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Senators Watch: What's with the attendance woes?

Someone apparently forgot to give the Ottawa Senators the memo about how crazed Canadian hockey fans are and how the league has never been more popular than it has been since the lockout in 2005.

Since then, every seat for every game in every Canadian NHL rink has been sold out with the exception of the Scotiabank Place, formerly known as the Corel Centre, which was formerly known as The Palladium. For the rest of Canada, that’s a stunning 1,050 games where there were no tickets available by the time the puck was dropped.

For the Senators, it has been a far different story. They’ve averaged less than 100 percent capacity each of the past two seasons and went into Tuesday night’s home game against the Atlanta Thrashers at a stunningly low average of 17,944 – which is 1,200 below capacity – and just two sellouts in their first seven games.

This for a team whose 223-144-43 record since the lockout going into this season was best among Canadian teams in the NHL and a team whose eight playoff series leads all teams north of the 49th parallel. Unlike the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Senators have made the playoffs four of the five seasons since the lockout and stand a good chance of being there when the important games begin this spring.

The positive thing about the Senators is that their crowds are still very healthy and so is the Canadian dollar. And unlike a lot of U.S. markets, the Senators’ attendance figure represents rear ends in the seats that were actually paid for with real money.

So why the attendance woes? Well, first of all, you could argue that a seating capacity of 19,153 makes Scotiabank Place a more difficult place to fill, but then you realize that the Bell Centre in Montreal seats 21,273 and the Canadiens can count on a capacity crowd for every game. The Scotiabank Centre is also the only one of the six Canadian rinks that is not in or near the downtown core.

My guess, though, is that the sports consumer in Ottawa is more discriminating and is unwilling to both make that trip on a weeknight and pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of watching an NHL game.

And good on them for doing so. The lockout was supposed to be about making ticket prices lower and we all know how that has turned out. Keep the organization’s feet to the fire on this one. After all, the Maple Leafs have sold out every game since the Depression and look where it has gotten them.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.



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