Faced with the increasingly demoralizing sight of hundreds of empty seats at their home games, the Ottawa Senators are addressing the problem by moving the goalposts: The team is drastically reducing seating capacity at the Canadian Tire Centre.
To achieve more sellouts next season, the team plans to boost demand for tickets by removing some 1,500 seats, while simultaneously reversing the decline in the number of season ticket holders.
'This team wants to play in front of a sold out house' and people want to be part of a sold out house.' - Tom Anselmi, Ottawa Senators president and CEO
"This building is probably a little bit too big for the market. It's got too many suites. The lower bowl is a little too small," said Senators president and CEO Tom Anselmi during a media event at the arena Thursday.
"The upper deck is too big, and so effectively we've just taken somewhere over 1,500 seats out of the building to right-size it and make it more appropriate for what we think our needs are going forward, and make it easier for our fans to fill."
The reduction will lower seating capacity at the Canadian Tire Centre to about 17,000.
Failed to sell out playoff games
The Senators drew fire during last season's playoff run when the team repeatedly failed to fill its arena for home fixtures, including a second-round game where hundreds of seats sat empty.
Team owner Eugene Melnyk said the hockey market has changed in the 25 years since the team was created.
Melnyk told reporters that means the existing arena needs fewer seats, and so will the new arena slated for construction on LeBreton Flats within the next decade.
"We're not going to build a 20,000-seat stadium. It'll probably be closer to a 15 or 17, in there. This way it doesn't dilute the audience. It doesn't put too much stress on the people internally to keep selling, selling, selling," Melnyk said.
"You're sold out or you're close to a sellout. You don't have to worry about it."
Wanted: Season ticket holders
According to Anselmi, fans have become complacent because they've come to expect available tickets on game day.
"Scarcity helps you sell. And so, if we have a slightly smaller building and it's full more often, it'll be easier to sell season tickets and be full more.
"This team wants to play in front of a sold out house, and people want to be part of a sold out house," said Anselmi.
Melnyk said a larger base of season ticket holders will also help free up money for the on-ice product. Right now, the team says its season ticket base is among the league's smallest.
"If you're just depending on walk-ups, that means every snow storm you're going to have 3,000 or 4,000 seats available. So you want season ticket holders. That's the key."
"That's on us," Anselmi added. "We have to give more fans more reasons to come more often. And that's what we're working on, and building that base."