Ottawa Roots store removes Leafs merchandise after Senators fans complain

The National Hockey League may be on a self-imposed hiatus, but the Battle of Ontario is still raging on the retail front.

Earlier this week, an Ottawa Senators fan named Spencer Callaghan noticed a big Toronto Maple Leafs merchandise display — complete with mannequins and a wide variety of clothing — at the company’s Bayshore Mall location, with no equivalent for the local team.

Perturbed that the iconic Canadian retailer would so brazenly flaunt said merchandise in an enemy market when he couldn’t find a single Sens shirt, he took a picture and attached it to a complaint, later picked up by Senators fan group Red Scarf Union, to the official Roots public relations Twitter account.

Even he was surprised by what happened next.

On Tuesday, the company said via Twitter it would be removing all Leafs goods from its capital locations, pointing out the merchandise was still available on its website and in other stores.

True to its word, there was nary a Leafs logo to be found at the Bayshore store Thursday afternoon, though Roots director of communication Robert Sarner said in an email Tuesday night that the company would in fact continue to sell Leafs goods here.

“In terms of the issue of the Leaf merchandise in our Ottawa stores, there was some confusion earlier (Tuesday) which resulted in a Tweet that went out saying we had pulled the Leaf merchandise from our Ottawa stores,” he wrote. “We did instruct the Bayshore location to modify the original display in their store after a few Sens fans perceived (incorrectly) that we favour the Leafs and made certain negative assumptions about us.”

Callaghan said an outright ban was over and above anything he expected or wanted anyways.

“The last thing I want is to come across as some whiny Sens fan trying to get something banned,” he said. “I just expressed my opinion to Roots. I don’t think I even put the Sens hashtag in there. All of a sudden it just blows up.

“I just said, ‘hey Roots what’s the deal?’ It wasn’t like a ‘hey lets crusade against Roots’ thing. I was just shopping for my wife.”

Callaghan said he feels the one thing the Senators franchise has failed to do in Ottawa is stick up for itself when Leafs and Habs fans run roughshod over it, and he also rejects the notion that voicing displeasure with what he called “disrespect” amounts to an inferiority complex.

“Red Sox fans would burn the building down if there was a Yankees display like that,” he said.

When another customer who disagreed with a ban contacted the @RootsCanada Twitter account to confirm the move, the company responded: “While we did make the decision to pull product from Ottawa locations, the merch is staying in all other stores and online.”

The customer, who described himself as a hockey fan who knows there are a variety of team supporters in any city, was stunned.

“Love Roots merch, but admit I’m astonished by the decision,” he wrote back. “So many Leafs fans in Ottawa, now left out in the cold.”

Indeed, the Leafs ban would have been a bold move from a business perspective, given a trip to Scotiabank Place for any recent Battle of Ontario game would suggest split loyalties in this town.

Sarner said Roots did hear from the other front Tuesday as well.

“In answer to your last question, yes we have heard from several Leaf fans in Ottawa who say they’re glad Roots does sell Leaf merchandise in the capital,” he wrote. “Curiously, we traditionally sell more Leaf merchandise in Ottawa than Senator products.”

Of course, Senators fans would argue that has more to do with poor selection than team allegiances.

Sometimes in the Battle of Ontario, nobody wins.

Twitter.com/SensReporter
jgordon@ottawacitizen.com

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