Watters cared about was the cash grab on the Grey Cup. He left the Renegades at a very sensitive point in the season - essentially screwing them over for the next season. Then the CFL thought it would be a smart idea to allow the Gliebermans to own the team again, only years after they were the same reason for the team folding the first time. The fans were there and its obvious the league office in Toronto didn't care at all. Look at Toronto and Hamilton when they were at risk of losing their teams. The league stepped in right away.

2) The Lynx demise was due to several reasons. As much as Howard Darwin did for the city of Ottawa when it comes to sports, he was a businessman. A businessman that didn't know how to deal with sponsors. The teams corporate sponsors were so upset with Darwin that they wouldn't even come back under new management of Ray Pecor. The baseball strike and the speed of the game also factored in. I don't think you can just talk about Ottawa when it comes to losing baseball teams. There were teams in Edmonton, Vancouver and Montreal that all folded. It's only a few years where I'm sure we will see Toronto lose the Blue Jays (attendance and lack of the league caring).

3) Not necessarily this post, but I hate when people compare Ottawa's attendance to the other 5 Canadian teams in the NHL. You know what the difference is? Ottawa has only been around for 17 years or so. Toronto and Montreal have had 80+ years to build a fanbase. Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton had several more years as well. People in Ottawa became fans of Toronto and Montreal because those were the closest teams to the area... and that is completely natural. It takes years for teams to develop solid fanbases. You are starting to see more young Sens fans, and thats how you do it. You aren't going to covert many 20+ year old Leafs and Habs fans into Sens fans -- let alone any other team.

So attendance is down a little. Big deal. And yes, attendance will factor on a team's attendance. You can probably say this is true 80% of the time. But Ottawa's attendance is nothing to worry about.

K said...

Sorry, I know most of this has not even been 100% related to your post, but I am very passionate about this subject in general. Anyway, I wanted to also add the Ottawa Rapids. Let's put it this was Rob Hall and Zip.ca are complete morons. My grandma could run a better organization with her eyes closed.

For the first 2-3 months, they have all the concessions stands and portables opened. In the main concessions stand they had 2 runners for each cashier in addition to two fryers and likely at least 4 people in the back making the food.

They hire about 15 promotional staff where only 4 of them were actually working... the rest of them would be walking around drinking beer and stuffing their face with food. Some of the girls would be gaulking at the players and trying to flirt with the ones sitting out.

In addition to that promotion team they have four girls with blonde hair and blue eyes flipping over K's to signify a strikeout. It was clearly too hard for one person to do it. And it was clearly a great decision when there were three strikeouts in the game...

Rob Hall and his crew killed professional baseball in Ottawa for the final time.

But to be completely honest it will never work here again because of the game. The game is too slow for people and people just don't understand the strategy... or they just aren't interested.

A Sens Fan said...

OR

Maybe it's just due to the higher prices of tickets?

This article, while well written, is a definite over reaction and over analysis.

sager said...

Kat,

Thanks for the comment. All of these issues have been covered in the past, so it need not be revisited. I've been the first to point out broader trends have played a part in teams biting the dust instead of doing the usual self-flagellation.

I didn't make the comparison to the other Canadian-based teams for that reason. However, if you look at the Toronto Raptors in the NBA or Toronto FC in MLS, they have built a fervent base of loyalists in less time, even though the results haven't been there.

One point of doing this was to simply say, it's out there. Eleven hundred fans a game is potentially a big deal in a gate-driven league like the NHL, especially if the people who are going are there on 2-for-1s and package deals.

As for baseball, part of me died when the Lynx were relocated. But like my friend Pete Toms, who's versed in this, will tell you, blaming the '94-95 strike is a convenient excuse. Ottawa kind of jumped in all "Us too!" right as the pro game in Canada had peaked.

One small point: I can't speak for them all, but in Edmonton it was more a case of an owner getting while getting was good and selling out to U.S. interests. People were still going to see the old Trappers.

sager said...

Oh, overreaction and overanalysis — favourite fallbacks for people who are going told something they can't handle.

Thanks for jumping in the prove-my-point boat.

projectsmith said...

heh 30 Minutes in traffic.
That would be a breeze.

