Bathurst — The start of an Acadie-Bathurst Titan game was delayed 90 minutes on Friday night when hundreds of functionally illiterate hockey fans were unable to find their seats in a timely manner.
Team officials, in consultation with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, made the difficult decision shortly before the scheduled puck-drop of 7 p.m.
“We were getting ready for game time, but when I looked around the rink it was like the middle of a fire drill,” said an exasperated Sylvain Roy, operations manager at the K.C. Irving Regional Centre in Bathurst.
It was a chaotic scene indeed as patrons, tickets in hand and the majority of them apparently out in public for the very first time, seemed unable to identify any recognizable pattern in the various symbols posted around the seating areas. Players, coaches and referees watched agog from ice level as crowds of people slowly wandered around the concourse, trying to find their section. But once they got there, it only got more confusing.
“They seemed to have no idea how to find their row. Like, if you’re in Row C, it’s in between B and D, right? But they would just stop at the end of each row, then look down at their ticket and take like 10 minutes before they realized it wasn’t the right one. Then they’d go down one step and start all over again,” Roy fumed.
“The good news is that we don’t have too many fans in the first place. Otherwise it could have been real mayhem.”
Matt Sullivan was one of the aimless throng who struggled to track down his designated seat.
“I don’t know how they expect you to get there with the information they give you,” he said, wildly flailing his ticket overhead. “Alls it says is ‘Section, Row, Seat.’ That’s hardly enough to go by, is it? You’d think for all the taxes we pay they could help us out a little more than that.”
Sullivan says he eventually stopped searching and just sat “wherever,” until another frustrated fan arrived and claimed the seat as his own.
“Well, I looked at my ticket and he looked at his ticket for a good 5 minutes, trying to figure it out. Then we switched and looked at each other’s tickets, but that didn’t help none neither. Eventually we just gave up — and not just on finding our seats. We just gave up on everything.”
New Brunswick’s literacy scores have consistently been among the lowest in Canada in recent years, with as many as 60 percent categorized as being “functionally illiterate,” or lacking the reading and numeracy skills required to function in everyday life. Consecutive provincial governments have proven unable to narrow the literacy gap and the current round of education cuts likely mean the situation won’t improve any time soon.
With that cold reality in mind, Roy says the facility is reconsidering its traditional alpha-numeric seating system.
“If some folks aren’t so good with letters and numbers and the like, maybe we’ll have to use some other kinds of symbols they do know,” he said, although the details are still being ironed out.
“Maybe we could use pictures of little cats or dogs, or some everyday things that people are more familiar with, like poutine, cigarette butts and pickup trucks. Maybe emojis would work? Everything’s on the table.”