Mar 17, 2012; Ottawa, ON, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Clarke MacArthur (16) fights with Ottawa Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar (55) in the first period at Scotiabank Place. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Senators Want Fewer Leafs Fans at Home Games; They Ought to be Ashamed of Themselves

Last week, the Ottawa Senators issued a letter to their season-ticket holders asking that if they aren’t going to attend a game for any reason to surrender their tickets to another Sens fan and not a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens. The notion that the Senators franchise feels the need to request such a thing only proves that, when it comes to sports, the nation’s capital is out of touch.

January 17, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Ottawa Senators forward Zenon Konopka (28) fights with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mike Brown (18) at the Air Canada Centre. Ottawa defeated Toronto 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Had this been a request for fans sitting in one of the luxury boxes owned by the owner or one of the players at Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place, that’s quite a different issue, but to ask season-ticket holders – it is simply ludicrous. If season-ticket holders of any team in any sport want to wear the jersey or the hat of the opposing team, it is completely within their rights as paying customers to do so. With that said, it goes without saying that whoever those ticket holders give their seats away to have the same rights.

This suggests that whoever put forth such an idea has never followed sports in their life. Some of the greatest rivalries in sports regularly involve a healthy mixture of fans at the games. When the hated Philadelphia Eagles or Dallas Cowboys are in town, you’ll see just as many of their fans as you would of the hometown New York Giants at Giants (err, MetLife) Stadium. You’ll see fans sporting the orange and black of the San Francisco Giants in Chavez Ravine while they take in a game at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium. Hell, if you’re ever planning on traveling to England, make sure to stop off at Old Trafford where you’ll catch a game between the hometown Red Devils of Manchester United and Manchester City, Arsenal or whoever and depending on which side of the stadium you sit on, you can cheer for whoever you want.

If fan safety is an issue, which the club alluded to, then do what professional soccer clubs do and divide the fans into sections of the stadium. Who knows, games might be more exciting that way but even clustering the fans together is fun. While you’d have the occasional fan act like a jerk and spoil it for some, most would have a good laugh about it and trash talk each other without any real harm being done. If anyone in the Senators organization was willing to come to Toronto and hang around Union station following a Leafs game, they’d see how many Leafs fans get into it with each other – and don’t say, “Oh, well that’s just what Leafs fans are like,” because it happens all across North America from Vancouver to Philadelphia to Houston and those examples are mild compared to how soccer fans react to each other across the Atlantic.

Another concern for the Senators organization is that the more fans of opposing teams they have, the louder it gets when that team scores in Ottawa’s home building. Obviously no one is the organization has ever seen a Leafs/Canadiens game. If the game was played in Toronto, one would think they were in Montreal and vice-versa – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s precisely what makes the feud between Toronto and Montreal the greatest, most storied rivalry in hockey history.

Whoever’s boneheaded idea it was to suggest that the Ottawa Senators aren’t willing to welcome as many fans of the Leafs or the Canadiens should be fired immediately. While I understand that the home team prefers an advantage, what the franchise has done is unacceptable. To take away a paying customer’s right to wear what he or she wants turns back the clock on equal rights so far back that you’d still find American choppers hovering over Hanoi. If I were an employee of the Ottawa Senators, I’d be downright embarrassed.

Hearing about this story was laughable to say the least. Ottawa’s not a hockey town. It’s not even a sports town. Ottawa is a government city and it should stick to that. Never mind that they lost two CFL franchises in the span of a decade and two baseball teams in just a few years (with the latter lasting a grand total of one season) and their professional lacrosse team came and went so fast, I could barely shake my head in disgust after my father told me about his idea for creating a family-only Hungry Hungry Hippos tournament. But there was actually some cockeyed genius who had the bright idea to build Scotiabank Place way out in the middle of nowhere making fans attending the games to leave their houses at least an hour in advance just to show up in time for the game’s opening faceoff. In the other six NHL cities, making it to the arena means that you’re nestled in the heart of downtown. When you find yourself at Scotiabank Place, it means that you’re 40 minutes outside of Ottawa. Driving east into Ottawa means absolutely nothing when you pass the home of the Senators. Pass Air Canada Centre and you’re in beautiful Toronto, pass Bell Centre and you’re in gorgeous Montreal, pass Scotiabank Place and the GPS is tossed out the window in frustration because you don’t know where the hell you are.

Instead of being picky about how many Leafs and Canadiens jersey fill the seats in Scotiabank Place, maybe the Ottawa Senators should thank their lucky stars that they have fans showing up to the games at all. After the four-month-long lockout, fans could have easily boycotted hockey especially considering no NHL arena lowered their ticket prices when games resumed last month. Also, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to consider that the Leafs and Canadiens have been around 75 and 83 years longer than the Senators respectively. Criticize Leafs and Habs fans all you want, but despite their struggles over the last few years, at least their fans stick by them. They may get easily frustrated but they’re always supporting their team win or lose. Most of the Senators’ fanbase pops up when the calendar turns to April and their hometown team has a shot of making the playoffs.

To the Ottawa Senators, I say grow up. Having opposing team’s fans in your building is perfectly healthy for any rivalry in sports whether it’s 100 years long or just a few months in the making, and if no one on the team can handle that, then they should cut their losses and get out of the game. Focus on something more useful like knitting, how to skate on the Rideau Canal in the middle of June or guessing how many jellybeans you could fit into a case where you always thought a never-attainable Stanley Cup could go. Leave hockey to the big dogs because the Ottawa Senators, after all, are just a litter of puppies.

Add that to your letter to your season-ticket holders.

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