I hate the rink location. I hate the rink. I am not a Sens fan so I only make to watch teams I want to see.
So this is an outsider looking in.

1. The experience sucks at the rink.
2. The location like I said...
3. Ticket price increase.
4. Poor mngmt since day one.

Attendance will be an issue as construction continues on the HWY around the rink. The bridge is also set for re-in statement late next season. It will be a nightmare getting in and out of rink.

Poor planning overall on the part of the province and the city. That team should have had the rink where the war museum is now.

One more thing.
This article was very well written.
Not over analyzed one bit.
Asses in seats equates a healthy organization. The fact that the consumer branch of the team closed before the xmas holidays rings as a warning sign.
Add to the fact that Brad Marsh took his name off the main stay resto in the rink as well.

Jason Cormier said...

I agree with the spirit of the article but I did want to comment on the issue of location. While it could be argued that Terrace simply saw the Sens as the starting point of a real estate deal, any thoughts of the team downtown were a non-starter. There wasn't any available land for development. Readers who think otherwise might want to take 10 minutes to familiarize themselves with the NCC and the land it controls in Ottawa.

Jason Cormier said...
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Sergei Shirokov Fan said...

$14 a ticket? You can't even get a ticket that cheap at MTS Centre for a Moose game. Can't even crack 5,000 to see your own prospects play. Wow.

Robert C. said...

Lived in Ottawa for 3 years and never went to a Sens game. Think it looks like a long trek to Kanata by car? Imagine you're a college student downtown and riding OC Transpo.

Here in Kingston the Senators TV stranglehold disappeared last year. Leaf games were blacked out as Kingston was part of the "Ottawa Region" for years. As a Bruins fan I can say this is a Leaf town. There is a barbershop nearby with wall to wall Leaf stuff. To a crazy degree.

All of a sudden last year it changed and the Leaf blackout went away. Never read how or why it happened but it did. LeafsTV available in town and no more Sportsnet blackouts. Both Sens and Leaf games on in the area.

Side effect was I saw less Sens coverage around here last season even though Toronto was bad. But Leaf fans were quite excited to see more of their games locally.

That change can't be a good omen for the Senators. Was out of their hands but their TV advantage in outlying areas is going away.

Anonymous said...

"Entrenched NIMBYism eventually led to the Senators building an arena way out yonder in Kanata in the mid-1990s, far from the city's population core. "

The Senators built where they did because they owned the land. There wasn't any talk of a rink downtown to stir up NIMBYism.

Tao of Stieb said...

Great piece Neate.

I was at the Pittsburgh game earlier in the season, and was stunned to see just how many empty seats there were.

And it is funny that you write this a week after I read Team 1200's Steve Warne make a case on his blog that the NHL really needs to rip the franchises out of a bunch of American cities and bring them to Canada to save the league.

Maybe we shouldn't get too smug or too comfortable about our standing as a franchise that is absolutely safe in its current location.

(Also, would it frickin' kill the Senators to replace that ancient scoreboard at centre ice? It makes the team look cheap, even as they jack up ticket prices.)

Dave said...

Canada is not a sporting nation. We won't cover/pay attention to any other sport than hockey. We don't even support that game very well. And we've completely failed to grasp the concept Bill Veeck gave us 60-70 years ago, which I'll paraphrase: You HAVE to entertain the fan, because wins/losses are beyond your control. To all the hockey fans who "harumph" at cheerleaders and pyrotechnics and shootouts and other "American" ideas, make sure you turn out the lights on your way out. Giving up on baseball is NUTS for people who cherish short summers as we do. But it requires some thinking, and I guess that's too much to ask a populace brainwashed into thinking that sitting in front of a tv watching a puck rattle around to the endless drone of analysis constitutes "passion" for the game. I'm sad that at some point, this country bifurcated with our neighbours to the south, and we became disinterested in being passionate engaged fans of baseball, football, basketball, and yes, even hockey (all of which are well attended at the high school, college & pro levels ). We'd rather not actually go to the game. We struggle to support even hockey. (But then, as mentioned before, a night at the hockey game has generally the least entertainment value of all the major sports, just ask your kids or the "casual" fan you know). How do we ever get it back?

