The Senators have launched a full-court press to boost season ticket sales.
This time, they mean business.
In fact, that’s the name of the initiative. ‘We Mean Business,’ is a play on words, as small to mid-size local companies are the target of a campaign aimed at selling 500 pairs of 100 and 200-level season seats this summer.
Ambitious goal. So much for hockey teams taking the summer off. This off-season, while players strengthen muscles and management tries to strengthen the roster, the Senators front office and ticket staff are working the community.
Maybe you’ve seen the poster, a pull-no-punches depiction of Senators tough guy Chris Neil duking it out with Tim Jackman of the Calgary Flames, under the giant headline: We Mean Business. With his gap-toothed countenance, Neil probably didn’t ever imagine himself a poster boy for a hockey club, but for the Senators his enforcer role is an appropriate symbol. The Senators have a fight on their hands to get their ticket numbers in line with other NHL franchises in this country.
Senators president Cyril Leeder, making one of his first public appearances since being inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame as a club co-founder, illustrated the challenge during a luncheon for local businesses Wednesday at Scotiabank Place.
Here’s the pitch (in the Senators view, a batting practice fastball): this team is a giant contributor to community events and charities, ices a competitive team while selling tickets at some of the lowest prices in the country. So why does it lag behind the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers in committed season ticket holders?
Individual fans have done their part, filling in the crowd gaps on a game by game basis. Check (√). The larger corporations have always been a pillar on which the hockey club could lean. Check (√) (and cheque). If there is a weak link in the chain, by dint of the Senators calculations, it is the role of smaller businesses.
By the end of last season, the Senators had 11,300 season ticket holders. They have since improved on the total, but are looking for a significant summertime push to get to 13,000.
“We do a lot of things right,” Leeder said, in an interview following the presentation, which included appearances by Senators development camp players, a “hot stove” featuring Senators staff and words from retired TV personality Max Keeping, Senators Foundation president Danielle Robinson and host Dean Brown.
“We generally have 20,000 people in here on a nightly basis, we don’t want to sound like we’re complaining, because we’re not,” Leeder said. “We just know the gap, if there is one, in our ticket plan has been in season seats, particularly in small to medium sized-businesses.”
Ironically, some of the 41 home games of most concern to the Senators are their most popular dates — the slam dunk sellouts. Huh?
Well, it’s like this, Toronto Maple Leafs fans, in particular, touched a raw nerve with the Senators in February during a 5-0 beat down of the Senators in which the blue and white forces took over the rink, and booed Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson to a degree that stirred local passions.
With that game, and others involving the Montreal Canadiens in mind, the Senators are vowing to “Take Back The Bank,” by shoring up season ticket seats and perhaps go so far as to interfere with the ability of out-of-town fans to access those games.
After years of accepting that the colour of Leaf/Canadiens fan money was green enough, and a welcome boost to team coffers, the Ottawa club has decided that after 20 years in the league it ought to be past such reliance on Original Six support. The Senators have an eye on maintaining those six more or less automatic sellouts while tipping the scales of support, to a more red, white and black hue.
While saying the organization can’t just own 35 home dates and cede the other six to Leaf and Hab interest, Leeder has promised further initiatives, some of which could involve tracking the likely rooting interest of fans before they get tickets to those games.
“We want to fill the building with Senators fans, to do that, we need to get the ticket base up, and when we get the season ticket base where it needs to be, we think we can fill the building with Senators fans on a nightly basis,” Leeder said.
By owning the stands, the organization feels it can better help the home team, “give them the crowd they deserve behind them — even when Montreal and Toronto are here,” Leeder said.
For what it’s worth, Leeder doesn’t believe the owners and players will cause a disruption of the season to get a Collective Bargaining Agreement signed, reasoning that there is much less to fight about than there was eight years ago. Leeder says it’s “business (that word again) as usual” around the Senators offices, although the club is one of many around the league to forego the annual pre-camp rookie tournament this summer.
More than a few fans are counting on “business as usual” come October.