Thoughts in Bold: Eugene Melnyk's Letter to the Ottawa Citizen

Thoughts in Bold: Eugene Melnyk's Letter to the Ottawa Citizen

Senators

Thoughts in Bold: Eugene Melnyk's Letter to the Ottawa Citizen

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After doing so, so, so well these past few months avoiding microphones and newspaper headlines, Eugene Melnyk is back.

That’s right, Mr. Melnyk is fucking back!

For the first time in what feels like ages, the Euge has stepped back into the fray and lobbed some verbal jabs at the Ottawa Citizen for their editorial piece that endorsed the idea of the Senators playing an outdoor game at TD Place rather than play no game at all.

Keep in mind, the Citizen article came on the heels of an NHL.com report that cited the Senators as having little interest in hosting an outdoor game that wasn’t on Parliament Hill.

Having read the editorial, it seemed pretty innocuous, but Melnyk’s never really been the sort to take too kindly to criticism.

So what did he do?

He eloquently penned an editorial letter of his own to the Ottawa Citizen to throw his two cents in.

The letter in its original form can be read over at the Citizen’s website, so give it some clicks. For purpose of this article though, I’ve copy and pasted it below to include my thoughts in bold.

Here we go…

There has been plenty written and debated about bringing an NHL outdoor game to Ottawa.  Some have rightly pointed out the grandeur and vision of what an outdoor game on Parliament Hill would have represented, not only for Ottawa, but the entire country.

Yeah, sure. I mean, the game on Parliament Hill would make for some awesome visuals, but in this day and age, the game would have captured the attention of the country for as long as it would have taken to tear the game’s temporary stands down.

An NHL outdoor game on Parliament Hill would have been historically significant on so many levels. It would have marked 100 years to the day when the Senators and Montreal Canadiens played one of the very first games in the storied history of National Hockey League. We would have played the game on Parliament Hill, in the very heart of the nation’s capital, to cap off 12 months of celebrations across the country to honour Canada’s 150th anniversary, the NHL’s centennial and the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup which was bequeathed by Lord Stanley – in Ottawa.

It’s true, it would have been historic and memorable to the fans in Ottawa. The disappointment in seeing this kind of opportunity fall by the wayside is palpable.

The stars could not have aligned any better even if hockey fans across the country tried to script it themselves.

Yeah, this is where it kind of gets lost on me. I get that this is a big deal for the Senators considering it would mark the anniversary of the Senators playing the Canadiens 100 years ago. And yeah, I get that it’s important for the City of Ottawa as a marquee event that it can use as a vehicle to champion the City’s 2017 celebration for Canada’s 150th anniversary. At the same time, for anyone who doesn’t have any rooting interest in this game, would they really care that much? I’m skeptical.

It would have been a worldwide event that would have put all eyes on Canada – and our capital. That is what I wanted for Ottawa and all Canadian hockey fans.

It probably wasn’t a worldwide event, but hey, you can’t blame Melnyk or the Senators for pushing this possibility as far as it could go.

So we rolled up our sleeves and worked hard to support an effort to bring this vision to reality and invested hundreds of hours of collective work over 18 long months with a singular focus to bring the grandest game of all time to Canadians.

Despite outlandish odds, the Senators worked really hard to bring an incredibly unlikely event outdoor game to Parliament Hill and failed. It’s akin to bragging that Bryan Murray called the Washington Capitals every day inquiring on Alex Ovechkin’s availability.

It’s great that they tried as hard as they did and sure, their efforts should be commended, but it fell through and predictably so. Let’s not act that there isn’t or wasn’t time to find an alternate site here.

Hell, the idea to play an outdoor game in Ottawa at Lansdowne was only first leaked in a report by the Ottawa Business Journal in December of 2012.

According to the report:

The idea is to have the Senators face off against the Montreal Canadiens, according to Ottawa Marriott general manager Daniel Laliberté, a member of the committee helping plan the city’s offerings for 2017.

Even better, the report went on to state that the idea for such a game was formed by Jim Watson in 2010. In other words, it predated Ottawa’s vaunted 2011 rebuild.

Now maybe it’s just me and my firm belief in the benefits of risk management and alternative strategies when shit goes south, but maybe when you’re dealing with such an improbable event site, it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan.

It has been a week since the federal government rendered its decision to not support the outdoor game on Parliament Hill. It was a decision, that, while disappointing, involved no shortage of effort made by us to try to make it happen.

It didn’t succeed and in the sports realm in which you operate, no one celebrates failure. Naturally, fans are going to be disappointed that there won’t be a game on Parliament Hill, but with that said, fans would rather see a game be played at TD Place than have no game at all. Maybe it’s not the grandiose vision that you imagined, but it’s a historical anniversary that Ottawa and Senators fans can enjoy and celebrate.

And now, I read Tuesday’s editorial implying that, as the owner of the Ottawa Senators, I should have rushed to endorse a deal to bring the “cash cow” outdoor game to TD Place – and if I don’t, then I am not a “smart businessman.”

Well actually, the report indicated that the game would be a “cash cow” that the NHL and Eugene Melnyk would have preferred.

Technically, it the details of the report were correct, the league and the Senators owner preferred an event that would generate the most amount of revenue.

