- Jim Flannery
Scotiabank Saddledome - Calgary Roughnecks
Photos by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Scotiabank Saddledome 555 Saddledome Rise SE Calgary, AB T2G 2W1 Canada
Year Opened: 1983
Back in the Saddle
The Calgary Roughnecks are one of the most successful franchises in the history of the National Lacrosse League. Since they started playing in November, 2001, they have only missed the playoffs once (their first year) and they have won two championships (2004 and 2009). This makes them the winningest professional sports franchise in the city’s history.
Needless to say, their standards for performance are high and their fan base is dedicated and enthusiastic.
The Scotiabank Saddledome is the home of the Roughnecks. The ‘Dome has been open since 1983 and is also host to the NHL’s Calgary Flames, and the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. Conveniently, the Flames own all three franchises, so it’s very much an All In The Family situation at the Saddledome.
While the Saddledome was state of the art when it opened for business, it is starting to be a little long in the tooth more than 30 years later. Consequently, the Flames have begun talking about building a new facility in the not-too-distant future, although their CalgaryNEXT proposal may never come to fruition.
Talks of building a new arena aside, the Saddledome remains a solid structure that has seen a number of renovations over the years to keep it fairly modern, and is still a good place to watch an event.
Food & Beverage 4
For the most part, there are the standard concession stands selling the standard selection of soft drinks, hot dogs, popcorn, etc., at fairly typical prices (hot dogs are $4.75, popcorn is $5.75). You’ll also find Budweiser on tap at all the regular concession stands ($8.75).
There are also a few specialty locations around the concourse. For instance, at Flame Broiled BBQ locations you can get yourself an excellent hamburger or cheeseburger made of delicious Alberta Beef (cheeseburgers are $7).
In addition, there are Pizza 73 stands, Italian ice kiosks, little doughnut stations and Good Earth Coffee available for fans who want something a little different than cola and popcorn. There is also a Jugo Juice stand on the east side which offers some healthier choices with their yummy juice concoctions and wraps.
On the west side of the concourse there is a kiosk called the Mac Shack which sells mac and cheese as well as sandwiches with a strong cheese theme. The Sicilian Grilled Cheese ($8.50) is excellent (and probably about a day’s worth of calories).
Disappointingly, a number of concession stands remain closed during Roughnecks games due to the smaller crowds in attendance as compared to Flames games and this means some food options you get at Flames games are not available.
Dutton’s Lounge, a sports bar downstairs under the west entrance, is open for ticket holders before games for a tailgate party as well as after games for postgame revelling, and has a fully stocked bar for those looking for a more sophisticated adult beverage. Likewise, there are several other spots around the concourse with a selection of highballs, bottled beer, and wine.
Box lacrosse, as the indoor game is known, is the best spectator sport in the world in my humble opinion. It is fast and furious, full of strength, finesse, speed and grace. I have never yet taken a sports fan to a game and had that person say they didn’t enjoy the experience.
The atmosphere, not surprisingly, is pretty fired up. Music is played throughout the game (some people like this; some not so much) and fans are encouraged by the announcer to cheer their team and taunt the opposition. As a result, the fans at Roughnecks games are quite boisterous.
The Roughnecks have won two league championships in their 10 seasons in the NLL and have earned the Champion’s Cup both times at home in the Saddledome. Consequently, the energy and sense of pride the team brings to the stadium is very strong and the entire building and the people inside seem to feed off it. It is infectious and makes for an entertaining, exciting event.
The lacrosse community in town is 10 times larger now than it was when the Roughnecks arrived here, so the audience has a significant group of younger fans and their parents. The powers that be within the organization do a good job of appealing to them with meet-and-greet opportunities after games, youth-oriented events between quarters and at half time, etc. The net result is that kids of all ages are likely to have a great time at a game.
Adding to the overall atmosphere are the championship banners displayed in the rafters, giving a sense that the Roughnecks are indeed home.
The downside is that attendance at Roughnecks games is usually around half of the Saddledome’s capacity. In spite of the energy in the occupied parts of the stands, it still at times can feel pretty empty, although crowds of 10,000 or more are becoming more and more frequent. In fact, in the 2016 regular season only three of the team’s eight home games had fewer than 10,000 fans in attendance.
The Saddledome is situated on the Calgary Stampede Grounds, located on the southeast edge of the downtown core. There isn’t much happening in the immediate neighbourhood, but it is slowly becoming more and more gentrified, which means more dining and entertainment options in the immediate vicinity are popping up.
