The Ottawa Senators were kind enough to invite a handful of writers and influencers from social media to their pre-season game yesterday, where we had the opportunity to speak with numerous staff members. Among them were Pierre Dorion (interview transcript can be found here), and Aimee Deziel, the new chief marketing officer of six weeks.
Both were very generous with their time, and Deziel in particular was really open to feedback on everything from the game-day experience, to logo design and much more. Below is a transcript of the key questions asked during the interview portion, along with some additional thoughts.
On the Eugene Melnyk video interview with Mark Borowiecki...
“You know, that’s a really great question. I read Twitter and, you know, people wanted people fired. Here’s the thing, at the end of the day — that’s fine and I get it — was everything about that video beautiful and polished and what have you? And I’ll tell you, we did have a very polished version of that, where he was just going to give a speech and essentially give a very front-and-centre version of the letter. And actually it was his idea, and he was like, ‘Look, I’m a passionate guy, I know what I’m talking about but it’s much better for me to feel more comfortable like it’s a chat, and then that way I feel like I can better communicate with the fans, and they don’t just see me as a robot, it’s a little bit more personal’. In certain circumstances I can see that people would look at it and go ‘Oh, that was really awkward’. But for him that was very natural. And I think that he just wanted to be in a situation where he can speak a little bit more honestly about his feelings and his plans and what he felt about the team. You know, I personally give him kudos for that. He wasn’t shying away from it, he didn’t say ‘No, I only want something scripted’. He was willing to go off script a bit. And take for it what you will. I think that he did a pretty good job with it, and I think that he’s got some ways to go. For him, he’s comfortable with it and it was an opportunity for him to connect with the fans. He did it in his way and I respect that.”
This confirms a lot about what was suspected about the Eugene Melnyk video. While the letter being referred to didn’t exactly play over well with the fanbase either, the video that ended up being released was an unmitigated disaster. From the belittling of Karlsson’s leadership to his denial of his comments at the Winter Classic, any sort of polish could’ve been used. There’s no way it should’ve made it all the way to the public, and the fact that there was a less embarrassing version ready yet still chose to release this video is an indictment of either Melnyk’s power, or the holes in the marketing department. Or maybe a combination of both.
On the long-term plan for the logo...
“The plan for this year is to stick with the Senturion. How long-term is long-term? I can’t comment past this year. The Senturion that is in the middle of the ice right now is what we’re sticking with this year.”
Q: Are other options being considered?
“Always. I think that if you’re not considering other options your brand standing still. So we’re always considering.”
Although former chief operating officer Tom Anselmi wasn’t all that vocal about it, there was clearly a shift in his tenure towards using the Heritage O. Since he’s left, we’ve now seen the logo on the front of the Canadian Tire Centre switched, the logo in the middle of the ice switched, and overall a return of the presence of the 3D Senturion.
The general reaction hasn’t been all that positive, which is why it’s good to see they’re considering their options to switch. And if they choose to listen to the fanbase, I’d fully expect this to be the last season of branding the 3D logo.
On plans to bring in a third jersey...
“The third jersey is coming this year, we will have a third jersey this year. It will be the Centennial Classic jersey from last year.”
“Logistically we’re not in a position to not have to make that decision today, at this point in our year. So I think we’ll kind of see what the reception is to the jersey. And if people like it, then yes, and if they don’t, then we might make a change. It’ll be every Thursday game, which I think is about ten Thursday games.”
This was a popular move when they brought it back last season, so I’m glad to see it continue. With plenty of teams revealing their new third jerseys after a hiatus from the jersey manufacturer switchover in 2017-18, it’s good to see that the Sens will at least have some form of variety. The Thursday home games schedule means it will be worn on eleven occasions (ten if they decide against using it for the home opener).
On what her focus is moving forward...
“I’ve got four things I want to accomplish. Not just this year but I think it’s going to take a few years of just doing well, and one is — you’re recording me so I won’t say what it is but I’ll put it in a nicer way — we need to own our stuff. We need to accept that we’ve made some mistakes, and we need to address them and we need to move on from them. But to pretend like they’re not happening is not an option in my opinion. Now I’m one person, and I have a whole organization to move into this more accountable format. So we need to be more accountable.
“The second one is to modernize, which we talked about, and Janice [Nicholson] is joining our team as a director of digital media. We’re starting to reach and work with [digital media] a lot more. We’re getting more creative in terms of how we reach out to fans and how we communicate with them, so modernization is a huge part of it.
