Edmonton Oilers prepare to woo fans to Rogers Place as new season begins

Click to play video: 'Oilers look to woo fans to Rogers Place for 2019-20 season' Oilers look to woo fans to Rogers Place for 2019-20 season
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton Oilers fans are excited for the NHL season to get underway on Wednesday night. But as Breanna Karstens-Smith explains, the excitement doesn't necessarily translate into ticket sales – Oct 2, 2019

When the puck drops on the 2019-20 NHL season Wednesday night, Brian and Cheryl Stuart will be in the crowd cheering on the Edmonton Oilers just as they have for every home opener for 40 years.

“Haven’t missed one yet,” said Cheryl.

The difference this year is that their seats are for just one game. After four decades, the couple has given up their season tickets.

“It’s never about the guys on the ice. Yes, we have had a losing team. I’m hoping that this year we’ll see an improvement. But the way management really was treating, not only the fans, but also the players,” Cheryl explained.

Season ticket holders give up tickets ahead of Edmonton Oilers season

Cheryl said a comment from Oilers chairman Bob Nicholson about then-Oiler Toby Rieder was just one example.

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“If Toby Rieder would have scored 10 or 12 goals, we’d probably be in the playoffs,” Nicholson said in March 2019 before apologizing.

READ MORE: Edmonton Oilers Tobi Rieder offended by Bob Nicholson’s comments

When the team moved into Rogers Place, while the price of their seats skyrocketed, the couple said the quality of their seats went down.

Still, they delayed retirement and renewed.

The following year, the Oilers made the playoffs and the Stuarts were ecstatic to continue with their season seats.

Now, after making the playoffs just twice in the last 15 seasons, the long-time fans are fed up.

“There were things that we had as season ticket holders up until Katz bought the team. You could go downstairs, you could see the players,” Cheryl explained. “My kids had more access to Gretzky and Messier than they do to Nurse and McDavid and Draisaitl.”

READ MORE: Game on! Edmonton Oilers open season against Canucks

Cheryl and Brian say they don’t see enough perks for the roughly $8,000 they paid annually. Discounts on merchandise and food weren’t enough to keep them coming back.

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The team did try to persuade them to stay, offering them free tickets to either the first or second home game of the season. The Stuarts declined.

“To me, accepting that offer would be defeating why we gave up our seats. We gave them up because management doesn’t care,” Cheryl said.

They purchased tickets to Wednesday’s game and will attend more throughout the season but say they want management to know they’re disappointed with the attitude coming from the front office.

Watch below: It’s a big day for hockey fans in Edmonton as the Oilers host their season home opener at Rogers Place. But there are other new additions to ICE District this season. Quinn Phillips speaks to Tim Shipton with the Oilers Entertainment Group about them.

Click to play video: 'Tim Shipton previews new additions to Edmonton’s ICE District' Tim Shipton previews new additions to Edmonton’s ICE District
Tim Shipton previews new additions to Edmonton’s ICE District – Oct 2, 2019

Oilers promise changes

The Edmonton Oilers are promising a new energy.

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For a team that once had a wait-list to buy season tickets, this year there are dozens of seats up for grabs.

Some longtime season ticket holders have decided not to renew and Power Packs, which once sold out within hours, are still up for grabs.

“One of the things that definitely we found this off-season was the Alberta economy has… it’s been tough,” said Tim Shipton, the senior vice-president of communications with the Oilers Entertainment Group. “Tough times.

“A slumping economy. It’s impacted all of us. it’s impacted our customers. So we heard that loud and clear.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Oilers season ticket prices remain unchanged for 2019-20 campaign

That isn’t the only thing the team heard from fans.

“We knew we needed to get better,” Shipton admitted. “That was crystal clear to all of us. And I think we’ve done a tremendous amount of work this off-season to show that, and I think it will be reflected on home opener and throughout the season.”

He cited changes to the Oilers organization with a new general manager, coach and president as catalysts for differences both on and off the ice.

Watch above: Breanna Karstens-Smith interviews Edmonton Oilers president Tom Anselmi ahead of the team’s home opener on Wednesday night.

Click to play video: 'Interview with Edmonton Oilers president Tom Anselmi' Interview with Edmonton Oilers president Tom Anselmi
Interview with Edmonton Oilers president Tom Anselmi – Oct 2, 2019

READ MORE: Ken Holland’s moves to be measured as Edmonton Oilers start new season

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Incentives are being introduced this season to fill the traditionally packed arena.

Thirsty Thursdays will see beer discounted to $5, though it will only apply to Molson Canadian and Coors Light cans from concourse hawkers. Customers will have to pay cash and the offer only lasts until the end of the first intermission. Not to mention there are only three Thursday home games on the schedule.

Third Jersey Fridays will allow fans to see new uniforms in action, though photos and videos of them have been widely available for weeks.

Super/Split Saturdays will see the 50/50 draw paying out more to the fans with winners taking 60 or 70 percent of the pot.

Send-off Sundays will give those in attendance a chance to win a trip for two to see the Oilers take on that night’s opponent later in the season.

Shipton says the team is looking to capitalize on their “home-ice advantage.”

“When the team scores, we want everybody on their feet, we want the music pumping. A guy makes a big play, a big hit, scores a goal, saves a goal, a big save… we want to build off that energy and take it to the next level.”

READ MORE: 2 sports restaurants announced for downtown Edmonton’s Ice District

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The team is promising a difference outside of Rogers Place as well. The JW Marriott was opened in August, providing more options for places to eat or sleep before or after the games.

Last week, the concrete was poured on what will become an outdoor ice rink where people can skate or gather.

What’s to blame?

University of Alberta professor Dan Mason studies sports leagues and franchises. He said Oilers fans are more likely to attend when the team is playing well and winning.

“I think the scarier proposition is probably not the unsold tickets, it’s going to be the empty paid-for tickets because there’s a general sort of malaise here, or lack of interest in actually going to the games here,” Mason explained.

Mason said success on the ice will translate to attendance. Whether either will happen won’t be determined during Wednesday’s game, but it is expected to set the tone.

Watch below: (From May 28, 2019) Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland said his goal is to provide stability for the team, and part of that includes hiring Dave Tippett as head coach.

Click to play video: 'Ken Holland, Dave Tippett hope to provide stability for Oilers' Ken Holland, Dave Tippett hope to provide stability for Oilers
Ken Holland, Dave Tippett hope to provide stability for Oilers – May 28, 2019

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