Jayme said...

Sager
You do make alot of very good points.But what i get sick of and this is not pointed at you is the bashing ottawa by fans and some media.


Sergei Shirokov
First look around the ahl very few teams draw over 5,000 a game.The other thing is there alot and i mean alot of hockey in ottawa some may say to much.From the nhl team to major jr to jr the list goes on.There is only so far the sports dollar goes and with the long list of teams in ottawa peoples dollars gets thin.

Dave
In fact for the most part canada does support hockey very well.In the states basketball is really hurting in terms of attendance.

Tao of Steib
No team is 100% safe expect toronto and montreal.

Dennis Prouse said...

Fair analysis, Neate, but it does get clouded when you toss in the personal stuff about Melnyk. Who keeps him in line? He is the owner - how about NO ONE. He writes the cheques, so he calls the tune. As meddling owners go, there are far worse than him throughout the League, starting with Aquilini in Vancouver.

It's not surprising that attendance is down. Ottawa is one of the smaller markets in the League, yet we have one of the bigger buildings. The Senators will likely sit at about 10th out of 30 teams on attendance, again a pretty impressive number when you consider that Ottawa has, generously, 900,000 people within a reasonable drive of the building. Add in the other revenues from Scotiabank Place, plus marketing and broadcasting revenues, and you will have a hard time convincing me that this franchise is in any difficulty. The fact that the team and the building are tied together is critical - they are the anchor tenant for a busy, profitable building.

Anonymous said...

The rink is far as all get out and the team is mediocre.

I stopped buying season tickets when they missed the playoffs and only go to single games now.
Out of curiosity, I went to Ottawa Senators.com and I could grab 8 tickets in 100L as of 6:30 p.m. on a gameday.

As for the Penguins, Leafs and other games, they overcharge for those games or ask you to buy another ticket as well.

Bottom line is...we don't need to buy tickets because Melnyk is at the helm and he'll cover the losses.
All the games are on TV so I usually hit Don Cherry's downtown or just watch from the comfort of my own home.

I'll take my friend see the Rangers and Habs but not going to haul it from Hunt Club to Kanata to see an underperforming team.
Daniel

sager said...

@Dennis: Agree to disagree, it does not cloud it all.

Consumer confidence in the team is down. First and foremost it's because of their record, but some fans will wonder if it starts at the top.

As for Aquilini, I'll say what I said on Kinger's show one time, someone else being stupider and crazier does not justify doing something stupid and crazy. A good owner, I would think, puts good people in place and trusts them to do a job.

I don't see that happening with the Senators. You wonder if there's some yes-manism going on. The Hail-Mary AK27 signing, the no-chance grievance vs. Heatley, all sound like stuff done to appease Mr. Eugene.

Jayme said...

Sager
Can you tell em why your making ottawa out to beeing this awful sports town.Yet giving all types of credit to toronto.As for the baby sens yes some fans may not have been happy and people are more then happy to bring that up.Yet in toronto people are not happy about paying $10 for the marlies and there only avg 2700 a game.Very few bring anything like that up and i am getting sick of it.

sager said...

Jayme,

That worn-out phrase "bad sports town" doesn't appear in the post for a reason, so I don't know where you're getting that from. I don't know what makes a bad sports town. If the worse thing you can say about Ottawa is someone would rather jog or join a rec league than sit there and watch someone else sweat for three hours, we're doing pretty well.

Ottawa's an average town for entertainment, though. Sports is entertainment.

As for Toronto, where did you see me giving credit? It says the teams suck but at least they put the arenas downtown (or close to it). It's a fair comparison.

It seems like people want to be treated as a big-time city but don't want an outside scrutiny. Meantime, anything going on in Toronto is fair game for the ROC. That's a double standard.

dzuunmod said...

Two questions that went unanswered in Ottawa sports for a decade and a half almost, were:

1. What would happen if Ottawa had a lousy (non-expansion) hockey team?

2. What would happen if Ottawa had a good CFL team?

We might be starting to see the answer to #1 now, but we haven't been close to seeing #2 since the 70s.

Jim said...

