The good and bad of the Saddledome

When the puck drops in October, the Calgary Flames will begin their 33rd season in the Scotiabank Saddledome. The season will unfold while the future of the building is openly discussed at Calgary’s City Council, as city administration is concurrently exploring the Calgary NEXT proposal and a Plan B situated in Stampede Park. (Council will hear a report on both options in October and make a recommendation as to what option should be pursued further.)

But as the future of the old barn is debated, it’s worthwhile to figure out what things need to be carried over to whatever the new building will be and what aspects need to be thrown asunder. With that in mind, we’ve been asking around, looking around, and polling people in places like Twitter and Reddit to find out what people love about the Saddledome and what they absolutely loathe about the place.

Here’s what we found out.


The Location!

One thing that fans seem to love, especially in light of how far-flung arenas are in Ottawa and Arizona, is how centrally-located the Saddledome is. It’s right beside downtown, and fairly easy to access via roads and transit. (Though admittedly the addition of the bike lanes has made approaching Stampede Park via 12th Avenue a bit of a pain, traffic-wise.)

Some Good Food Options!

The Saddledome has a few really great food options: Pocket Dawgs, malts, the infamous ‘Dome beers and nachos among them. These food options are all relatively evenly-distributed throughout the main concourse (and you can get beer and nachos in the satellite concessions up in the press level).

The Sightlines!

With the exception of the seating in the press level – where fans have to contend with the upper camera bay, railings and the press box itself blocking the Energy Board – there’s not a bad seat in the house. If you’re sitting anywhere in the lower bowl or the upper bowl, you can see every inch of the ice. And even in the press level, aside from a few sections where the views are somewhat blocked, all you’re missing is the Energy Board; you can see the entirety of the ice.

The Atmosphere!

There are several things that scream “Saddledome” to me: the wacky sloping roof, the fire shooting out after goals, the 8-bit cowboy on the Energy Board shouting “Ya-Hoo!”, the old ’80s-style banners hanging above the Flames’ end.


The Concourse!

Almost universally, everyone we spoke with had complaints about the concourse. If you’ve been at the building during a Flames game, you’ve probably had to navigate the narrow areas at either end of the ice…and then just as the concourse widens, there’s a car on display. It’s almost as if the building was never designed to be full of people. Multiple concourses would really help alleviate the bottlenecks. Or wider concourses. Or both.

Narrow Food Options!

I love Pocket Dawgs. I love malts. The only places you can get them are on the main concourse. If you’ve wandered the main concourse during intermission, you’ve probably noticed that the most gigantic line-ups are the few spots where you can buy Pocket Dogs and malts. A more diverse, more balanced set of food options would spread the lines out a bit (along with changing the concourses).

The Bathrooms!

It’s probably unrealistic to expect the new building to have more bathrooms, or a disproportionate amount of men’s rooms. But man, lines are pretty bad during intermissions. And the layout of many of the bathrooms are pretty wonky, creating bottlenecks on the way in and out on the main concourse.

[ed. note from Ari – “A disproportionate amount of men’s rooms”? Bro. BRO. Talk to me when the absurd lineups are the status quo everywhere you go.]

Getting Out!

Finally, getting out of the various parking facilities in Stampede Park are a bit of a challenge immediately following the game. The problem is made slightly worse with the lack of places to hang out to wait out traffic, though the developments around Stampede Park have started to make that a bit better. Again, like the bathrooms, it’s probably unrealistic to expect an arena located just outside of downtown in a major city to allow 19,000 people to escape all at once without hassle, but it’s one of the most common complaints.


What do you absolutely love about the Saddledome and want to see in the new building, whenever that happens? And what do you wish they never, ever, ever replicate in the new barn? Sound off in the comments!

  • piscera.infada

    [ed. note from Ari – “A disproportionate amount of men’s rooms”? Bro. BRO. Talk to me when the absurd lineups are the status quo everywhere you go.]

    No kidding. Have you ever waited for a girlfriend/wife/other to use the ladies’ room during an intermission? One can easily rock a urinal, grab a couple beers, and you still have time to kill. The struggle is real.

  • The Fall

    Good: The Roof – Iconic on the sky line: love it.

    Bad: The Roof – The structure cannot support modern rigging requirements you additional lighting, sound, and video.

  • Longshot1977

    [ed. note from Ari – “A disproportionate amount of men’s rooms”? Bro. BRO. Talk to me when the absurd lineups are the status quo everywhere you go.]

    I’m with Ari on the bathrooms. I know my wife loves the Flames but hates the ‘dome, if only because of the wait time to use the use the facilities. It’s basically an entire intermission.

    The men’s side of things isn’t a whole lot better.

    I would be optimistic about more/better washrooms in a new facility. I’ve been in newer rinks that really seem to “get” that having ample washroom facilities is actually a priority and good for business overall.

    The easier it is to take a whiz, the faster you can get back in line for an $8 beer!

  • Prototype369

    Being a student, I’ve never watched a game in anything other than press box seats. I’m usually in row 1-3, and I’ve never had a problem with the view.

