Rather than discuss the Senators’ incredibly entertaining 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers in game one of this second round series, all of the attention is focused on an issue that has plagued the Senators all season long and cost their Chief Marketing Officer his job: ticket sales.
Last night’s game only drew 16,744 fans or approximately 2,000 fewer than its full capacity, so of course, the mainstream media was going to latch onto the story that a Canadian franchise could not sell out its barn despite the fact that they had reached the second round for only the second time in the past 10 years.
The story was everywhere from social media, to the local news to Puck Daddy with everyone chiming in and offering a variety of hypotheses as to why the Senators could not sell out their building. Fuck, even the Toronto Maple Leafs’ ‘Dart Guy’ was throwing shade at Senators fans for their lack of support.
It’s an important story to cover, but it’s pretty fucking shitty that the Senators’ attendance figure in game one detracts from the team’s performance and brings attention on a international scale to an issue that is sure to rankle the insecurities of this small market fan base.
The attendance issue a complicated one that initially raised eyebrows when the team failed to sell out its own home opener against its provincial rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Later that month, the Senators drew a paltry 11,061 for their game against the Arizona Coyotes.
The Senators’ struggles at the gate from the onset of the season prompted Stefan Wolejszo’s guest post on this topic back in November and he did his best to untangle this complicated web.
The impact of the Phoenix pay system’s on this city’s biggest employer, the federal government, is important to recognize and yes, all of the tired and familiar refrains lamenting the location and game-day experience of hockey in Kanata remain. Until a shovel is in the ground, fans will never stop mourning the location of the Senators’ home.
There’s definitely something to be said of all these logistical and temporary problems, but it is impossible to ignore this market’s response to the state of the Ottawa Senators.
Irrespective of their success this postseason and regardless of how much fun it is to watch playoff hockey, this fan base’s lack of confidence in Eugene Melnyk’s ability to deliver a winner is very, very real.
In Ian Mendes’ think-piece on attendance today on TSN.ca, he wrote about how some fans “blamed ownership, claiming the club was unwilling to pour the necessary resources into the building a championship-calibre team. Many fans simply lamented the general direction of the organization, feeling like they were simply toiling somewhere between average and mediocre.”
While both points are true, Mendes posits that these beliefs have contributed to waning a season ticket holder base that is needed to overcome the disadvantage Ottawa has because it lacks the corporate support that many other NHL cities generate.
“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. The region’s biggest employer – the federal government – is unable to purchase season tickets for its employees nor can they be involved in any sponsorship opportunities. It’s a major hurdle for the club and one of the factors for the attendance woes in this market.“
Rather than embrace the reality of the team’s situation, some fans refuse to accept the reality of Ottawa’s have-not status and bemoan what the organization is able to spend on players.
Melnyk recently admitted in a Postmedia interview that he team receives revenue sharing from the league’s big market clubs, so until he sells the team or find new revenue streams that allow him to pump more money into payroll, it’s futile to complain about how much this organization spends on its players.
Rather than waste of energy on something outside of the owner’s control, every effort should be made to exhaust ways to help the front office efficiently get the most out of its resources — which is where it feels that Melnyk’s playoff mandate does not work in concert with a long-term vision that brings a championship to the nation’s capital.
Don’t get me wrong, if the Senators are going to flirt with playoff contention as a bubble team, it’s better that they are in and not out, but the organizational philosophy was fostered by a decision to prioritize short-term results and a need to generate playoff revenue.
Rather than patiently develop and nurture a young roster while emphasizing the importance of maximizing the returns on its players, in hopes that the core grows together and culminates with a window of Cup contention, the Senators’ playoff mandate is rooted in their “get in and anything can happen mentality” where it’s not Ottawa’s true talent level but lucking into easier matchups that plays a bigger role in whether the team goes deep into the playoffs.
Stefan Wolejszo was bang on with this conclusion:
“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.”
Rather than ignoring the issue until the offseason, a really enjoyable postseason run has been hijacked by a side-story.
I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but like seemingly everything else, it feels like there’s always some bump in the road that snaps us back to reality.
I just wish there was some fan out there who could take the heat and media attention off the Senators by painting their face and vaping at the next home game.