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  • Writer's pictureJim Flannery

Scotiabank Saddledome – Calgary Flames

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Scotiabank Saddledome 555 Saddledome Rise SE Calgary, AB T2G 2W1

Calgary Flames Website

Scotiabank Saddledome Website

Year Opened: 1983

Capacity: 19,283


Flaming Saddles

The Olympic Saddledome opened in 1983, constructed in anticipation of the 1988 Winter Olympics, and has been the home of the Calgary Flames ever since.

Over the years, the Saddledome has seen a few renovations, increased seating capacity, and a couple name changes; it is now known as the Scotiabank Saddledome.

At over 30 years of age, the Saddledome is now the third-oldest NHL arena and is looking dated, especially in comparison to Rogers Place, the new home of the Edmonton Oilers.

There has been talk in recent years of building a new arena to bring the Flames into the 21st Century for the fan experience, and it appears that these discussions are starting to move forward, after years of going nowhere. So, it’s possible that the Saddledome’s days might be numbered.

Food & Beverage 4

A good variety of choices exist in the Scotiabank Saddledome for Flames games. The options at the concession stands have been reduced over the last few years, eliminating some of the more exotic stands and focusing on the more popular options. But there are still plenty of choices.

The main concession stands, each named for the section in front of which they are situated, have all the garden variety options we expect at an arena. Hot dogs ($5.25), nachos ($7), popcorn ($5.75), and popcorn ($5.25) can all be found in these locations. You’ll also typically be able to buy Budweiser and Kokanee on tap ($10.50); at many spots there are a couple more specialty beer choices as well.

Numerous specialty stands are throughout the concourse. The Dog House serves, you guessed it, gourmet hot dogs. There’s the Flame Broiled BBQ for fancier burgers. At the Skyline Deli you can pick up deli-style sandwiches. There are also several smaller kiosks such as the Mac Shack, which does several variations on Mac and Cheese and grilled cheese, all delicious and extra cheesy—the Sicilian Grilled Cheese ($9.50) is delicious.

There are a number of specialty stops for adult beverages located around the concourse as well, so if Bud isn’t your thing, you still have plenty of places to find something else.

If you’re looking for something healthy, Jugo Juice is the place to go on the east side of the concourse. Also, new for 2019 is Getting Veggie With It, a vegan counter on the west side.

You’ll also find Pizza 73 and The Good Earth Coffeehouse among the other franchise locations.

Beyond all that, there are several bars and restaurants around the Saddledome. The Budweiser King Club, Dutton’s Lounge, the Saddledome Grill, the Iconic Platinum Club (formerly known as the Olympic Lounge), the Alumni Lounge and the Chrysler Club are all situated within the building, providing fans with a number of different dining options and experiences.

Atmosphere 4

The Calgary Flames have been inconsistent for much of the 21st Century, although things are looking up with playoff appearances in three of the last four years. The current rebuilding effort has resulted in a young, hungry team that plays an entertaining brand of hockey, even if consistency sometimes evades them.

Nevertheless, the Scotiabank Saddledome continues to draw sellout crowds night after night (according to ESPN they haven’t been below 98 percent attendance since at least the 2005-06 season), so there is still considerable energy in the stands. Calgary sports fans are traditionally pretty docile, but they’ve become more comfortable with cheering and booing where appropriate over the years, so the place generally has a pretty fun, exciting feel to it on most nights, even during nights when the hometown squad is struggling. Decibel levels can reach an ear-rattling 105 dBA when the Flames score and typically are steady around 80 dBA.

The single worst thing about the atmosphere in the ‘Dome is the crush of people in the concourse. Before the game, during intermissions, and after the game the crowds are thick, making it difficult to get anywhere.

Neighborhood 3

The annual Calgary Stampede has been going on for more than a century now. It is held on a large plot of land just southeast of Calgary’s downtown core. The Scotiabank Saddledome is located on the northeast corner of the Stampede Grounds.

The immediate vicinity to the north, known as Victoria Park, doesn’t have the best reputation in town. However, there has been a substantial amount of gentrification in the area in the last few years and things are starting to perk up, with huge condo complexes being built to the immediate north of the Stampede Grounds. The same thing has also been happening to the west of the grounds. And some of those complexes have a restaurant or bar on the ground floor.

If the community continues to gentrify at its current rate, the neighborhood score could improve in pretty short order.

On the northwest corner of the Stampede Grounds, you’ll find Cowboys Casino, which contains several restaurants, including Melrose Café, Centre Bar, and the Zen 8 Grill. The pre-game festivities at Cowboys come highly recommended.

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.

Heading west from the Stampede Grounds along 17th Ave. you’ll find two excellent options. Naina’s Kitchen, at 121 17th Ave, won the 2017 YYC Burger Battle contest and has received rave reviews from several other sources. Best to book a reservation before coming here. And Trolley 5, at 728 17th Ave, is a new brewpub that crafts its own beer as well as having excellent food.

For something a little more upscale, head east into the Inglewood area and check out the Nash. Located at 925 11 St. SE, the Nash is found in the historic National Hotel. Try something off the rotisserie, or go crazy and order the grilled beef tenderloin for a steak experience you won’t soon forget.

Fans 4

Calgary Flames fans are a dedicated bunch who show up and cheer their team whether they’re winning or not. The Flames have had 98 percent attendance or better since at least the 2005-2006 season.

As with a few NHL venues, there typically are a number of fans of the opposing team (whoever that might be on any given night) proudly showing up in their team’s colours and cheering their faces off. But overall that makes for a fair bit of engagement in the game, and good fan noise.

