Since I came to Ottawa, I’ve never developed much of an affinity for the Ottawa Senators. It’s not so much the lame results, more the location of the stadium. I don’t associate Scotiabank Place with actually being in Ottawa. I associate it more with driving to Toronto.
As an Englishman, I love the thrill of inner-city soccer stadiums, and the hustle and bustle of match day in the surrounding streets. Twenty-five kilometres from downtown, Scotiabank Place is mind-boggling far away for a sports complex. The parking lots that surrounds it takes away half the fun.
OC Transpo’s buses do an excellent job in carrying supporters to Kanata from downtown in less than 30 minutes. But the Senators’ home is still notoriously difficult to reach, particularly for people from the east end or the Quebec side of the river. For transit riders needing to take a connecting bus, it’s an especially lengthy journey.
Now, Major League Soccer has suggested Ottawa will get a top-flight soccer team, if there is somewhere for them to play. Sens owner Eugene Melnyk is stumping up the $40 million MLS franchise fee. The problem is that he wants to build a soccer-specific stadium next to Scotiabank Place. This brings him in to direct conflict with Jeff Hunt, who wants to bring CFL back to a rebuilt Lansdowne Park. Both projects require public funding, but the city will only back one.
However, the access issues surrounding another Kanata stadium compromise the viability of the MLS option. If hockey represents a gruff masculinity in the Canadian experience, then soccer is starting to represent its diverse multiculturalism. At Toronto FC, Canadians of many backgrounds create a carnival atmosphere at the downtown BMO Field. Anyone who witnessed the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Lansdowne Park knows it’s possible to create similar excitement in Ottawa. However, that atmosphere — the supporters’ songs, the banging drums, the beeping horns — can only be generated in a real urban setting. It can’t be artificially replicated beyond the greenbelt.
It’s not a serious option for MLS and CFL teams to share Lansdowne. CFL will damage a soccer field, and with so many cities are bidding for a soccer team, MLS can insist on a soccer-specific stadium.
A downtown stadium, easily accessible by transit, is key to a soccer team’s success. LeBreton Flats — in the vicinity of Bayview and LeBreton Transitway stations — would be a good alternative.