Scotiabank Saddledome – Calgary Flames
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The Scotiabank Saddledome, home of the Calgary Flames
One of the oldest and by far the most unique buildings in the NHL, construction on the then Olympic Saddledome—designed to reflect Calgary’s Western heritage–began in 1980 with the arrival of the Calgary Flames and the city’s victorious bid for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. The Flames moved into their new digs in 1983 after spending the first few years of their existence across the parking lot, under the roof of the Stampede Corral. The original seating capacity was 16,605 until 2,600 additional seats were added to accommodate the Olympic crowds, and the building reached its peak capacity at 20,016 patrons—making it the largest arena ever to host the Winter Olympic Games.
Major renovations totaling approximately $37 million in the mid-nineties and amidst threats of team relocation saw the Saddledome receive 41 luxury boxes, a club section that seats over 1700 people, and a new restaurant, amongst other upgrades. The Scotiabank Saddledome became one of the most well known and easily recognizable NHL arenas during the Flames’ 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Finals, and despite even more recent additions like the high-definition score board raised above centre ice, talk of a new arena up North (Edmonton) has spurred similar discussions here in Calgary. Construction on a new building to house the Flames, along with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen and the Calgary Roughnecks of the National Lacrosse League, will likely begin when the Flames’ current lease expires in 2014.
Food & Beverage 4
The majority of the food and beverage available at the Saddledome is typical of most stadiums and arenas. Classic fare like cheeseburgers, sandwiches, pizza, popcorn, nachos, and hot dogs can be purchased separately or in different combinations, ranging in price from a few bucks to around $15.00. Some of the more popular and unique choices available are ‘pocket dawgs,’ a messy hot-dog like contraption which you fill with your condiments of choice before topping it off with a sausage, and the delicious ice cream malts which come in chocolate, vanilla, or a mixture of both.
A Good Earth Café kiosk was recently added to the Saddledome for customers that desire a caffeine fix, and also sells muffins and other baked goods. While there is a wide variety of food and beverage choices available, food costs can add up quickly and the concession stands are often very crowded.
When it comes to beer, the Saddledome serves exclusively Molson products and the draught beer has garnered a reputation—if only through urban myth—of enabling the drinker to become intoxicated fairly quickly for around $7.50. I’ll let you be the judge on that one.
There are a few other dining options available at the Saddledome outside of the concession stands. Dutton’s Canadian Lounge, a sports bar that offers pub-style food and snacks, The HSBC Saddleroom Restaurant (a more family-oriented dining room with a full menu), The Alumni Lounge, and The Whiskey, a bar available to Flames season ticket holders only. There are also two other restaurants in the building—the Avison Young Club and the Flames Platinum Club—exclusive to members and Club ticket holders.
Once called “the finest international rink in the world” by the IIHF upon conclusion of the 1988 winter games in Calgary, the Saddledome has hosted a bevy of international events such as the Brier curling championship and the World Figure Skating Championship, and was also the setting of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft and the 1985 NHL All-Star Game.
The Flames have played in three Stanley Cup Finals series at the Saddledome, but have never claimed the prize on home ice; their one championship came in 1989 on the road in Montreal. In the years following the Flames’ surprise run to the Cup finals in 2004, the Saddledome was repeatedly named one of the best arenas to attend a game due to the atmosphere and its unobstructed view of the ice surface from practically every seat in the building, and has been called one of the hardest places for other NHL teams to play. It was lauded for its loud and supportive crowds spurred on by the NHL’s first mascot in Harvey the Hound and dressed in Flames jerseys, infamously dubbed the “C of Red.”
In the spring of ’04, the celebratory masses spilt out onto the nearby Seventeenth Avenue before and after playoff games, earning the popular stretch of restaurants and boutiques the “Red Mile” moniker. In recent years, however, especially this past season when the Flames missed the playoffs and had a poor record at home where they once dominated the opposition with the help of raucous fans, the atmosphere has dropped off. Games still sell out, but the crowds aren’t nearly as enthusiastic—in fact, some players even complained about the lack of enthusiasm on occasion this past season.
The area immediately outside the Scotiabank Saddledome is pretty sparse, and the neighborhood surrounding the building isn’t the best—in fact, it’s the location of a major gentrification project by the city at the moment—but the “Red Mile” or Seventeenth Avenue is only a short walk away from the arena and is loaded with a wide variety of restaurants, nightclubs, and bars to suit your pre or post game needs.
One of the best places on Seventeenth to watch the game or dine prior to attending it is Melrose Café & Bar. The food is simple but good and they offer a wide variety of beer and other alcoholic beverages, but the atmosphere in their Flames-themed lounge is unrivaled by most other bars and restaurants in the city with the exception of Flames Central–a restaurant and sports bar owned and operated by the organization located in a former theatre on Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary.
Another good place to go is The Yardhouse; it offers a fun and relaxed atmosphere with multiple televisions for watching the game and mostly serves basic bar food like wings and pizza, but is best known for serving “yards” of your beer of choice in tall, thin glasses. Both places also have patios that look out onto the street, making them extremely popular come spring and playoff time.
Flames fans are generally an involved and intelligent bunch, but as mentioned above, the quality and quantity of fans attending games seems to have dipped slightly in accordance with the team’s recent on-ice results. Games against hated divisional rivals like the Canucks or Oilers always draw large and boisterous crowds of supporters from both sides of the rivalry, as do games against Canadian teams or other teams that the Flames have built up a rivalry with such as the Red Wings and Blackhawks, but games against lesser-known opponents often tend to lack the same intensity.
Access to the Saddledome by car or C-Train is extremely simple as the arena is situated in a fairly central location. The Saddledome can be accessed simply by driving down Seventeenth Avenue or MacLeod Trail, the only problem is traffic. Most routes leading to the Saddledome get backed up fairly quickly on game days, so you would be best advised to leave at least half an hour before game time if you’re driving. A C-Train ticket costs $2.75 and the cars are often very crowded before and after games, but traveling and interacting with other fans certainly adds something to the experience of attending a Flames game.
As for parking, it costs $12 per vehicle and the lots surrounding or adjacent to the arena can fill up very quickly and often an hour or two prior to the event. Parking is also available in lots a short distance away from the arena, but costs tend to be higher here.
Return on Investment 4
With a reputation for playing “boring” and sometimes overly defensive hockey, most casual fans and/or observers may not feel like the entertainment value of attending a Flames game justifies the price of admission. While tickets are expensive, especially in the club and lower bowl sections, you can usually find some pretty good deals on seats in the second tier for under $100 closer to the date of your game of choice, and there’s always the Sport Chek Fan Zones, where some of the more dedicated fans can be found and tickets cost just over $30.
Taking accessibility and the variety of dining and entertainment options within the arena and nearby into consideration, I would say that the return on investment of a visit to the Saddledome is good.
By offering fan experiences that range from casual to upscale, the Scotiabank Saddledome caters to fans of all economic backgrounds. Its unique construction and Olympic history make it an arena you should try to visit at least once in your lifetime—especially since the Flames may not be playing there for much longer.
Le Germaine Hotel Calgary
899 centre St. SW
Calgary, AB T2G 1B8
Homewood Suites by Hilton Calgary Downtown
711 4th St. SE B
Calgary, AB T2G 1N3
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