“We need to create connections, that’s the third one. That really has a lot to do with our roster. A lot of people don’t know who’s on our roster. There’s a lot of new guys, so at the end of the year, people can name five guys that are on our roster that they couldn’t name at the beginning of the year, and they know something about them, about their life or about their career that isn’t just how many goals they scored, that’ll make me very happy. We need to get the community connected with the guys that are on the ice.
“And then the last one is we need to have some goddamn fun. Like, it’s a little bit stale in the stadium, and I think the offices are feeling a little bit stuffy. You know, we’re in hockey. This is the coolest job in Canada. We get to come here, we get to come to the stadium, we get to have a great experience, cheer on our players, and I just want to have way more fun. If you can come to the stadium and you can have a much better experience by the end of this season, I feel like we will have accomplished that. So those are kind of my four pieces.”
All positives coming from Aimee, as this shows some more clear direction that the top of the organization seems to be lacking. Holding themselves accountable, being open with the fanbase, creating a positive atmosphere... these are all things that can help regain the trust of the fanbase. Whether it’s enough to reconcile the fact that the hockey operations lacks direction is a different question, but there will definitely be a section of the fanbase, small or large, that will help them in at least getting over the fact that the team is expected to perform poorly this season.
The point of modernization is something that she really hit hard on, as the team is looking to expand their press box to give digital media the same type of access as traditional media. That’s of course good news for us, and for you too since we’ll be able to provide more extensive and in-depth content. But this is an area that the Sens have quietly fallen behind in respective to the rest of the league, so it’s good to see a large push being made.
I’ll say this again: there are still reason to want to hold out from spending money on this Sens. It all begins at the top, and Melnyk’s wallet is where it will hurt most. But for the section of the fanbase who decides to look past that, and just wants to absorb the cultural experience of hockey, this should come as positive news.
On the survey that claimed 75% of fans were content with the direction of the organization...
“We did do a big research project. It was almost completed by the time I started, so I saw the results about two weeks after starting. And I can tell you there is a fairly big discrepancy between hardcore fans and the general population. People who are hockey fans who come to four, five, ten games a year but aren’t hardcore watching and reading what’s online or necessarily listening to TSN1200 — these are the people who have hockey as part of their life but hockey is not their life. And the general populus is generally much more positive. They’re excited about the season, they’re excited to just have hockey back in their lives. So I think when you look at that, that’s where you get to that point in general. But we’ve got some more work to do with our hardcore fans. They’ve followed us, lots of them have some concerns. This past week was tough for them, but I think at their core, I really truly do believe they want us to win. They want a winning team here in the city, that’s why they’re so upset, right? And so I do think that we’re going to have to prove it to them that we deserve it, but that they will have to get back on board to see this is a team they want.”
I’m still very skeptical on the methodology of this survey, and whether their results are at all accurate. For comparison, Hockey Night in Canada posted a poll, where 92% of over 10,000 voters decided that they were not confident with the team’s direction. Of course, not all of the respondents were Sens fans, and the 8% who voted yes all likely cheered for Ottawa. But that’s quite a significant difference, and one that I personally wouldn’t trust.
On community involvement...
“That has to do with the creating connections piece. One of the things we’re looking at is creating more concerted program where we match players with community initiatives that they’re interested in. This isn’t something that we’re going to thrown them in, we need to find out a little bit more about what they want to contribute in the community, and we will just help facilitate that. But we’re really early days with the guys. We’re just getting to know them, so that will be something that will evolve over the season. Our goal is to have them start to build their own profile. We can help facilitate it, but their involvement in the community needs to be a little bit self-renovated. And I think a lot of them are very very keen to do that.”
While the team has done a good job for many years in reaching out to schools, there’s still something left to be desired with their community involvement, such as their lack or reaching out to fans in Quebec, or their absence at the pride parade this summer. I understand that Deziel is new to her position and is still getting to know the players. Although I hope the team makes a point of having players and staff showing up to events, because it will go a long way to connecting with the fans.
The interview segment basically wrapped up there, with some informal discussion about in-game entertainment. There appears to be a plan to bring back the town hall meetings in some capacity, although in a slightly different format.
I’d like to extend a thank you to Deziel, Dorion and the rest of the team for reaching out and putting this together, as I believe this a step in the right direction to regaining the trust of the fanbase. Of course, actions speak louder than words, so ultimately I hope that we can see a clear plan from the top level.