    I’d like to watch a game sitting in the first bowl one day though (sighs wistfully)

    • Sol Goode

      Honestly, I prefer sitting up in the press level. I have sat behind the bench and behind Kipper a few times and the experience is much more fun up in the press level. You get great views from everywhere, I just feel like most the people in the lower bowl are not as interested as the people higher up.

    • piscera.infada

      Personal preference, you’ll never do better than the first couple rows of the second level between the bluelines. That said, it’s hard to truly appreciate how fast the game is until you sit in the first bowl–it’s a definite experience.

      Personally, I don’t mind the Saddledome aside from minor gripes about the washrooms and concourses. I’ve always explained those away as something that’s inherent in the activity. I will say, while I understand the wider concourse argument, there’s nothing sweeter than when those things are jam-packed with screaming people after a big win.

      I understand the draw-backs, but the ‘Dome definitely still has the feel of a hockey rink–I hope wherever they play next keeps that feeling first and foremost. I’m not a huge fan of the new, mega-plex, institution-like arena. Give me something that at least somewhat hearkens back to those old, community rinks of my childhood and I’ll be happy. I get that everyone wants “events”. That just not that big a deal to me, honestly.

      • Longshot1977

        The front rows of the second level, right at the red line. Those are far and away my favorite seats in the ‘dome. The view is ridiculous.

        Closer can be fun, but if you want to see the “whole” game, that’s the place to be.

        • kittensandcookies

          Hell yes. AMAZING perfect seats.

          At one place I worked at, they had season tickets there. This was a couple of years before the 04 cup run. Sometimes we couldn’t give the tickets away so I ended up with them. After the run, yeah not so much 🙂

      • Prototype369

        Thanks, I do my darnest to win those ticket giveaway contests the flames twitter account does before games, but I’m always minutes late lol. I have sat right behind the bench during practices, and even then it feels ridiculously fast, but I can imagine it’d be different during the game.

        The saddledome is positively a fossil compared to the Rogers Arena or Air Canada Center, but I love it. With its terrible bathrooms, flood stains and stink to how I get lost every single time getting to press box 14, it’s home sweet home 😀

  • Sol Goode

    I went to quite a few games the year we made the playoffs and sat in the press level. There was 2 full rows of people that all cheered against the Flames, they must have all been friends or something because they were there every game I saw. They were quite entertaining and I just couldn’t get over the fact they were there to hate the Flames.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      The real problem is that Budweiser is crap beer. Any microbrew would be a dream for me.

      The old adage remains “Think globally, drink locally”.

        • McRib

          Goose Island used to be awesome, but then Budwesier bought them and now it’s just another mass produced beer loaded with preservatives (it’s now brewed in all Labatt breweries and resembles nothing of what it used to be when it was a Chicago micro brew). I mean I would drink Goose Island over a standard Budwesier, but that’s not saying much. Too bad we can’t get Village, Wild Rose, etc or even something at least from Western Canada at games.

    • cberg

      Good: Atmosphere and generally good sight lines. C-Train access and Departure. Iconic roof design.

      Bad: Seats way too close and narrow. Press box area like watching TV, too distant. No use of modern technology. Concourse a DISASTER. Concourse food too limited and poor (fast-food) quality. Bathrooms (both sides), enough said. Very limited elevators, no escalators. Limited use for other events due to roof issues. Egress from parking lot a standstill. Nothing else to do in immediate vicinity. Undesirable area to linger… Merchandise stores way too crowded (see: concourse). Soon to be the laughing stock of the league, may impact players and free agents.

      • kittensandcookies

        The food has gotten way better over the years, which is damning with faint praise, because holy carp it used to be inedible in the early 90s. We always made sure to eat before we went to a game back then.

      • piscera.infada

        In fairness, the end of that article actually explains it quite well. It’s not the fact that it’s a higher alcohol content (which I’ve never heard referenced), but the fact that it’s pumped a long way through the ‘Dome with CO2, making you feel it quicker than you otherwise would.

        • The Ghost of Alex Plante

          That’s fair. I have heard the higher alcohol content referenced often (not by the most intelligent people I should add). My point is that the atmosphere plays the biggest role. I’ve had plenty of beer at the dome and when I’m sitting with my family in the lower sections it isn’t any different than a beer at home. When I’m at the game with my friends in the nose-bleeds with all the other drunks, I’ll start feeling it pretty quick. It all depends on your mindset when you’re drinking it if you ask me.

  • reidja

    First, I love the saddledome. My best sports memories have happened there, no contest.

    I have shared season tickets for a handful of seasons and have watched games in a third of the buildings in the NHL. The Saddledome is by far the worst building I have attended an NHL game in. The one redeeming quality about it is the location, but it falls down in every other catergory. The Press Level seats are criminally bad.

    I’m not advocating that we spend upwards of $1B of taxpayer money on a new one, but in nearly every objective sense, the Saddledome is the most antiquated building in the league. Let’s at least face that before we wax sentimental about it, because we are stuck with it for the foreseeable future.