The attendance decline is undeniable and worrisome. Thank you for pointing it out. But your analysis is seriously marred by unsupported speculation, factual error and tired old anti-Ottawa cliches.

sager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sager said...

Jim,

Anything I say about your comment being a dead giveaway you're an insular bumpkin would just be unsupported speculation.

simmons said...

sager said...
Oh, overreaction and overanalysis — favourite fallbacks for people who are going told something they can't handle.

Thanks for jumping in the prove-my-point boat.

-----------------------------------

Repeating your point and insulting readers doesnt make you right. Poor retort and is IS overwritten and filled with points to make the conclsuion you already wanted to make.

Plus the insults ive read from you in the comments make me laugh after seeing your picture.

You've got a great face for radio that's for sure.

Why so mad at ottawa? not enough all you can eat buffets?

Stick to facts and be prepared for criticism. Just because someone doesnt agree with you, doesnt mean theyre a moron.

You're a joke

sager said...

It's hard to stay on your moral high-horse when you're insulting someone's weight and calling him a "joke," but you pull it off, sir.

You make the call whether that's insult or a compliment.

Jayme said...

Sager
You say ottawa and toronto are like teenage school girls but toronto has sharper claws.To me that is meaning toronto is a better sports market.I am not saying ottawa is perfect its not i just wish one day a reporter would right a story on toronto and open peoples eyes.Yes the leafs/toronto fc and raps get solid support but out side of that support is not good for the most part.Media of all soirts jummp on ottawa if there down a couple thousands at the sens.Yet toronto who have under 12,000 for a few jays games there was very little.Why is that is it to protect the image of toronto and the media does not want to bring to light that toronto os not this great sports town that some make them out to be.Why is more media given to how poorley the marlies and major jr gets again is it to portect the image oof toronto.I have talked to people who thyink all teams in toronto are all supported very well yet the fact is there all not supported that well.I am not trying to pick a part your story as it does have vlaid points and you are one of the better ones who is fair.I am just sick of the anti ottawa pro toronto that is getting more and more mostly from the national media.

Sacul said...

The Senators need the casual fans who just hear a few snippets from various media sources. Anyone who disagrees with many of your points is considered blind, a homer, defensive, etc.
Biased articles like this are part of the problem...so that means YOU! Media is so internet-based now, it's very regional/national as opposed to local. All the negative commentary on the Senators by Toronto-based traditional media and people with a chip against the team from everywhere have hurt the team. In a city where the biggest employer (by a long shot) does not allow tickets to be used for business purposes, the team needs the casual fans who want a great show for their money. If the snippets they hear are that the team isn't good or isn't entertaining (or doesn't exist) then they move on to other things.
You must be best friends with the cynical Erin Nicks. The Sens are certainly not beyond reproach, they're just a good team, a great organization in a great city. The "Rodney Dangerfield" of pro sports...

sager said...

@Jayme: The entire Sun Media chain ran a two-page spread last Sunday (might have been the Sunday before) calling Toronto "Loserville." So talking about teams from one city constantly is not pro-anything. The reason TSN, Sportsnet, HNIC, talk about the Maple Leafs is because their ratings show there are more Leafs fans. They know what side their bread is buttered on. We are fortunate we do have excellent people here who know the Senators inside and out, both those inside the velvet rope and guys like Sens Army Blog and The 6th Sens.

The Mean Girls line was meant to allude more to how Toronto, the largest city in the country, is the trend-setter for the province and country and other cities follow. That's all.

@Sacul: Just to be clear, instead of complaining the media shows favouritism to the Senators, you'd rather see everyone show more favouritism. It's not on the media to win the hearts and minds of those casual supporters.

Also, pro sports is a business. Many franchises need those big business accounts from heavy-hitters who take clients. If that's off the table in a city this size, it's a worrying thing.

Meaghan said...

I don't doubt that there's cause to worry about the Sens' attendance; no argument from me on that part of your post.

I'm wondering if you can give an example of paternalism at work in Ottawa, by which I mean a case of something that has actually happened to prove what you're saying about how people blindly do whatever authority figures tell them to. I grew up in Ottawa, and I have to say that I never noticed that kind of culture. I get that Ottawa is a government town and I do think it has an inferiority complex, but I find it hard to believe people are that incapable of independent thought. When I lived in Ottawa, I did things because I wanted to. I went to Sens and 67's games because I liked the teams. Does this mean I'm a freak? What makes you think Ottawa is significantly different from other cities in this respect?

sager said...

