The Ottawa Senators are going all-in in a bid to give the city’s hockey fans a better game-day experience at the Canadian Tire Centre.
© Supplied photo
This artist's conception shows the design of the proposed new opera boxes at the Canadian Tire Centre.
The team is studying several upgrades to its arena, including removing up to 16 suites and replacing them with “opera boxes” – mini-suites that feature all-inclusive pricing on food and drinks. The club is also looking at adding loge seats – a more spacious seating area that includes food service – on the 300 level.
“There seems to be a trend toward all-inclusive,” said Senators president Cyril Leeder. “It’s premium seating.”
The club plans to unveil the proposals in the fall to get fan feedback and make any changes for the 2015-16 season.
The opera or theatre box concept began at Chicago’s United Center a few years ago and has since spread to several other arenas around the United States. Customers typically pay an annual fee to sit in the boxes, which have a separate TV lounge and a private, curtained-off dining area where members can choose from a variety of dishes.
They are all-inclusive, meaning all food and drink costs, as well as parking passes, are included in the fee. Mr. Leeder said the club is still working out details, including the number of boxes and the price structure.
“We’ve had an architect working on it for some time now, but … there are a number of things we still have to sort through before we have something that we could roll out to our fan base,” he said. “We’ve got to get the right product and the right pricing that will work for our market.”
The club is considering other changes to the arena, he added, including “a fairly major investment” to make the upscale Dodge Club dining facility more accessible to the spectator seating area.
It is also planning to upgrade the arena’s beer and wine selection and is in discussions with a couple of local food vendors, including Fatboys Southern Smokehouse, to bring in “some pretty cool offerings,” Mr. Leeder said.
Surveys have shown that 60 per cent of spectators eat out either before or after attending games, he noted, so it’s important to make sure they are getting what they want.
“We’re trying to constantly improve the fan experience,” he said. “We know that the food is a big part of that.”
The Senators are also seeking the city’s approval to add at least two new exits in the surrounding parking lots and are exploring the possibility of making the road into the Canadian Tire Centre one-way before and after games to speed up the flow of traffic.
The club has also talked to the league about hosting an outdoor game in 2017 and bringing the NHL draft back to Ottawa within the next four years.
SIDEBAR: REVENUE GOALS
A senior executive at the stadium behind the “theatre box” concept says it’s something more and more major sports arenas are considering as a way to generate new revenue.
“We knew that the times were changing,” said Greg Hanrahan, the senior director of premium seating at Chicago’s United Center, which pioneered about four years ago the idea of a smaller section of seats with all-inclusive food and drinks in a private dining and lounge area.
“Not everyone wanted to entertain with 20 people in a suite and eat suite catering food.”
Officials at the United Center, the home of the NHL’s Blackhawks and NBA’s Bulls, came up with the idea after seeing plans for field-level lounges at AT&T Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys’ home field. Since then, the concept has spread throughout the United States to arenas from New York to Phoenix.
The arena’s theatre box customers pay about US$112,000 a season for a five-year contract or $131,000 a season for a three-year membership, plus taxes and a security deposit. Most of the 36 boxes have four seats, and the fee – which gives members access to all Hawks and Bulls games – includes two parking passes in addition to all food and drinks.
The boxes were completely sold out this season and have a waiting list, Mr. Hanrahan said.
“The future of premium seating, I think, is going to all-inclusive,” he said. “I think that’s what the customers want.”
Prices at the United Center’s 167 private suites range from $50,000-$500,000 for a full season of Hawks and Bulls games to $25,000-$175,000 for partial season passes.