According to the Citizen:

As originally conceived, the game would have been played before about 6,000 fans, just like the first NHL game here. That would have been fun. However, it wouldn’t have been the 35,000-seat cash cow that the NHL and Senators owner Eugene Melnyk preferred.

Ultimately, the league preferred an even that could generate the most revenue and who could blame it? Considering it foots the cost of hosting the event and takes all the revenue from the game, you can’t blame the league for trying to maximize its revenue stream here.

And so it seems, rather than applaud our attempts to do something spectacular for Ottawa and our hockey-loving nation, your editors would rather point a finger of blame – squarely on the Senators and me.

What do you want? A participation ribbon?

Nobody’s blaming the Senators for trying to fulfill the dream of playing on Parliament Hill, but there’s inevitably going to be frustration when the organization reportedly shows a lack of interest in playing on an alternate site.  

The blame and criticism are quite honestly difficult to endure as it unfairly suggests I don’t care about the city, nor do enough to support it. Really?

That’s not what it said at all.

So, for the editorial board of your paper and everyone else who wants to point blame at me, consider the following:

  • 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.

Your core responsibility is to win a championship, but carry on.

And yet, I have always committed to doing so much more, including bringing nationally and internationally broadcast events to Ottawa including the World Junior Hockey Championships, the Women’s World Hockey Championships, multiple JUNO Awards, the NHL All-Star Game, two NHL Entry Drafts, the Roar of the Rings – as well as important community initiatives such as multiple new Sensplex arenas, the Bell Capital Cup, refurbishing outdoor community rinks and supporting the city’s upcoming 2017 celebrations.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Melnyk is figuratively pounding his chest here and believing that he’s responsible for marquee events like Roar of the Rings landing in Ottawa, but holy shit, it’s not like he’s the driving force behind these events. Irrespective of who the owner of the Ottawa Senators is, the city of Ottawa would eventually get these kinds of events.

 

  • These events, including the fact Ottawa has an NHL team, bring billions in cumulative economic revenue to the city. Hotels, restaurants, small businesses and big businesses – all benefit from the Ottawa Senators. Quite frankly, one would be hard-pressed to find someone in Ottawa who hasn’t been touched in a positive way by the Senators.

If only there was some kind of research (here, here, here) into what kind of economic impact sports teams create for their local markets.

  • On top of all this, we have also spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars working toward an incredible opportunity to bring the Senators to a new, multipurpose major event centre in downtown Ottawa.

But hey, if this major event centre falls through, at least you tried!

  • And seriously, an outdoor game is not a “cash cow” for the Ottawa Senators.

No, it’s not. It’s a cash cow for the league who pays the cost of the game and takes all the revenues from it. Considering how hideous Ottawa’s current set of home and away jerseys are, they could probably market the shit out a new alternate jersey that pays homage to the team’s past.

I take all this on because I know how important this NHL team is to the economic and social fabric of the city.

I know how important the Senators are to this city. That’s why the organization hasn’t engaged in conversations about where to host a game should the Parliament Hill idea fall flat.

Running the Ottawa Senators is not an easy business. Consider the fact that the team is currently eighth overall in the NHL and the second-best performing Canadian team, and yet we are far from sellouts at our home games.

All the sympathy in the world should go out to those billionaire and millionaire owners who spend unfathomable amounts of money on sport franchises. We know not their pain.

I don’t know how this letter went from criticizing the Citizen’s criticism of his stewardship to a passive aggressive crack on the Senators’ fan base for failing to support a winner with gate revenue, but well fucking done, Eugene.

Through my ownership of the Ottawa Senators, I do so much to support the city in ways that go far beyond hockey. In this instance, I ask everyone to understand and respect the fact that bringing an NHL outdoor game to any city is a monumental task requiring an enormous investment of time, money and people.

I can’t get over the fact that Melnyk keeps referring to the organization’s work as his own. I mean, if he sold the club, I’d still expect the organization to be as impactful in the community as it is. The organization does a ton for this city, but I feel like this would be the case irrespective of who the owner was.

There are countless considerations and requirements from multiple legal agreements, logistics, multi-event programming and venue contingencies that need to be fully addressed and planned for. As the owner of Senators, I have an inherent responsibility to ensure that all decisions made are in the best interests of not just hockey fans and people of Ottawa, but also in the short and long-term interests of the Senators organization.

Wish this attitude was applied when handling the Daniel Alfredsson UFA negotiations.

Inevitably, more stories will be written by this paper and other media outlets who would simply like to point blame and accuse me of shortchanging the city for not jumping immediately to commit to another venue for an NHL outdoor game.

It’s pretty ballsy for Melnyk to call out the media for pointing out how he and the organization should do everything within their power to secure a game at TD Place rather than miss out on the opportunity to host a game at all.

I mean, if we look back at Melnyk’s tenure, he has barely been criticized by the media at all.

When the Senators are the only major sports franchise in town, the newspapers are dying and the only real sports radio station pays for the broadcast rights to Senators games, it’s not like outlets have a carte blanche to throw shade Melnyk’s way without facing some kind of recourse.

It is unjust, unfair and misrepresents everything that my ownership and the Senators mean to this city.

No offence Eugene, but the Senators mean a hell of a lot more to this city than your ownership does or ever will.

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