Meaghan,

That is a good question. To steer it around to sports, look at Calgary in 2004 when the Flames had their playoff run. The Red Mile seemed to be this spontaneous thing that started up among the people. In Ottawa in 2007, nothing happened until someone organized it, by about the third round of the playoffs.

Ever been to Bluesfest? Everyone's rocking out, having a good time, and then, uh-oh, getting close to 11 p.m., everyone be quiet, don't want the old folks to get mad.

This is anecdotal, but a friend tells a story about a time his row stood up to cheer during a Springsteen concert at SBP. The people behind them yelled, "I hope you're happy, you're ruining the show for us," because, you know, they decided to stand up because it felt good instead of being told to stand up by a giant video scoreboard.

You cannot paint everyone with the same brush. The rub with Ottawa is we have, on the whole, a pretty smart population; statistics show this (Richard Florida's book, Who's Your City?, even suggests people should be moving here, although there are major holes in Florida's methodology.)

However, that tends to give us people who often decide they're best to play-it-safe and go along. That's not evil or invidious. It might even be the better way to go.

Dennis Prouse said...

The phrase "bad sports town" is indeed pretty shopworn. What's more, it can be applied to every city in Canada if you really want to nitpick. You cannot name one major city in Canada that hasn't lost at least one sports franchise. Most have lost several. Toronto, this alleged hockey mad city, can't sell Marlies tickets. Even junior hockey is a tough sell in the Toronto suburbs sometimes.

If you look at the big picture, I am shocked that NHL attendance overall has held up as well as it has. The value for the dollar proposition on tickets is outrageous by any standard, and the fact that so many fans are still willing to plunk down $100 or more on a ticket in order to spin the roulette wheel on a good game amazes me.

Eric Toms said...

I've been wondering about attendance at the Sens, thanks for the update! I'm not surprised it is down, miss the playoffs and that will happen.

One of the fundamentals that will and has always worked against pro sports here is that the public sector is the dominant force in the local economy. They don't buy expensive seats or rent boxes (nor should they) Also, the hi tech sector, the biggest private sector employer, doesn't spend on sports either. You buy tickets and suites to grease your best customers. In the hi tech world, your best customers are literally anywhere in the world.

I read this offseason that Sens season ticket base was way down (don't recall the particulars). More telling and probably more impactful than the raw attendance is the price of seats. 4 seat game packs in the nosebleeds for $100! Melnyk doesn't have to do that when demand is high.

I've lived here long enough to remember when Rod Bryden was pleading with us to fill up the arena. Make the playoffs 9 or 10 years in a row and that problem goes away. Everybody loves a winner, nothin draws a crowd like a crowd....there will be even less demand next season if the Sens miss the playoffs again.

At least the dollar is above $0.90 US, if the dollar remains strong that is a huge plus for the Cdn teams.

To state the obvious, there are a LOT of NHL franchises with bigger problems than the Sens.

And who gives a s*** if Melnyk loses money. He is a rich crook with an expensive toy.

Finally, Neate you can't blame the location of the arena (which we all dislike) on the NCC, they had nothin to do with it. The arena is there because the Terrace Investments guys (Firestone, Leeder, Sexton) owned the land. That simple. Boring, uncomplicated, but true.

Dave said...

Thank you Dennis, we truly DON'T support hockey the way other countries support all levels of their favorite sports. We are not a sporting nation. If we were, we'd just GO TO THE GAMES. At all levels. And in all seasons. Our nation's inferiority complex has us scrambling for excuses, lest we be considered "minor-league", or worst of all, not seen to be "world class". But hell, we don't even show up for minor-league. And so we satisfy our need for prestige with one-time second tier "events" like the Pan-Am Games, which as one pundit observed: Toronto had "won" over Lima and Bogota (a city my cousin was once robbed at knife-point) and which WINNIPEG had already hosted TWICE. (Speaking of which, is there anything more awkward looking than a Dalton McGuinty-led politician-hug celebration - makes Brady Bunch sibling hugs and the run-of-the-mill man-hugs pale in comparison.....)

