Battle of Ontario's losing appeal

Toronto Maple Leafs' Niklas Hagman fights for control of the puck with Ottawa Senators' Mike...

Toronto Maple Leafs' Niklas Hagman fights for control of the puck with Ottawa Senators' Mike Fisher. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:07 PM ET

A less than full house for the Battle of Ontario cannot be a good sign in the fight for the hearts and minds and wallets of hockey fans in the nation’s capital.

Tuesday night’s meeting between the Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs — usually a slam dunk sellout — drew an announced crowd of 17,406 to Scotiabank Place, which has an official capacity of 19,153 but can hold up to 20,500.

“That’s come down a long way from the Battle of Ontario 10 years ago, to see that happen for the Leafs. It used to be it didn’t matter if it was a Tuesday night in November, it would be a sellout,” said an NHL executive, who admitted he was “shocked” to see the attendance figure.

‘Disturbing’

“That’s got to be most disturbing for ownership.”

Senators president Cyril Leeder said through Senators vice-president of communications Phil Legault he would be available to answer questions about the club’s attendance today.

The Senators host Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup- champion Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, the third game of a five-game homestand over 10 days. Certainly having that many games in such a period isn’t doing the Senators any favours. The walk-up crowd can’t afford to go to every game, so the members of that group are picking their spots this week.

As far as Tuesday night’s game goes, it didn’t help the Leafs are not good and have been wallowing near last place in the NHL for the first six weeks of the season.

The Senators might still be suffering from an off-season in which most of the news was negative as star scorer Dany Heatley demanded a trade and that soap opera played itself out, not to mention a less-than-scintillating start with a soft schedule that is going to get a lot tougher now.

Not the same hype

The Battle of Ontario doesn’t have the same hype it did when the teams were meeting regularly in the playoffs and both clubs were contenders.

Tuesday’s less-than-capacity crowd dragged down the Senators’ average for this season.

According to attendance figures published in the Senators’ game notes, through 12 homes games this season, the Senators have attracted 217,808 fans for an average of 18,151 fans a game.

The Senators averaged 19,081 for the entire season last year meaning the Senators are down an average of 930 fans a game. It’s believed the NHL’s average ticket price is in the ballpark of $56 US, and it’s probably reasonable to assume the Senators’ is slightly more than that.

That would mean the dip is costing the Senators close to $56,000 a game. Projected over an entire season, that comes out to a loss in ticket revenue of $2.3 million US. The hit to the bottom line, of course, is much more than that since having almost 1,000 fans fewer at the rink means fewer cars parked, hot dogs eaten and beers consumed.

The Senators have had two sellouts this season: against the Penguins Oct. 12 (19,360) and the Boston Bruins Oct. 24 (a season-high 20,154).

According to a press release issued by the Senators on Monday, “less than 3,000 tickets” were available for tonight’s game, while “less than 4,000 tickets” were available for Saturday’s home game vs. Buffalo.


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