The Ottawa Senators’ lesser-known employees are already paying the price for the National Hockey League lockout.
Ottawa Senators president Cyril Leeder said Monday that all of the club’s 170 full and part-time office workers have either been temporarily laid off or asked to accept a reduced work week.
“We’ve made contingency plans with our staff and everybody is affected,” said Leeder, making his first public comments on how the franchise will respond to the work stoppage.
Once the old collective bargaining agreement between NHL owners and players expired last Saturday, NHL owners immediately locked out their players. There have been no formal talks between the sides since and NHL training camps won’t open on Sept. 21, as originally scheduled.
While NHL players don’t start missing paycheques until the start of the regular season Oct. 11, employees working at the club’s Scotiabank Place offices are already feeling the financial pinch.
Leeder said “more than 10” full time employees have been laid off for the duration of the lockout. Other full time staff are now working – and being paid – for four-day weeks. Part-timers, who work during event days at the arena, will also see fewer shifts, although the appearance of the Ottawa 67′s at Scotiabank Place this season will partially offset the loss of Senators home games.
Staff were given notice about the implications of a lockout one month ago.
“We’re very cognisant of it,” said Leeder. “It really is the area I worry about the most. I know it’s not good for anybody when we have a work stoppage and the people most affected are our staff here.”
The Senators president recognizes fans are frustrated and acknowledges that season ticket sales have slowed in recent weeks.
“There has been lots of feedback,” he said. “Primarily, the overriding message is that they’re not mad at the owners, they’re not mad at the players, they’re mad at both of us … they wants us to get together and get a deal.”
Fans who hold season tickets have an option. The club says they will either refund the cost of tickets or will provide five per cent interest for fans who allow the Senators to keep their money.
Yet the longer the lockout goes on, the more the Senators run the risk of losing the wave of popularity they gained following their 2011-12 season, which ended in a surprising playoff berth, followed by a seven-game first round playoff loss to the New York Rangers.
“That’s a worry, obviously a concern for us,” he said. “We had a good year last year and finished strong. We’re anxious to get playing. We definitely want to be starting training camp and getting things going. We definitely feel that momentum and any kind of delay is obviously going against that.”
Leeder, however, echoed the comments of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, saying “the right economic agreement is important for the Ottawa Senators” in asking fans to have patience.
Under the old collective bargaining agreement, players received 57 per cent of overall league revenues. NHL owners are trying to cut that figure significantly. Their latest proposal called for players to receive between between 47 and 49 per cent of revenues, as well as an immediate salary rollback on existing contracts.
Players contend the solution is all about revenue sharing between the league’s healthiest and weakest franchises. The players suggest the league is healthy as a whole, as evidenced by the $3.3 billion in annual revenues, but that a few struggling franchises need to be supported by the teams which are making significant profits.
Many NHL teams continued to sign players to lucrative long-term contracts, even last week, leaving many fans to wonder why the league needs to change the current system.
“I understand the optics,” said Leeder. “All I can comment on is our own situation and we try to manage our team in the best interests of the Ottawa Senators. We have to do so within the confines of whatever CBA (is in place).”
In addition to the loss of jobs, the lockout also means a potential drop off in funds for charities. The Senators Foundation, the organization’s charity arm, was forced to cancel its annual pre-season golf tournament, originally scheduled for Wednesday.
Leeder insists that the Senators Foundation has made “contingency plans” and that the charities won’t be forgotten. “We’re finding different ways to raise money,” he said.