Dave said...

Thank you Dennis, we truly DON'T support hockey the way other countries support all levels of their favorite sports. We are not a sporting nation. If we were, we'd just GO TO THE GAMES. At all levels. And in all seasons. Our nation's inferiority complex has us scrambling for excuses, lest we be considered "minor-league", or worst of all, not seen to be "world class". But hell, we don't even show up for minor-league. And so we satisfy our need for prestige with one-time second tier "events" like the Pan-Am Games, which as one pundit observed: Toronto had "won" over Lima and Bogota (a city my cousin was once robbed at knife-point) and which WINNIPEG had already hosted TWICE. (Speaking of which, is there anything more awkward looking than a Dalton McGuinty-led politician-hug celebration - makes Brady Bunch sibling hugs and the run-of-the-mill man-hugs pale in comparison.....)

Jason Cormier said...

Eric, I was the one who posted the comment about the NCC. It was not an accusation that the NCC forced the Sens to Kanata; it was a response to those who think that the Sens should have ignored the land they owned in Kanata and build downtown. That was a non-starter even if they were inclined to do so since the NCC owned all available land large enough for a development of that size and there was no way they would ever sell to a private enterprise.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I understand the commentary that started this and the different views of the comments and there are points to each of them. In the original posting I believe the largest gap was not including last years season along with the rest of the items listed. Most sports teams will have attendance drops because of issues on and off the field.

When comparing sports in Canada to elsewhere there are huge differences. In Canada sports are not viewed the same as many other nations, here I would say we look at them much more as entertainment than anywhere else. The reason for this is, if its not entertaining then it suffers. In other places, high school football in the US for example its not just entertainment it is a part of their identity where they have arch rivals and insane levels of pressure on kids to perform (win at all cost). Even after years of losing seasons with bad teams they have fans. I would like to think that we have a better view but it certainly doesn't help sports as a business.

Now is this good or bad I can't say.

I have lived across Canada and have always cheered for the local teams. I'm in Ottawa now and I go to a few games, buy Sens gear and talk about the game at work. I have played hockey all my life and when I watch hockey I want to watch good hockey and luckily for me I was a Habs fan in the 70s, Edmonton in the 80's and a Sens fan from the 90's on. I watch Detroit, the Pens, even the Leafs but if the hockey isn't good I'm just as likely to be reading some blog about hockey as watching a game on TV or at the rink.

I don't have any fear that Ottawa as a franchise is going under or looking to move away. But it has been pointed out several times before my note, the product/the game/the entertainment level is what is going to put people into the seats.

I hope they make the playoffs, pull off an exciting trade and take out a higher ranked team because these things are part of my enjoyment of the game. The melodrama from last year's season and the Heatly debacle isn't fun. As a business all sports teams need to understand that fans want to have a reason to be fans.

Go Sens Go

sager said...

Good points. Do you mean it would have been good to compare with the attendance of other Canadian NHL teams? That's valid. Thing is, there's only so many hours in a day and no one in the paid media is writing about the Sens being down 1,200 people per game (and marking down tickets). I figured I was good just pointing it out.

I don't see an exciting trade coming, by the way. They're up against the cap.

What happens in Ottawa is

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree completely with your analysis of Ottawa. It does tend to be a place were people like to "follow the rules", whether that means not making too much noise after 11pm or clapping when they are told to do so.

One thing that I think you give too little weight to in your analysis is the lag factor that occurs for pro sports. Most of last year's season ticket buyers bought before the 08-09 season started, before the recession hit and before the debacle that was last year's team. If this year's team turns out to be good and/or entertaining, it will take time to see an uptick in attendance.

The other thing that I think you need to consider is that life has ups and downs. Even the Habs had times, after opening the Bell Centre, when they had trouble filling the arena and where people were speculating that they could be in financial trouble. This year the team is being sold for something like $400M+. The Senators may not be doing amazingly right now, but that does not mean that they are on some kind of death spiral. I lived in Calgary through the 80s and on the West Coast through the 90s. Both the Flames and Canucks had their ups and downs. They could be great one year and teetering on the abyss the next(esp. the Canucks), but both are still around and going strong. Personally, I don't see any reason why Ottawa can't keep going strong far into the future.

