Why do so many Ottawa fans feel disconnected from the live game experience?

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Trying to build a little bit on my earlier post about ticket prices, I’ve been thinking about the experience of going to a Senators game and where the value lies.

The WTYKY team went to the home opener last night, and I think it was a pretty typical Sens hockey experience. Not a bad seat in the house; competitive team put on a show, making up for some nail-biting defensive lapses by making legendary Marty Brodeur look awful; great facilities; good times all around. And one of the weirdest, dumbest commutes I’ve experienced in pro sports.

I don’t want to write a post that is only complaining about how long it takes to get to the game. It’s not that long a drive. It’s not a big deal. 40 minutes on the bus is a small price to pay for being able to see your affordable, competitive team whenever you like. But I think there’s something to the idea that Ottawa games are quieter, less raucous atmospheres than what other cities have going, and it has to do with how the arena is a bit of an afterthought. I’ve been to games in a few NHL arenas. Chicago, Toronto, Montreal. And, honestly, it took me as long to commute to those arenas–usually located in those cities’ business districts–as it takes to bus out to Kanata. But what those places have in common is the arena is on the regular public transit grid, meaning that you can go out early.

An NHL arena is a pretty special place, and teams know how to create atmosphere. You feel like you’re becoming a small part of your team’s history when you walk through those doors. A lot of thought is put into making the arena the sort of place where you’ll walk around, check out the memorabilia, maybe shop for some team gear, maybe grab dinner before the game. All the while, the anticipation for the game builds. The game I went to at the ACC a couple of years ago was completely bananas, even though Toronto was out of the playoffs at that time, and they were playing a St. Louis team that was also out of the playoffs. When Toronto won in a shootout, the place exploded.

The problem with Sens games is that it’s not physically possible to hang out at the arena unless you drive. We did our part: after a quick after-work beer, we were at the bus stop, waiting for the game shuttle, at 6 for a game that started at 7:30. The bus didn’t arrive for 30 minutes, and when it did, it was too full to pick us up and drove past. We arrived at about 7:25, just in time for the anthems, with no time for get beer or food, let alone walk around and experience all of the aesthetic touches that the Sens’ marketing team have put in place.

When the game ends, you have about 30 minutes to get on the shuttle back to downtown otherwise it’s gone without you. What this translates into is a very workmanlike experience. Get there; drink as many beers as you can in two periods; get home. It’s such a shame, because yesterday was the home opener and there were all kinds of events and booths set up which we had no choice but to hurry past on the way to our seats.

I’ve talked to friends in other cities who will make fun of Ottawa fans for not going to their good team’s cheap games because of the commute, but I really think there’s something to this. Ottawa has trouble establishing the same sense of prestige and history that other franchises possess, and it’s because the arena is basically inaccessible by public transportation for anything other than just the game. This is to say nothing about being on a bus that is driving through dark farmer’s fields instead of into the center of a buzzing urban center.

I know there’s nothing that can be done about the location of the arena, but I think there has to be something for those super-fans – the ones who have been looking forward to the game for weeks and want to make an event of it – to get out there earlier.

A few other notes from the game:

  • A guy on the bus home said something to the effect of Spezza’s empty netter being “such a Spezza goal.” I know following Alfredsson as captain is a tough thing for any player to do, but man does Spezz get a rough ride. He’s a creative player, which means that his mistakes, when they happen, are a lot more glaring than your typical north-south grinder / character player’s are going to be. I suppose there’s a valid point in here somewhere – you don’t want the ultra-skilled guy to be teaching your young players, since most of them won’t be able to pull off what he’s doing anyway. You want someone who teaches the fundamentals. But all the same, a lot of Ottawa fans assume there isn’t much to his game. Team Canada must feel the same way, not even offering him a try-out. Anyway: he only scored a hat trick the game before, so I guess you’re right that his next three point night, and his 8 points in 6 games, is a total fluke, bus guy.
  • Why the hell is Ottawa playing Chris Phillips out there on the power play? It’s awful to see. At one point Maclean sent a powerplay out of Phillips, Gryba, Smith, Neil and Greening. Must have been sending his skilled guys a message. Obviously that PP was hot garbage.
  • Re-watch Karlsson’s slick pass to Smith on the third goal. Spezza breaches the zone and waits, not passing to a wide open Smith so he can instead dish to a streaking Karlsson, who then draws four Devils to him before sending it to Smith for a back door goal. It was a thing of beauty, but what started it all? Jaromir Jagr, following Karlsson in his own end, gives up once Karlsson gets skating and peels off on a change, leaving Karlsson completely open to skate into the Devils’ zone unimpeded. I don’t envy Peter De Boer having to have that conversation with living legend Jagr, who will probably be gone at the deadline. Lazy, lazy play.
  • If you’re a fan of watching penalty kills, man are you getting your money’s worth out of the Sens.
  • Clearly some opening night bugs on display throughout the game. Lots of penalty announcements happening a minute after taken, and musical miscues. For all the ink spilled on Ottawa having new in-arena entertainment, it all seemed pretty standard, and off-kilter at that.. (“Don’t cheer too loud, you’ll break the Noise-o Meter!”)
  • The Sens have a really family friendly atmosphere going. This is not a compliment. Let’s work some of the Nickelodeon dance music out of the routine, fellas. It can’t be very intimidating for the opponents to know they’ll be playing The Wiggles.

