Former Senators owner Rod Bryden doesn’t foresee a day when Ottawa hockey fans line up, lemming-like, to watch the home team regardless of its quality.
You know, as Maple Leaf Nation has done, historically.
“I think this market is not yet like Toronto, and please, God, it won’t get like that,” said Bryden in an interview. “But I don’t think the fans will come notwithstanding a team that doesn’t know what it’s doing.
“I think a persistently bad team would have lots of trouble here.”
Bryden gives Ottawa fans their due for being extremely knowledgeable, and willing to accept a brief setback during a rebuilding program. Fans were pleasantly surprised that the Senators reached the postseason in 2011-12 and probably should have handled the first place-New York Rangers in the playoffs, after taking a 3-2 series lead. The Senators missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2011, ending a streak from 1997 onward.
“They were pretty supportive of the need to make some changes and possibly miss the playoffs,” said Bryden, inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday, along with franchise founders Bruce Firestone, Cyril Leeder and Randy Sexton.
“If that were to go on for a few years though, I think you’d see a fairly quick erosion of attendance.”
“The market’s just not big enough to have a significant share of your fan base feeling dissatisfied with management and the way the team is performing,” Bryden said.
In his late 60s, Bryden is not letting up, never mind that his oldest daughter and her husband are making retirement plans. Bryden might even be “gathering speed,” as broadcaster Danny Gallivan used to say. In his spare time, Bryden is chairman of one company trying to find cures for cancer (Pharmagap), another dealing with waste water collection (Clearford Industries) and chair and CEO of a third, Plasco Energy Group, that turns household waste into energy with the magic of gas.
When it comes to hockey, though, Bryden follows the game as a fan, not from the business perspective.
“I’m a bit less of a fan now, with no Canadian teams in the playoffs, and New Jersey is not one of the teams that get my hair standing on the back of my neck or anything,” he said.
So, it was news to Bryden that the league is headed towarded a $70-million salary cap in the fall, assuming a new CBA gets done. He can tell you, though, that the Calgary Flames spent $5.8 million in salary expenses in 1989, the year they won the Stanley Cup.
“Ten years after that, our payroll was $40 million in Canadian dollars,” Bryden said. “We were paying more in salary in Canadian dollars than the New York Rangers were paying in US dollars, so that was a very stressful period on the income statement.”
Even so, the Senators payroll was less of an issue for Bryden than the market forces that caused the long term debt on the Corel Centre to be due immediately.
“That’s what prevented us from being around until the dollar went the other way which it ultimately did,” Bryden said.
“In error, the banks shut down Ogden (the arena lender), even though Covanta emerged from that and is a very strong company today.”
How nice would it be, running a hockey club with a dollar at par, and sometimes better? Bryden, showing his waste management acumen, doesn’t waste a lot of time being envious of the conditions under which current owner Eugene Melnyk operates the club.
“It really is akin to saying, for those that used to own Nortel at $90 plus, do you ever think of what you could have done if it was still a hundred bucks?” Bryden says. “Yes, but it’s kind of academic.”