There’s No Avoiding The Playoffs, So You May As Well Jump On The Bandwagon

The NHL playoffs bring tens of thousands of fans — and even more investment — into our downtown. For those not hockey-obsessed, it also clogs streets, bars and makes dining out nearly impossible. But like it or not, Oilers-mania is here to stay, so why not accept it and have some fun?

photo by Andy Devlin

With the Edmonton Oilers clinching home-ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, Oilers-mania is set to officially descend on the city this Monday. That’s good news for the hockey hooligans among us, who are already dusting off their McDavid and Draisaitl jerseys in preparation of the team’s ICE District debut. But what about those among us who aren’t hockey obsessed, or who, like our publisher Trudy Callaghan, are just blissfully unaware of the playoffs altogether? How do they navigate the coming storm of blue-and-orange?

The simple answer? They don’t.

“My advice to people … is to just lean into it,” said Puneeta McBryan, the CEO of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association. “You don’t have to be a hockey fan to really buy into the energy, civic pride and faithfulness of being out and walking around and being in crowds with people. If you don’t buy in, it can easily just be an inconvenience.”

Tens of thousands of noisy fans, bars and restaurants packed so full that getting a table without a reservation is less likely than Danielle Smith endorsing Justin Trudeau in the next election, and a literal fleet of traffic coming in and out of the downtown core can sound like a nightmare for those of us who don’t partake in the McDavid worship so pervasive in this town. But bandwagoning your way into oil country really may be the most salient advice there is for staying sane throughout the playoffs because, as McBryan notes, the impact the games bring to the city ensure that Oilers-mania isn’t going anywhere.

“It’s almost indescribable what’s going on when the playoffs happen,” she said. “The sheer number of people who flood downtown … there are nights where I’ll be at a bar two full blocks away from the arena and you can hear the cheers every time there’s a goal. The entire area is just booming.”

During the regular season, McBryan estimates Oilers’ games draw anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 people downtown. During playoffs, that number doubles. Research carried out by Moneris — a financial technology company with offices in Toronto and Calgary — showed that during the 2023 playoff run, restaurant and bar sales near Rogers Place spiked by up to 121 per cent while sales in the city writ large shot up by 116 per cent. Fast-food spends in the area also spiked by 99 per cent near the arena and 109 per cent city-wide.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” McBryan said. “There’s an undeniable spike in spending over a sort of 10-block radius around the arena during the playoffs.”

And that’s a big deal for a downtown core that’s regularly described as mostly vacant, fairly dangerous and largely overlooked during evening hours during the rest of the year.

“I’m hesitant to talk about the challenges [of the playoffs] because the challenges we’re dealing with normally — especially in the winter, with slow business and with people working from home — are so much bigger and feel so much more unsolvable than the challenges we have to manage during the playoffs,” McByran said. “When the playoffs are happening, it’s not that we don’t have problems, but we have a shift in what [types] of challenges we’re dealing with. They’re problems of high density, high activity … there’s obviously a big role for crowd management and police … but the overwhelming impact is positive by a long shot.”

So, what’s a guy like me, who doesn’t know a dump-n-chase from a bar down, to do with all this hockey? Well, short of avoiding the downtown altogether, or taking a multi-week holiday to the decidedly hockey-free City of Calgary (lol, sorry not sorry), the best bet is to heed McBryan’s advice and hop on that bandwagon.