Edmonton Oilers off to a winning start but some fans have walked away
'I could have bought a condo, and paid for it,' says former season seat holder
The Edmonton Oilers' many off-season changes seem to be paying off so far on the ice.
Two games in, and they're undefeated.
But it's the off-ice product that has some fans deciding not to return to Rogers Place.
"I'm a disgruntled, dejected feel-like-I've-been-abused Oilers fan for a long time," said Rocky Dhanju, who has owned season tickets since 2010.
His seats at Rogers Place were a few rows behind the penalty box, costing close to $22,000, but he let them go this summer.
Dhanju says he and his brother have invested well over $200,000 since the Taylor Hall draft year on tickets and concessions.
'Our hot dogs, our burgers, they still suck!'
"I could have bought a condo and paid for it," said Dhanju, who runs a successful restaurant business in the city with his family.
He said he got 12 or 13 phone calls and was offered various incentives to return.
Ticket price increases and sub-standard food are two of his biggest beefs, he said.
"As a season ticket holder, we have no incentive to be season ticket holders. Spending 22K I can pick the 10 games I want to go every year, and not even come close to that value and still get club seats," he said.
"Our hot dogs, our burgers, they still suck. There's nothing gourmet about anything we have there," he said, adding that his experiences in other arenas around North America have been quite the opposite.
"The food options are amazing and over here we're still getting served Aramark crap — no offence to Aramark — but really it's frickin' crap."
Aramark manages the arena's food and beverage program, including general concessions, suites and club-level dining, restaurants and catering, according to the Rogers Place website.
$13 beer? 'Come on'
Gino Cuglietta has owned or shared Oilers season seats going back to the Stanley Cup days.
This year he handed them off to his son.
"You get a beer there for $13, oh come on," Cuglietta said. "From five bucks a beer to seven, eight, nine, $10, $11, $12, $13.50, so then you tip the guy it's $15 right there."
Cuglietta said he's tired of rising prices and not feeling appreciated as a longtime fan.
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The Oilers Entertainment Group says it's heard the complaints and this year, for the first time since moving into Rogers Place, ticket prices were held steady.
There was a 15-per-cent reduction in food prices for season ticket holders.
A new executive chef, Antonio Tardi, was brought in to overhaul the food experience, and yes, there's been a new hot dog added to the rotation at Rogers Place.
Tom Anselmi oversees it all as president of business operations. He was hired four months ago and brings years of experience with the Leafs, Senators, Coyotes, and Canucks.
'We need our fans to feel like they're appreciated'
"The fact that we've missed the playoffs 13 of 14 years, that's not where you want to be and that reflected in our renewal rates," Anselmi said.
And some say they are.
Longtime fan and season ticket holder Tina Duncan owns two seats worth $22,000 in the Sportsnet Club where she has access to three gourmet buffets.
Duncan says the quality of the food has never been an issue for her, and she's already noticed a different vibe at Rogers Place.
"I was at Saturday's game and I was on the edge of my seat. It felt like a playoff environment and it was good to see everybody getting back into it."
New season ticket holder Darren Danyk was informed initially he'd be waiting for two years for season seats, but recently was told the waiting list had dwindled.
His seats are in the upper bowl in Section 207.
"I'm not one of the bitter fans," Danyk said. "I mean, it'd be nice to have some wins.
"I'm very optimistic. We have the best player on earth on your team and you've found some chemistry with a couple of guys and it's fun to watch.
"I don't really care about fancy burgers and whatnot."
It's a fine balance the Oilers Entertainment Group is working to get right.