For almost the entirety of the 2016-17 NHL season, the Ottawa Senators were mired by arena attendance controversy. Even before the start of the year, many were concerned over the Senators inability to pack in a full house for their home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The attendance controversy came to a head during the playoffs, when even owner Eugene Melnyk said the team’s inability to sell out elimination Game 6 against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final was “very disturbing.”
Now, before the start of the 2017-18 season, the Senators have seemingly found a sneaky way to fix their attendance problems: by getting rid of 1,500 seats altogether and capping their attendance at around 17,000. The seats have not gone away; rather a tarp has been placed on the tops of both ends of the Canadian Tire Centre to cover the 1,500 seats in question.
The Sens have eliminated about 1500 seats for the upcoming season. The top of both ends pic.twitter.com/nmIGgNrsHG— Brent Wallace (@tsn_wally) September 7, 2017
It’s hard to not see this as anything but covering for their attendance problems. Last year, the Senators ranked 21st in the NHL in average attendance with 16,744, according to ESPN. Canadian Tire Centre caps out at approximately 19,000 seats for hockey games, and the Senators low attendance percentage rate of 87.4 ranks tied for 24th in the NHL with Columbus.
There are many theories as to why the Senators have recently struggled with attendance issues, from arena placement to prices and city-wide payroll problems. Last year in particular was their worst-attended season in 20 years, and it’s been hard to nail down exactly why the Senators struggled to draw in fans despite being better than projected last year.
Putting up tarps isn’t the best look for the Senators, but it will likely inflate the numbers back up to reasonable standards if they draw the same number of fans as last season. It’s a move many expected to be made in places like Florida and Carolina, which are often berated by Canadian media about their attendance problems while they offer various reasons for their own.
While these tarps may solve the problem in the short term, Ottawa still has a lot of thinking to do to fix this in the long term.