Best Regards,

David

sager said...

Thanks, David.

I did say it would be glib to say they're on some kind of downward spiral.

Fact of the matter is in the summer one paper here in particular was obvious as a 3-dollar bill about making an appeal to people to buy seasons for the Senators. Now attendance is down and it's lahdee dah, nothing to see here.

Anonymous said...

Even if Ottawa's attendance drops 1,000+ a game, there attendance is still probably in the top 3rd of the league still, not bad for an area with barely over a million people.

Anonymous said...

Neate isn't a name. Fuck you asshole.

Anonymous said...

Neate isn't a name. Fuck you asshole.

sager said...

Anonymous is not a name, either.

Anonymous said...

Great thread! While your main point may be valid - low attendance to start off the season is concerning - if you step back and look at the big picture the Sens are doing just fine. Given all the turbulence of the last two years, it really is quite amazing the attendance numbers aren't any worse. On the ice they've had to deal with a coaching carousel, players fighting each other, goalies that can't make practice, star player trade demands and a team scrambling to play .500 hockey. If it hasn't been bad news, then they haven't had any news at all. Add to that the traditional laments of a bad economy, high ticket prices, a poorly located arena and a local population with a split allegiance dedicated to its two closest rivals and you have wonder how this team survives at all. How do you think the Thrashers or Predators would fare under these same conditions?

I also think comparing the 07 Senators to the 04 Flames is unfair? Nobody predicted Calgary going that far and it was exciting for everyone to watch ... especially the fans in the city. Ottawa made the playoffs ten years in a row and everyone just became accustomed to a choke job in the first or second round.

Ottawa's franchise may not be the envy of the NHL but the league would be wise to pursue cities with similar sports fans!

outofleftfield said...

It's probably apples-to-pears to compare to the Thrashers and Panthers. Hockey is niche in those markets.

The point with Calgary in 2004 vs. Ottawa in '07 stands. Pro sports teams are in the business of selling hope. Calgary got a little run and people abandoned themselves to the cause, and it was wonderful. That's part of being a fan (short for "fanatic," remember?).

In Ottawa, everyone was wait-and-see.

That's not a knock. The nature of fandom is changing ... Sophisticated statistical analysis (Moneyball) is moving more and more into the mainstream. Many more fans are well-read and they know all the "percentages," so perhaps they are less willing to go all in on a team.

Pro sports has always expected people would root-root-root for the home team. There could be a re-evaluation of that thinking going on. I'm a huge Blue Jays fans, but I know their chances of making the playoffs, so I only went to 2 games last season.

Dennis Prouse said...

It is worth noting that the Senators' $4 million loss was on the team itself. I am always curious as to which revenues get put on the team's books, and which ones get put on the Arena's books. For instance, the new Bert's Bar - is that team revenue, or arena revenue? The team may have lost a few million, but the arena, for which the team is the anchor tenant, does very nicely.

Oh, and I would love to know what map Forbes used to determine Ottawa's metro population at over 1.1 million. That is a very generously drawn circle, especially when you consider that most people in Gatineau consider themselves to be a suburb of Montreal. :-)

Anonymous said...

If you want to criticize the fans in Ottawa, then I think its fair to look at the hockey fans league wide. The Senators have the misfortune of being sandwiched between two cities that have arguably the best fans in the NHL, so the bar in Ottawa is set pretty high. But what can you do? The Sens will never have the cushy situation that the Leafs or Habs do and I don't have a problem with that. What bothers me is when the fan support in Ottawa gets ripped on even though you have other "NHL cities" that have comparable attendance to the 67s.

I also think that if the roles were reversed in the Flames' and Sens' recent Cup runs, then the fan reaction would also have been reversed. Calgary has had its share of problems and if you want to see that bandwagon fans exist in Ottawa too, you can look at the Sens' very first trip to the playoffs when the city went nuts.

I just think that the Sens are faced with a lot of hurdles and while the situation in Ottawa isn't perfect and maybe they don't have the best fans in the league, they certainly don't have the worst. If the NHL had 30 teams playing in front of fans like the ones in Ottawa ... well, it would be doing much better than it is now.

sager said...

