Ottawa Senators hoping for sold out home opener despite current public health limits
OTTAWA -- Puck drop is in less than a month and after 18 months away, fans are ready to be back at the Canadian Tire Centre.
"I’m super excited, I can’t wait. I texted the guys right away as soon as they put the tickets on sale," Ottawa Senators fan Cam Duff said.
Duff, like many Sens fans already has his ticket for the home opener.
"We’re super excited to have hockey back, to have fans back in the building," said Tom Hoof, Vice President of Marketing for the Senators.
The team is already selling tickets for the first half of the season and the hope is that they’ll play in front of a sold out crowd opening night.
The single, glaring, obstacle?
Public health guidelines have capped capacity at just over five per cent of that.
"We’re selling for the whole building right now and hopefully the province will let us have everybody in," Hoof said.
Under Ontario’s public health guidelines, professional sports teams are allowed to have either 50 per cent capacity or 1,000 fans in indoor arenas; whichever is fewer people.
The Sens say they are aware of the current guidelines, but do not have a plan if those guidelines are still in place by Oct. 14.
"We’re not sure how that’s going to work just yet but we’re hoping for a full building on the night of the first game," Hoof said.
Hoof later told CTV News Ottawa there would be a process for fans to follow if they were affected by capacity restrictions.
"We’ll be informing people through our social media accounts and directly with our sales reps so just really pay attention to what the province is telling you," he added.
In a statement to CTV News, Ontario’s Ministry of Health says the 1,000 person maximum is still the current health guideline but that the province may consider future changes.
"As we monitor the impact of opening schools and the growing number of people returning to workplaces, our government will evaluate when it may be safe to consider expanding capacity limits in settings that are captured by the new vaccine certificate services policy," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health wrote.
The provincial government did not indicate when those changes might occur, but the Sens remain confident it will be before Oct. 14.
"We’re working very closely with the leadership in the province and we’re confident we will have a lot of fans in this building. We’re going by what we’re hearing from the province so all indications are looking very positive for us," Hoof said.
Some health experts say the improved ventilation at the Canadian Tire Centre, combined with a mask policy and vaccine mandate mean the events will be considerably lower-risk.
"Of course, if you are introducing other things like prolonged close proximity, lots of yelling and screaming, can you be surprised if there’s some transmission of COVID? No, there might be," said infectious disease specialist and member of Ontario’s vaccination task force, Dr. Isaac Bogoch.
Bogoch says it would be prudent for the province to constantly be reconsidering capacity limits, along with other health measures, but adds he doesn’t believe now is the time to allow upwards of 18,000 people in an indoor arena.
"I think if you were to do this right now the conclusion would be no, let’s hold the fort, let’s continue along this path and steps we’re currently taking right now because we know what happens if we lift measures with a very contagious Delta variant,” Bogoch said.
It means tickets are currently being sold for a game that some fans may not be able to attend. Despite the apparent double standard, Duff says he’s not worried about losing his seat.
"No not really, hopefully they have at least some sort of refund policy, but I’d be more concerned about sitting next to a Leafs fan," he said.
CTV Ottawa did reach out to the Toronto Maple Leafs to compare their ticket sales plan. However, the team declined to comment without more information on capacity limits from the provincial government.