Access 3

Calgary has some of the most expensive parking rates in North America. Parking on the grounds will cost you $15 and, depending on what other events are going on around the area, might fill up quickly. To make matters worse, as the Stampede continues to expand, new buildings chew up the precious parking spots. Signage in the area seems to indicate that all the parking to the north of the Saddledome is earmarked for new Stampede buildings in the coming years, meaning a steadily shrinking availability of parking.

There are some choices off-site for slightly less expensive parking. A few local residents rent out yard space for parking and there is some metered street parking in the vicinity for people willing to do a little walking.

The good news is that being centrally located means the Saddledome is fairly easy to get to from all directions. The bad news is that getting away after the game can be frustratingly slow at times, although the city has done a better job of moving traffic away from the ‘Dome in recent years.

Another option is taking Calgary’s Light Rail Transit system to the game. The “C-Train” has two stops on the west side of the Stampede Grounds, one to the south and one on the north end which has a connecting walkway that will take you directly to the Saddledome.

The LRT tracks cover a significant amount of the city running north and south, and the West Leg has made traveling east-to-west much better as well. So it can be a more convenient option for fans not wanting the hassle of driving downtown, although the trains can get very crowded after events.

City Transit is continuing C-Train expansion however, with plans to go to four-car trains in just a couple years.

An adult fare for Calgary Transit is $3.40, youths are $2.35.

In our post 9/11 world, security at the front doors to sports venues has gotten steadily tighter over the last few years and the Saddledome is no exception. They have a reputation for being especially picky about “professional cameras.” Basically, anything that doesn’t easily fit in your pants pocket will be rejected at the door, even if it is a point-and-shoot with less power and functionality than the camera on your smart phone. So be forewarned and don’t waste your time trying to get your $100 Nikon through the gate.

Once inside the Scotiabank Saddledome. you’ll find yourself dealing with what is typically the single biggest complaint about the building: the concourse is very small by modern standards, making getting around a challenge, to put it mildly. Between periods and after the game the halls are jam-packed with people, particularly at the ends of the rink.

On the upside, the addition of tables in the centre of the east and west concourse areas has drawn some of the crowds away from the walking paths, into the middle of the area, where they can hang out and chat without getting in the flow of foot traffic. This simple solution has actually had a significant positive effect.

Lineups for the washrooms can be insanely long, backing way out into the concourse and making a bad situation worse. If you can avoid it, stay away from the men’s room near section 209. For some reason, this one seems to consistently have lineups out the door all game long. The women’s washrooms aren’t much better.

Structurally there doesn’t really seem to be a fix to this issue, short of building a new arena. So either Calgary will just continue to deal with dense crowds or they’ll figure out a way to get this done.

Return on Investment 4

Prices for Flames tickets range from $40 per seat up in the Sport Chek Zone up to $380 per seat in the Avison Young section of the lower bowl. With an average price of $98 for the 2018-2019 season, the Saddledome is right in the middle of the pack for NHL ticket prices, according to Vivid Seats. To their credit, the Flames have actually lowered overall prices significantly over the last few seasons, making this a much more affordable option for regular folks than in other locations, such as Edmonton.

Clearly, if the Flames are able to sell the place out every night the demand is there. This is a hockey-first market where fans eat, sleep and breathe the Flames and will fork out big bucks to pay for the privilege of attending a game. But compared to the rest of the NHL, this is actually not an outrageous price to pay, especially given the recent competitiveness of the team.

Extras 4

There are a number of added extras when you come see the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The walls of the building are lined with memorabilia, photos and trophies commemorating great teams and events from years past in the Calgary area. Wherever there is a space that doesn’t have a concession stand in it, you can find a display, assuming you can get to them through the crowds.

Among those displays is an exhibit remembering the 1988 Winter Olympics, a wall dedicated to Calgary’s hockey heritage, plaques for the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame, and so forth. A new addition is an entire wall dedicated to the recently-retired Jarome Iginla, arguably the best player to ever wear a Flames jersey.

You’ll also find several locations of Flames Fan Attic for all your souvenir needs. The main location is just outside the main entrance on the west side, with a similarly sized location in the building on the east concourse and several smaller kiosks set up all around the building.

Harvey The Hound keeps the kids amused in the stands during the game with his antics.

Looking up into the south rafters, you’ll see the large row of banners earned by the Flames in their time in the NHL. If you’re seated in the upper bowl on the south end, you get a great, up-close look at those banners.

The music played during stoppages in the action on the ice is a nice combination of current hits, classic rock, some country and some good ol’ fashioned stadium organ music (which has been played by Willy Joosen since 1988) which adds some nice flavour to the ‘Dome’s atmosphere.

All the usual giveaways and contests that you might expect at a pro hockey game are mixed into the program during stoppages in the action.

One other nice touch which is always good to see is that there are recycling bins located throughout the concourse so environmentally conscious fans can ensure their garbage doesn’t just wind up in a landfill.

Final Thoughts

Action at the Saddledome has created some fantastic memories over the years. Whether it was seeing the Flames pull off the dramatic overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven of the first round of the 1989 playoffs or the run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, tens of thousands of fans have had amazing experiences in this location. And although the Flames aren’t quite the dynasty they used to be in the late 80s and early 90s, going to the Saddledome to take in a Flames game is still always a good time.

The question these days is whether or not the ‘Dome’s days are numbered…

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