Fair enough. But how is it "misfortune" when the owners chose to own the team here? They asked for it, so to speak.

It's been an uphill battle, always, for the Senators going up against the two Original Six teams. For the most part, they have done well, but there's a concern that they've given a little ground.

Success does not move in a straight line, though. Also, for the media to ignore the team's debt load is not good.

I would like to see the Senators thriving and to have 2 Southern Ontario franchises. It could work, although it will probably require a NHL commissioner.

Jason Cormier said...

Dennis, 1.1 million is a legit number; in fact it might even be low.

Just the official cities of Ottawa and Gatineau total about 1.05 million. Throw in Lanark County just to the southwest of Kanata and you're already over 1.1 million, without counting the southern portion of Renfrew County and parts of the Valley just east and south of Ottawa like Rockland and Kemptville.

Within an hour's drive of Scotiabank Place, there are at least 1.2 to 1.3 million people.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. Three teams in Ontario could definitely work ... and here's hoping that one day the NHL actually has a commissioner!

PPP said...

Dave - You've had a couple of the worst comments on here.

Canadians don't like baseball because it requires thinking? How about it's boring as hell and because it hasn't been fed to us as "Canada's Game" for decades like it has been in the US.

As for Toronto "winning" the Pan Am Games congrats on diminishing that accomplishment just because your cousin was robbed at knifepoint once in Colombia. That mentality is what contributes to minor league sports failing throughout Canada.

Dave said...

You're entitled to that opinion, and I suppose it was a cheap shot to Colombia and Peru. My point is that we in this country are now unable to support professional (and to a large degree, amateur) sport. We gloss over this with one-time "events". As for the Pan-Am Games, we'll see how it goes, and we'll have a story for it either way. If it's well attended, it's "proof" we're "world class". If it's not, well then, it's a "hockey country".

Which is BS. The truth is all sports are "boring" and "unwatchable" much of the time. That's why you CAN'T sell it on the basis of wins and losses. You must entertain. And we don't. The marketing of hockey and most other sports in this country consists of SELLING TICKETS AND OPENING THE GATES AT 6:30.

I shouldn't have made the crack about people not liking baseball because it required thinking. It
does require it, but my main point is we don't entertain fans (at great ticket costs to boot).

As I say, all sports have a place and it's entertainment and fun that make people want to go. I'm not sure why we seem to shun sports in the good weather, but I'd rather not go down the road of belittling one sport to make my own favorite sound better. I'm not sure that's a valid argument, though it's an interesting idea: that even a "boring" sport could be "fed to us as "Canada's Game" for decades" and we'd blindly follow it.

Anonymous said...

Sens Store reopens in Orleans

"PLACE D'ORLEANS
The Sens Store will be closed for renovation until mid November. Please visit our kiosk located in the mall for more information. Capital Tickets will not be available until our renovation is completed.
Located on Main Level close to The Bay
Phone: 613.841.6854

Monday to Saturday - 9:30 am to 9 pm
Sunday - 11 am to 5 pm "

http://senators.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=49248

sager said...

That's a good sign, unlike having 17,406 (1,100 below a sellout) for the Leafs oon Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

Leeder has come out and said there are too many 'price points' and that's why people aren't going.

No Cyril, people aren't going because you're charging too much for a mediocre product. Expect another 17,000ish crowd (or less) for the next few games while you puzzle over the fact your team of alleged superperformers has yet to beat an opponent of note...

Doug

Anonymous said...

A couple of people made reference to Calgary's run to the finals, and how the Red Mile spontaneously erupted. I would venture to say that perhaps something like that didn't occur in Ottawa mainly for the arena location. It's not that glamourous heading over to a suburban Boston Pizza for an after-party.

Asher said...

Hey guys I'm a journalism student at Carleton and I want to write a piece about the Scotiabank Place and its attendance issues, as well as other issues like ease of access to the stadium (related to the ONE ENTRANCE off the highway).
Would any of the contributors be willing to do an interview? (This piece is for class, so won't be published).
My email is icemo86@gmail.com if interested.