6 thoughts on “Why do so many Ottawa fans feel disconnected from the live game experience?

  1. I’m nearly 100% on board with you on this, Varada. I’ve never attended a hockey game anywhere else but Ottawa, but I have attended concerts at Montreal’s Bell Centre and holy goodness, the atmosphere around downtown right before the show is something else. If you’re an early-goer, you get to see the place fill up, streets slowly flooding with show-goers as everyone gets revved up. If you’re a late-goer, you travel cheerfully in the late-flood, full of anticipation and buzz, just like everyone else. But just like you said, OC Transpo doesn’t provide those options for us. Getting to games early isn’t an option, because the buses don’t start running that early, and that means that a) public transit commuters don’t get to participate in pre-game fun stuff and b) the rest of the audience is wandering around a mostly empty arena, feeling far from Fearless or United or any of the other stuff the marketing guys have toiled over. The thing is: I don’t know how to resolve this problem, since I don’t imagine OC Transpo is very invested in Sens fans’ game experience.

    Oh, that 1% which I’m not on board with you: NO DISCRIMINATING AGAINST FAMILY DANCE MUSIC, YO. No need for that ageist-hipster stuff.

    • Well said. Even the ageist hipster thing! ALL I WANT IS SOME YO LA TENGO AT MY HOCKEY GAME.

      I’m not sure what the solution is. The city probably has a pretty straightforward, utilitarian take on it. “You want to go to the game, so we provide shuttles that will allow you to do that.”

      There are other buses that go out to Kanata, though they take quite a bit longer because they stop 100 times along the way. I don’t know if the team could subsidize additional buses, but I’m sure there’s no appetite for the team to give the city money considering their current relationship.

  2. Oy, some of those drunk, heavy breathing, one eye slightly more closed than the other bus CON-VER-SA-TIONS that people were having though! That smirky guy in the Fisher jersey who was “not aaaa…not really a Spezzzzzzza fan” you were talking about …oy vey, you dont score 100% of the regulation goals one game ago and then get THREE points the next game without making a few enemies! Probably some of these same type of people that would probably yammer on about loyalty and heart yet can’t bring themselves to support their own team’s captain. I guess I can have a real love-hate relationship with my “fellow fans” just as I can with my “fellow human beings.”
    That commute was fu-cking weeeeeeiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrd there. I bus to nearly all Sens games I attend and there always seems to be one to two too few buses going to the arena. That said, shout OUT to that new exit ramp. We were on the highway in less than 5 minutes easily i would say. That bit made up for it. I completely agree about the workman’s like approach you have to take to going to see a game, it was funny to be at the stop to catch a 6pm bus to get to the door at 7:25. It’s not even 30km to the arena.
    Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah, I’m very concerned about Bobby Ryan’s slow start!

  3. Pingback: Senators News: October 18th; Ottawa 5 New Jersey 2 | eyeonthesens

  4. THREE BON MOTS.

    BIG FUCKING MAN CHAPPY.
    Way back when the Sens weren’t here there were some tour buses called BIG MAN CHAPPY. They’d pick up your 24 Cup11!!! bunch around spots downtown and haul ass to MTL, get there before game time, youd’ liquour up then meet the bus outside the Forum (miss that place, it was awesome) and then haul you at a central location here and you’d taxi it home.

    Now, I know the Senators have done this at a few restaurants and it’s laudable but holy cow, how nice would it be to have a chartered bus that takes a bunch of alkied up Sens fans to the game then back. You could call it “One Milo-ia Passuum” or something. And that same bus could haul the liquored up people to OTHER ARENAS: Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg (hahaha I kid who wants to go to that place, flies the size of Neil’s noggin) and so on.

    The Auteur is all too right. Either you bring a mickey in your coat (easier in the winter) and drink up during the game or you need to super-induldge during. OC is crap crap crap crap. I bused ONCE. We took in part of the game at Marshy’s, the rest in our seats (so as to co-mingle with da peeple) and then we were like “10:16? OH MY GAWD WE GOTTA GET TO THE BUS STOP!” and raced (well, I jogged and sweated cos I’m not young and fit anymore) and then crammed in. Sure, we got to laugh at that one Flames fan, but that got old around Bayshore. OC needs to have either MORE buses or a shuttle or hell, just have the OTHER bus service from across the reeeeever to help out, seeing they JUST got new accordion buses.

    But yeah, I’d rather wathc games at home or in a bar during most regular season games.

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