Former Marketing Executive Sues Eugene Melnyk

Former Marketing Executive Sues Eugene Melnyk


Former Marketing Executive Sues Eugene Melnyk


After years of rumours and stories regarding Eugene Melnyk’s relationship and treatment of employees, one has finally seen the light of day.

Thanks to the filing of a 23-page claim by Peter O’Leary, the team’s former chief marketing officer and vice-president of ticketing, fans have been provided with a rare and surreal glimpse into the dynamics and inner workings of the hockey club.

Postmedia’s Wayne Scanlan has a fantastic write-up in both local papers (Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Sun) chronicling the details of O’Leary’s claim and for Melnyk, the timing couldn’t be worse.

Not only will this negative PR be distracting for a hockey team that is trying to clinch a playoff berth and make some noise in the first round, news of the claim arrived the night before Melnyk’s inaugural gala in Toronto for ‘The Organ Project’.

This filing is centred on the dissonance between O’Leary and the Senators’ owner.

On one hand, O’Leary is alleging that his firing on December 12, 2016, was a breach of his contract and that Melnyk created a toxic work environment through some abusive behaviour.

Within the claim, O’Leary’s representatives portrayed a disconnect within the organization’s hierarchy wherein their client received strong performance reviews from then-president and COO Cyril Leeder while Melnyk “at times used profanity and levelled insults at executive team members, including constantly calling into question their competency. Mr. Melnyk sent abusive emails to the executive team and frequently threatened to dismiss them.”

And all this time I believed that alleged abusive emails only led to long-time Swedish captains bolting for the Red Wings, hey-o!

According to the filing, Melnyk’s allegedly blamed O’Leary for the team’s gate revenue and struggles at the box office. In his defence, Melnyk’s representatives will argue that this constitutes just cause for rightful dismissal. Per the Scanlan’s article, “Melnyk signed the termination letter, calling O’Leary ‘dishonest’ and his performance ‘dismal,’ citing absenteeism and a failure to co-operate with outside consultants.”

I don’t know whether there’s any truth to the claims of absenteeism, but considering Melnyk has spent most of his time running the Senators from Toronto and Barbados and even allegedly asked O’Leary “How and when did you get the title of Chief Marketing Officer?”, he’d be one to know.

Of course, this team’s disappointing ticket sales aren’t simply a by-product of the marketing department’s decisions – although, this team’s marketing and brand warrant legitimate criticism.

The federal government’s Phoenix pay system, the RedBlacks’ Grey Cup run and the accompanying competitive market for entertainment dollars, an oversaturated home schedule in the early portion of the season, the location and game-day experience at the Canadian Tire Centre and general fan apathy have all played a role here.

Melnyk, of course, has never accepted responsibility for how his words, actions or playoff mandate have not only negatively affected the decision-making of his front office but shaken this fan base’s confidence in him, as an owner, to deliver a winner to this city.

Although this claim seems destined for a settlement where non-disclosure agreements will stop the flow of information, the damage however is already done.

Irrespective of how this claim unfolds, there are important items alleged within:

  • The organization’s ticket sales were down and the team was losing money.
  • This loss of revenue contributed to O’Leary’s assertion that it made it difficult for the Senators to retain or attract staff “when the hockey club reduced net pay and was late on bonus pay. He alleges the Senators made all departments reduce spending by 10 per cent, which led to personnel reductions, including janitors.”
  • Further legal action is pending from ousted managers seeking severance.”

This claim could just be the first of many. With it getting the front-page treatment in the two local papers and some national exposure on Yahoo! Sports, it may be tough to put this genie back in the bottle.

Rightly or wrongly, the Harold Ballard comps aren’t going to stop anytime soon and this claim just lends credence to the perception that Melnyk is difficult to work for and is only concerned with the bottom line.

Other News and Notes:

  • Since the trade deadline on March 1st, the Senators have taken the most minor penalties in the league with 64. Considering the recent struggles of the team at 5v5 and on the PK, the Senators could do themselves a favour by staying out of the box.
  • Erik Karlsson’s streak of consecutive games played ended last night at 324. It was the first game that Karlsson has missed since returning from a partially severed Achilles tendon. Karlsson was feeling the effects of a blocked shot from Tuesday night’s game in Philadelphia.
  • After last night’s unwatchable 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, the players held a closed-door meeting. With the Leafs two-points back and the Bruins three-points back, playing with a sense of urgency is something that the Senators can actually afford.

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