Ottawa’s wild ride with the Senators ended Thursday night, leaving the city licking its wounds ahead of a celebration summer for Canada’s 150th birthday.
The upstart Senators surprised many hockey fans by making it within one goal of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup Final berth in the team’s modern history with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Still, that wasn’t enough to firmly cement “Sens Fever” in the capital, as the team’s playoff run was marred by attendance issues.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson believes a couple factors played into the empty seats.
“There have been some people that have speculated that it could be the [issues experienced with the civil servants’ Phoenix] payroll system, it could be the price-point… Hard to tell,” Watson told BNN on Friday. “But I think there’s no question, as a result of the team playing so well and getting as far as they did, that will help for this upcoming year.”
While reported attendance figures for the games suggest over-capacity crowds, those figures are based on a seating capacity of 18,572. The Canadian Tire Centre’s playoff capacity has been listed as 19,153 since the 2005-06 season and based on those figures only once during the playoffs was the team playing to a full building.
The team reached a low in its series opener against the New York Rangers on April 27, drawing a reported 16,744, according to ESPN.com.
“There are other teams in the NHL that don’t sell out either,” Watson said in the Senators’ defence. “A city like Toronto obviously sells out every game because there’s such a demand for tickets.”
But the city should quickly be able to shift gears from hockey heartbreak to acting as the epicenter for Canada’s 150th birthday celebration this summer.
Watson said the city wanted “to ensure we didn’t have just a July 1st celebration because we do that really well… We wanted to make sure we had events throughout the year that attracted people from coast to coast to coast.”
The mayor pointed to events like March’s Red Bull Crashed Ice held behind the Chateau Laurier hotel and the Juno Awards in April as an added pad to the city’s tourism draw, on top of Canada Day celebrations expected to draw high profile visitors including Prince Charles.
“We’ve estimated that we’ll attract another 1.75 million tourists to bring us to about 10 million for the year.”