After raising more than $10,000 over the past few weeks through hundreds of GoFundMe contributions, Spencer Callaghan’s four #MelnykOut billboards went up across the city this past Monday and with another slated to hit the streets next week, they served their purpose of driving the conversation past the conventional channels here in Ottawa to reach the national audience and have outsiders discuss the impact Eugene Melnyk’s actions and words are having on this city’s hockey fans.
Whether it’s Elliotte Friedman appearing on Calgary radio, Spencer Callaghan appearing on TSN 1200‘s ‘The Drive’ for a full hour yesterday or yours truly talking to JD Bunkis and Ben Ennis on Fan 590‘s ‘Good Show’ (shameless plug, listen here) in Toronto, every NHL market in this country has had a conversation about the #MelnykOut movement.
Irrespective of where you come out on the #MelnykOut movement or the billboard advertisement campaign, having this conversation is important because there are thousands of fans out there who love and support this hockey team, but who have also become disenchanted with how the organization has been run.
As an aside, it hasn’t helped that there’s been an underlying sentiment amongst these fans that their concerns have not been shared by the traditional media. During a regional TSN broadcast earlier this season, Bruce Garrioch referred to this group as “the vocal minority” and while I don’t know whether that’s an accurate portrayal or not, it’s that kind of message that not only harbors resentment but fuels the #MelnykOut group’s decision to get their collective message out.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen and heard a number of criticisms thrown at this city’s traditional media for its perceived refusal to leave pure, unadulterated blame at Melnyk’s doorstep for the off-ice turmoil that has plagued this franchise in recent years. It’s important for fans to recognize the Senators’ broadcast partnership with Bell Media and by extension, TSN. Ottawa’s a one-horse town (sorry, RedBlacks), so you would have to be really naive to believe that there aren’t overt pressures or consequences from the organization whenever the tone is perceived to be negative.
Maybe that’s thin-skinned on the organization’s part, but in fairness to the Senators, that is their choice to make. Where I see an opportunity to recognize that criticisms can come from a good place because people passionately want to see change and improvements for their favourite team, the Senators have every right to protect their brand as they see fit.
What I will say to Senators fans is this: if there are writers or radio personalities out there that you enjoy, support and share their work — especially in this current media environment. I’m probably preaching to the choir since you’re checking out this small corner of the interwebs, but take it upon yourself to check out other blogs, podcasts, radio shows and engage this people regularly on social media or the comment threads to continue to drive the conversation.
I liken sports coverage to music, there’s tons of great work being done that isn’t necessarily mainstream. You just have to be willing to make the time to search it out and find it.
Now to help further the conversation created by the #MelnykOut billboards, here is my conversation with Spencer Callaghan:
- You started the #MelnykOut billboard campaign 23 days ago. Why then? What influenced you then to say, “Enough is enough. It’s time for Senators fans to express themselves?”
“This has been brewing for a while now, not with me, but with the fan base. When #MelnykOut started trending in Canada in the middle of the NHL 100 Classic it was clear something had to give. Really the final straw came when the trade deadline rumours about Karlsson started to get crazy. It was pretty clear that the motivation was financial, not hockey related (now essentially confirmed by Bobby Ryan) which makes you question the direction of the team. This is not specifically about Karlsson, it’s about the decision-making process that would lead to trading away a generational talent for anything other than pure hockey deal. But really, this is just a culmination of years of bad decisions and questionable direction that goes all the way back to Daniel Alfredsson leaving…the first time.”
- In those 23 days, you’ve raised $10,357. Are you overwhelmed by the response or is this campaign simply an outlet for a fan base that has had festering frustrations with ownership?
“I am both overwhelmed but also not surprised. Clearly, I knew the fan sentiment was there, and I have no doubt that Ottawa fans are passionate. What I was not expecting was how quickly it would blow up. The original goal was $5000 and we passed it in 16 hours. I remember thinking to myself that if we didn’t hit $1000 in the first day I was going to pull it. Clearly, that wasn’t an issue. The thing that frustrates me is that I *still* see media and others suggesting that this is the response to one bad season. Only by being intentionally obtuse could anyone think that were the case. This is years of pent up frustration that was unleashed when Mr. Melnyk decided to throw his customers under the bus on the biggest stage he could find.”
- Why did you opt for billboard ads (or is all the money going towards billboard ads)? Did you look at other mediums to express yourself and will you use them as well? Who helped you contribute in the conception and design of your ads?
The billboard is really just a symbol. It was a way to get attention for all the Sens fans’ voices who were not being heard. This sentiment has been clearly and passionately expressed on social media, in blogs, and by individual fans for years but there’s still this tendency in the mainstream media to see online voices as somehow less valuable. The billboard was really just a way to bring that conversation into the mainstream, and it’s working. We have looked at other mediums, and we may have more to announce in that regard soon, but the billboard was the promise and we have fulfilled that promise. I have been working directly with Ryan Mance (@ryanclassic) on the campaign messaging and tactics (he created the #MelnykOut signs you have been seeing on TV). Jacob Barrette (@le_collectif) created the awesome billboard design, and Marc Audet (@rocket57) contributed layout and graphic design.
- At any point, did the Senators organization ever reach out to you to discuss your frustrations and allay them in an effort to put the raised money to a charitable cause? Is that something that you would have been interested in doing?
Nope, never. I am both surprised and not surprised. As for the money, anything we have left over will be donated to charity, we’re hoping to give it to the Sens Foundation.
- So far, the only public response to your campaign has been Melnyk’s email response last week to Postmedia. In his letter to season seat holders earlier in March and then in this email response, he plays up the fact that he bought this team in 2003 out of bankruptcy. How tone-deaf is it for him and his handlers to play this up like it was a selfless act and are you surprised that he’d express confusion with the message that you’re trying to send here?
That’s just it, the letter is so transparently self-serving that it’s hard to take it seriously. First, it only went to season ticket holders, which just shows you what the motivation was. Second, rather than being humble, he starts off by patting himself on the back for a deal he made 15 years ago for an asset that has likely tripled in value. It wasn’t charity, it was business. This is about the Sens in 2018, not 2003. Finally, the letter was basically a (badly executed) PR exercise, no concrete actions, no attempt to apologize for slamming his customers, no acknowledgement of the nature of the problem. The letter basically positions this issue as being about one bad season which is absolutely is not.
- And just so it’s clear, what is the message that you want ownership and the organization to understand?
First, and this may surprise you, that it’s not too late. It will take a real effort, and some humility, but the pieces are all in place for this franchise to be hugely successful. If I’m the Sens, I take this campaign as a positive sign that people care, this market cares, and that’s better than apathy. Second, that while not spending to the cap is OK, not investing in the team in other ways is not. No business has ever cut its way to success. When you can’t compete on player salaries, you have to do so in other ways. Ken Warren had a great piece out last week about how the Sens front office is one of the smallest in the NHL. You can’t possibly hope to compete without support in the front office and hockey operations. Of all markets, Ottawa (with it’s highly educated population) would probably embrace moneyball the most. We’re a town full of policy makers and stats geeks, embrace that. Finally, and most importantly, you have to respect the fans. There is this idea that sports fans (particularly Canadian hockey fans) are just supposed to take abuse from their favourite teams out of some kind of religious duty. Sports is a business, we are customers, and you have no more right to our money than anyone else does. The best way to make sure you respect and understand the fans is to have a local CEO and team president who understands this market. Mr. Melnyk is free to run his team however he sees fit, but installing himself as CEO was a clear sign that he is completely misreading (or ignoring) the fan sentiment.