    I will say, even with all its obvious and plentiful warts, there is a certain art to navigating the throngs of the crowded concourse efficiently that separates the rookies from the seasoned vets. That I love. Here’s a hint, if you are waiting for the can in a line longer than 5 feet from the door of the washroom, you are doing it wrong.

    One more note, Ryan mentions that it is likely not possible to fix the terrible Saddledome washroom issue…. Not so. I have never waited in line more than a brief moment in another city. They have solved the hockey game pee-issue in other places my friends, and it is great.

  • X Man

    My job is to help set up sound, lighting, stages, ect. for concerts at the ‘dome…

    The worst thing is that there are no loading docks, and ALL the equipment has to be lugged up and down a long, steep ramp… It’s ridiculous…

    The best things about the ‘dome for me is the atmosphere and the history…

  • KH44

    Love the atmosphere, I don’t know how much is the Dome and how much is the fans, but it is always fun and exciting.

    Hate how the bathrooms flood the concourse. Its disgusting.

    My wife hates the ice cream. The chocolate is heavily flavoured with cinnamon, apparently. It is a common trick when chocolate flavouring is too expensive. She is very passionate about this issue.

  • redwhiteblack

    Claustrophobic. Roof is to low. Staples Center has nice high walls and ceiling which allows for more concourses, bathrooms, beer outlets and people moving.

  • In all honesty the issue with the Saddledome an entertainment arena facility starts and ends with the roof.

    It’s iconic. It’s well known. It’s architectually a masterpiece of art. However, it’s useless for concerts. Being known for the roof architectually for me is just ridiculous for a sports and entertainment arena.

    The Flames arena should be known for something like a 10ft churro that you can only get at the arena or some Flames themed game food. Maybe bring some of the stampede elements in like deep fried coffee or something. It should be known for the atmosphere of the games and the fans. Something actually related to the entertainment not the bloody roof. I dont care about the roof as long as the next big act doesn’t bypass us cuz of it.

  • slapshot444

    Good: Atmosphere, location
    Average. Seats, views, food
    Bad; Beer, concourse, washrooms.

    If you’ve ever been to a really good arena you will think the Dome is a dump.
    Some new arenas , like Montreal, have very steep seating but it makes for amazing views, you do get a bit of vertigo at the very top but the view is 10 times better than the dome. The seats are a bit bigger give some nice elbow room. FYI I did used to go to games in the “Old Forum” and the seats were downright tiny,,and walking down the steps in the lower bowl with two beers in hand was life threatening cause it was so steep.

    re the Dome
    I swear one day someone is going to fart in the crowded concourse and there going to be a trampling.

    Re the beer,, KK really does his best to bring in some speciality beer kiosks and it really helps because any self respecting Flames fan shouldn’t drink the Budweiser, in the age of micro brews that stuff is embarrassingly bad.

  • Oil City Roller

    The Good – Defietly the roof. A classic icon of Calary for sure.

    The Bad – It’s filled with Flames fans!

    I kid, I kid. It should be interesting to see what happens with a new building in your City. Hopefully you get a better deal than Edmonton did.

  • McRib

    “Though admittedly the addition of the bike lanes has made approaching Stampede Park via 12th Avenue a bit of a pain, traffic-wise”

    I am a season ticket holder to the Flames, Hitmen and frequent concerts… Therefore I would estimate that I am at the Saddledome at least 55-60+ times a year and I haven’t once in the last two or three years seen anyone using those bike lanes, not once. It’s actually really comical outside of events there is rarely even cars in that area, bikers used to have the road to themselves rendering those lanes useless. I just spent the week in downtown Toronto where the bike craze has exploded and all those bikers seem to be doing a fantastic job biking without any dedicated barriers or fancy flashy poles anywhere to be seen. Calgary bike lanes are beyond overkill and it’s funny to go somewhere with an actual bike culture and then realize how few people actually use them here.

      • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

        Times are tough all over Alberta but Edmonton is nowhere near the state that Calgary is in . Tickets went on sale for the Oil in the new building on Thursday and I was fortunate enough to get two tickets in March to the best sports building in North America. A couple of hours and the season sold out.
        What goes around comes around!!

    • Aadvarkian Abakeneezer

      Somebody writes that article every ten years or so. Energy is a boom and bust industry. When it booms, everything is going to be perfect forever. When it busts, the sky is falling. People are idiots.

      Detroit’s problem wasn’t reliance on a single industry, it was reliance on three colluding companies.

      Anyway, Saddledome. I like it. Growing up it was the single coolest place on earth. I honestly would rather see it renovated than replaced, but then I could care less about being passed over by Bieber because the roof is weird.

        • Aadvarkian Abakeneezer

          I do recognise that. My point was really a personal one – I don’t go to or particularly care about huge concerts and the like, so for my selfish needs, I think the ‘dome is just fine. I think I’d miss it more than I’d appreciate a new facility.

  • RedMan

    the new arena will reflect the new era of washrooms…

    half will be stand up only facilities, half will be sit down only facilities (with stall/doors) and they will all be gender neutral.

    so many problems solved.