One of the relatively new locations is the Cowboys Casino, just north of the ‘Dome on the Stampede Grounds. The Casino now features no fewer than four different restaurants. The Zen 8 Grill in the casino offers a great meal.
Across the street from Cowboys Casino is Vagabond, which has a menu with something for everyone on it, a wide variety of beers (50-plus listed on their menu), and which seems to have made a special effort to cater to pre and post-event crowds.
Just across Macleod Trail from the Stampede Grounds, on 14th Ave, you will find Loungeburger. It is a more upscale gourmet burger place, with burger selections running from $10.50-$17 (a la carte), but they’re well worth it. I recommend the Black and Blue ($12.25).
Just a few blocks due west of the ‘Dome lies the heart of what has come to be known as “The Red Mile,” a string of nightclubs, bars and restaurants that gained a certain amount of notoriety during the Flames’ Stanley Cup run in 2004. There you’ll find places such as the Ship and Anchor Pub which has been named Best Neighbourhood Pub in Calgary several times by local publication, “Fast Forward Weekly.”
Roughnecks games generally draw between 10,500-12,000 fans to the Saddledome, which fills it to about half or two-thirds. Calgary has sold the ‘Dome out twice in past years, however, including the 2004 Champion’s Cup game, which the ‘Necks won.
The fans are fiercely loyal and very enthusiastic, resulting in lots of noise and great energy during the game, especially in comparison to the relatively quiet crowds you might find at a hockey game in the ‘Dome. With the explosion of interest in lacrosse within Calgary, the crowds have become more stable and have seen gradual but steady growth over the years.
Located downtown, the Saddledome is relatively easy to get to, aside from the traffic woes that are par for the course in the inner city. Expect stop-and-go traffic and delays getting to and from the facility, which can be anywhere from distracting to downright irritating. Calgary is one of the most expensive places to park in North America and consequently parking on the Stampede Grounds will run you $15. The lot also fills up fairly quickly, especially if there are other events happening around the Grounds. There are other alternate off-site parking options at similar or slightly lower rates, but plan for a bit of a walk after that.
The other option is to take the city’s Light Rail Transit system to the game. The “C-Train” has a stop on the west side of the grounds, making it easily accessible from all over the city heading north, south or west. This can be a much more convenient option for fans not wanting the hassle of driving downtown, although the trains can get pretty crowded after events. An adult fare for Calgary Transit is $3.15, youths are $2.10.
The concourse itself is spacious enough for a typical Roughnecks crowd on the east and west sides, but gets pretty narrow to the north and south. This isn’t too much of a problem at Roughnecks games where the building is only at half capacity, but it can get badly crowded when the house is full.
Return on Investment 3
Compared to the price of a Flames game, the cost of a Roughnecks game is a bargain. Prices start at $21.99 for upper bowl end zone tickets (these passes are available at local Safeway stores); tickets at the door go for anywhere from $25.50 for the higher rows of the upper bowl to $64.50 for the Avison Young seats in the lower bowl.
With as good a price as this is for a professional sporting event, coupled with the entertainment value provided by box lacrosse, this is a pretty good deal.
The Saddledome provides a good environment for enjoying sports, with good sight lines for everyone.
There are a number of points of interest along the concourse walls, including 1988 Olympic displays and Alberta’s inductees into the NHL Hall of Fame. Virtually every concourse wall has something to look at.
There is always a memorabilia auction held in the main concourse for collectors who are interested in bidding on autographed photos and jerseys.
Several times during the game, the Drill Crew dance team makes appearances on the floor to wow the fans with their award-winning moves. When they’re not center stage performing, they can be seen in the concourse and the stands selling their always-popular calendars. In my opinion, the Drill Crew are arguably the most talented dance team in the NLL and certainly no worse than top three.
The Roughnecks also have a mascot, Howie the Honey Badger. Howie helps entertain the kids in the crowd and also helps out with giveaways and promotions during the game.
There are two locations of the Flames Fan Attic on the premises, on the east and west sides of the concourse. In either of those stores you can stock up on all the Roughnecks, Flames and Hitmen merchandise you can carry, from shirts and jerseys to hats, mugs and key chains.
The players stick around after games to sign autographs on the field for dedicated fans. This is a really cool feature of attending one of the smaller scale pro sports and really helps get the fans in touch with the athletes they’re supporting.
When you put it all together, attending a Roughnecks game, or any NLL game, is almost guaranteed to be a fun and entertaining experience. The game itself is more than worth the price of admission and there are any number of other excellent reasons to make the visit to the Scotiabank Saddledome.