On the 17th of January 1996 the Ottawa Senators opened the Corel Centre (which was still called the Ottawa Palladium at that time, software-maker Corel then jumped on the bandwagon and bought the naming-rights of the arena for 20 million dollars), the self-proclaimed "coolest arena on earth".
Since Ottawa returned to the surface of the NHL two and a half season before they had entertained their fans at the Civic Center of Ottawa which has a seating capacity of 10.500. The Civic Center also serves as the home of the Ottawa 67´s who hit the ice in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League). Due to the fact that the team more or less handed out two points for free each gamenight during those early years even this low number of available tickets was more than enough to satisfy Ottawa´s NHL-hockey-needs.
With a seating capacity of 18.500 the Corel Centre does not belong to the really big new arenas of the 90s (for example Chicago and Montreal were built for crowds of more than 20.000, Philadelphia is just below that number), and at first the team also had trouble to sell their 147 suits even though Ottawa is the canadien capital and many hi-tech companies are located in the area (companies such as Cisco, Nokia or Microsoft have their canadien headquarters around).
Despite a huge improvement on the ice, the Senators reached the playoffs for the first time in 1997, almost won the eastern conference in the regular season in 1999 and are a top-flight NHL-team at the moment with a young roster and a bright future, the Senators still fight trouble at the box office.
The average attendance of close to 18.000 during the past two seasons might look impressive at first but it is also important to add that the Senators are currently only selling around 10.000 season-tickets, a lot less than most other franchises in the game. Why the number of season-tickets is so extremly dissapointing considering the success on the ice is very hard to explain. Prior to the 2000/2001-season the team went on an aggressive marketing-spree and even threatened to move out of the city but the number of season-tickets didn´t jump a lot. For management this results in a situation where a drop in the standings might immedeatly slash attendance-numbers down, and that in a period of time when the team is already suffering from the exchange-rates with the US-dollar, in which most contracts are being paid and a lack of tax-relief for professional sport teams in Canada. And if the team starts to fall back into mediocrity don´t expect 18.000 faithful to make the pilgramage out to the arena which is located 25 kilometers out of town in the ice-desert 41 times a season.
Recently about 10 corporations have put their buildings around the Corel Centre and the long-term aim is to make the location a rather attractive one. There are also plans for 200 additional acres of land surrounding the corel centre for commercial, industrial and residential purposes but nevertheless the arena just isn´t located where it should be located, right downtown Ottawa. A Hard Rock Café has been part of the arena since it opened it´s doors as well, if you´re not in the mood for burgers or nachos you can be sure to find other culinary sources as well.
25 kilometers out of town in a metro-area (Ottawa and Hull) with about 1.1 million inhabitants? Supposingly the ground was extremly cheap because the arena was built on contaminated soil, but then again the Senators had to dump in another 21 million to construct an exit ramp from the highway so that I can only imagine that some miscalculations led to this site-choice. In the end it might even be one of main factors if the team is ever forced to move to another city. I had some e-mail conversations with Senators-season-ticket holders just a while ago about the low number of season-tickets being sold and they pointed out that it just doesn´t make a lot of sense to drive out to the arena for games during the week dozens of times during a season, especially if you also have a job. If I would imagine that I would live on the other side of downtown Ottawa and would have to travel, let´s say 40 or 50 kilometers, to each game and that I would know that the traffic jam back to the city comes close to a disaster after every game I would think twice about shelling out my money for a season-ticket with those tueday-night encounters with the Tampa Bay Lighting as well...
My personal impression of the "coolest arena on earth" is that there are many nicer and, to stay on the same language-level, "cooler" arenas in the NHL these days. The concourse in the upper level looks as if it was never really finished and leaves a construction-site impression, the inside of the arena on the other side offers great views from every seat due to the steep construction of the stands. It might be compareable to a tour through the Alps if one has a ticket for the last row (at least up the Alps), but the view is still very acceptable. The scoreboard is average, "cooler" arenas can afford more than a 4-sided videscreen which doesn´t really matter that much though in a time where many teams use their scoreboard for very uncool crowd-entertainment (just my personal take but this is one of the reasons why I just love the United Center in Chicago where no cartoonish crowd-animations can be found, sadly also no fans at the moment).
Tips for visitors:
The city of Ottawa itself does not really stick out as a great location to spent a vacation, one can just rush into the city in the morning, take a look at everything that seems to be interesting, go to a game at night and hit the road right away without having a bad conciousness about missing out on anything. The disadvantage of the catastrophic location of the arena is made up a bit by a well-oiled public transportation out to the arena. From various points of town busses start running to the arena and back 2 hours prior to each game (think the price was less than 10 dollars round-trip but I might be wrong here). On normal game-nights the busses start to pull out of the parking area in front of the arena on 10:45 pm (7:30 start) and after about half an hour one should be back in Ottawa. It can only get a bit scary if you have to catch the last busses from the Greyhound-station with the last one to Montreal for example leaving at 11:30 pm (which was the case for me when I visited the Sens). If you return from the arena by car you might also have a lot longer ride, the busses use the emergency lanes, the thousands of cars are mostly stuck on the highway.
Normaly one should not run into enourmous ticket-problems in Ottawa. Due to the success on the ice at the moment it might be adviseable though to order tickets in advance, but most games result in a pretty full but not a sold out building. An exception from this rule might be games against the big canadien rivals; games against the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs always sell out in a hurry. Ticket-prices are rather expensive, the cheapest seats in the family zone of the upper level go for 29 canadien dollars, normal upper-level seats can cost 60-70 dollars and the top-seasts change hands at a rate of 140 dollars. Tickets are, as usual, available through ticketmaster on the internet. You can also take a look from each section on the ice on the homepage of the Senators even though I have the impression that they cheated a bit and you even have the feeling to sit really close to the ice on those pictures when you check out the last row of the upper level. Well, when you´re there you already paid so who cares....
Seating-chart provided by www.eishockey.com.
Links ot the team:
Homepage of the Ottawa Senators: www.ottawasenators.com
Ticketmaster Canada: www.ticketmaster.ca
Homepage of the "coolest arena on earth": www.corelcentre.com