Dear Melnyk: You still don’t get it

Melnyk’s latest think piece shows he still doesn’t think about anyone but himself

If somehow you missed it, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk released an opinion piece to the Ottawa Citizen yesterday, continuing a long tradition of him not understanding his fanbase at all. This is my attempt at disagreeing with what he says, mostly for catharsis, because he won’t read it, and even if he did, he wouldn’t understand.

Dear Eugene Melnyk,

You still don’t get it, do you? Us fans aren’t expecting the world, but we want honesty and realism. You don’t seem capable of giving us either. This time I suppose I should be happy that you picked an Ottawa newspaper, not Toronto sports radio, to voice your displeasure. But once again, you don’t even attempt to understand anyone who disagrees with you, and we’re far past the point of giving you any sympathy.

You start off by talking about the Parliament Hill game. No one disagrees that it would’ve been great. The problem is that there were just too many logistical issues. Most of them were outlined on this site not too long ago. You argue “The stars could not have aligned any better”, but it’s pretty obvious this isn’t the case. The Hill was a pipe dream at best, and everyone (with the possible exception of you) wasn’t holding their breath.

“It would have been a worldwide event that would have put all eyes on Canada – and our capital.” The thing is, it still could be. As much as we decry outdoor games, you’ve got to know that an outdoor game for the NHL’s 100th anniversary in the same city as its inaugural game would be marketed to death. You should know this. You should know how much this fanbase would appreciate it. But you hardly even address the possibility in your article. You seem much more intent on attacking the entirety of the Ottawa Citizen (who ran this article for you) than actually offering anything of substance.

From there, you move into some considerations. To put things bluntly, they’re terrible. You start off by saying “As owner of an NHL franchise, my core responsibility is to ice a  competitive hockey team and to try to not lose money in the process.” By that standard, you’ve failed miserably. It’s been a decade since this team was competitive. You complain every year that you’re losing money. So if that is your prime responsibility, then you’ve been failing for a decade, and maybe it’s time to reconsider your suitability for your job.

Next, you state that “These events [...] bring billions in cumulative economic revenue to the city.” This is what we’re all saying about why there should still be an outdoor game. The fact that you said the nice-and-vague “billions” tells me that you’ve done no study on this fact, but your point agrees with most fans. So why aren’t you committed to doing an outdoor game elsewhere? Oh yeah, you don’t actually say.

The next consideration is about your work towards bringing an arena to downtown Ottawa. I don’t see how this relates. We’ve known for a long time that, a) Lebreton Flats was opening up for redevelopment, and b) the NHL was approaching its 100th anniversary. You should be able to hire two different task forces to work on these two things. Not to mention, the work at Lebreton Flats is for the Ottawa Senators. It’s not some benevolent gift, it’s building an arena downtown to replace the 20-year-old arena in the west end. You’ve said that moving to Lebreton Flats would net the team more money and push the team closer to being a team that spends to the salary cap. Businesses should invest millions in projects that could net them many times more money over years to come. And guess what? You even won that bid! So don’t try to tell me that investing “millions” (i.e. vague amounts) in the Lebreton bid limits your ability to look into an outdoor game in Ottawa.

Your last consideration was my favourite: “And seriously, an outdoor game is not a “cash cow” for the Ottawa Senators.” Are you kidding me? Why else would you do it? Why does the NHL do 35 of these per season? They make money. Think about the merchandising possibilities - a new jersey everyone would want for starters, along with hats, mitts, you name it. I have a very hard time believing that you would actively choose to lose money to put this event on for the benefit of the fans. And if you’re arguing that a game at TD Place specifically won’t be a cash cow, I question why. Is the cost of renting TD Place really more than paying a group to build a pop-up arena on Parliament Hill? I seriously doubt it. TD Place could hold far more people, especially with added stands like they do for the Grey Cup. Once again, you speak with authority without having a shred of evidence to back up your opinion. I don’t think I need to add proof since you didn’t, but I will anyway. The 2014 Winter Classic earned a net profit of $20-million. Granted, that goes into the NHL’s hockey-related revenue, not directly to the team involved, but still. The host team is made whole, then gets its share of the rest of the profits (about half-a-million by that estimate). Plus the same share as always of merchandise goes to the team, and you’d better believe people would be buying stuff when you consider the success of the Heritage jersey. It would be the biggest single-game profit for the Sens on the year, guaranteed.

It was also a nice touch bringing up the ailing attendance near the end. Lots of people have considered why attendance is so low for a number of reasons. The fact that the government can’t buy corporate tickets, the difficulties in getting to the arena, the number of years of mediocrity by the team, and the lack of marketing of wunderkid Erik Karlsson are just a few. But none of this relates at all to holding an outdoor game. Unless you’re specifically trying to spite fans for low attendance by not talking to TD Place, this is another non sequitur, and I can’t say I’m surprised. Besides shouldn’t a team with attendance issues be interested in attaining the marquee event of the 2017-18 season?

You end by saying that all criticism of you over outdoor games “is unjust, unfair and misrepresents everything that my ownership and the Senators mean to this city.” This is a terrible way to end. Everyone should be open for criticism. If no one criticizes something I write, I get concerned. There is no way to improve if you’re not willing to listen to criticism. It sounds like you’ve made up your mind over every criticism of you before it even comes. If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t dish it out. I think they teach you that in kindergarten.

And lots more criticism will come, as long as you whine (to Toronto media) about losing money, talk in vague terms with no proof or research, complain about irrelevant things like starting Matt O’Connor in the home opener, and try to lecture a fanbase about how hockey works when the fanbase includes two individuals who make their living running hockey analytics websites. I’m not sure what the goal of this article was, but it definitely succeeds in making you sound like a whiny, selfish, petty billionaire who is completely out of touch with his fanbase.

If you want some ideas about things that might interest fans, I might suggest actually listening to fans. The past editor of this site, A, had some good thoughts yesterday about this. One idea is that the Sens could try to be the first major professional sports team with trans-friendly regulations. Inclusivity in hockey is miles behind where it should be, and that could be a real opportunity for the Sens. (Calling it an opportunity assumes you have no ethics and are just looking for ways to make money. But it also would be the ethical thing to do.) You could try some of A’s past ideas too, like having a small Sens museum in the arena, bringing personality to the inside of CTC, and actually marketing Erik Karlsson. Seriously, how have the Sens not marketed Karlsson for all he’s worth?

Oh, and finally, I think it would be good to keep going after an outdoor game. For once, the league was actively wanting to promote Ottawa. You’re shooting the entire franchise in the foot by refusing to move forward because you didn’t get your plan A, because you still bear a grudge against Landsdowne for getting your a soccer team, or because you want to spite the fans for not attending games (against Arizona on a Tuesday night when the Blue Jays were playing in the ALCS). Pouting and losing Ottawa its one opportunity to host an outdoor game would cement your place as the pettiest owner in the NHL since Bill Wirtz or even Harold Ballard. I’m sorry if you think these comments are unjust, unfair, or misrepresentative, but I’m not that sorry, because you already told me you were going to think that of my criticism regardless of what I said. And if you truly think you are so mistreated and unappreciated as owner, maybe it’s time to move on. I promise you, we fans won’t miss these whiny rants you go on periodically.


Ross A

Managing Editor, Silver Seven Sens, SB Nation

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