New Ottawa Senators boss Anselmi makes pitch to business community

Move to LeBreton Flats ‘hopefully’ four or five years away
Video by Carlo Lombard

On the eve of his first full season as president and CEO of the Ottawa Senators, Tom Anselmi laid out a vision for turning the team into a “global Canadian brand” that consistently plays before a packed house.

To get there, the hockey executive told an Ottawa business audience Tuesday morning, the team needs even more support from the local corporate community and to sell 1,000 more season tickets in each of the next two years.

“Our season seat base is one of the lowest in the NHL. Our attendance, our prices and our gate revenue are among the lowest in the NHL,” Mr. Anselmi said, adding that the team has only filled on average 80 per cent of its seats over the last decade. “We’ve got a challenge. We’ve got to grow the business if we want to keep having a team here that can compete with anyone in the NHL.”

During his keynote address, Mr. Anselmi discussed several challenges facing the Senators that have been oft-discussed throughout the team’s history, such as playing in a city with a relatively small business base while wedged between two hockey juggernauts – “the red guys to the east and the blue guys to the west.”

While conceding that some may see that as a daunting task, Mr. Anselmi said he loves the team’s positioning.

“I love our point of difference. We are the only NHL team in the capital city of the country that invented the game. No one else can say that,” he said. “Can a hockey team from Canada’s capital be a big NHL brand with global appeal? The answer to that is, ‘Hell yes, we can.’”

Reduced capacity

Mr. Anselmi, a former president of MLSE – the parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC – said he was offered the Sens’ top job last November, two months before he was officially introduced as a replacement for longtime team executive Cyril Leeder.

At the time, the team was struggling to fill the Canadian Tire Centre, a challenge that would continue during a playoff run that saw the Sens come within a goal of advancing to the Stanley Cup final.

During the offseason, the team reduced the capacity of its Kanata arena by 1,500 seats, a decision Mr. Anselmi defended on Tuesday.

“It was about right-sizing the building. We have an upper bowl that’s too big,” he said. “Our players want to play in front of a full house. Hockey fans want to be a part of a full house.”

In response to a question from an audience member, Mr. Anselmi said simply cutting ticket prices wasn’t an option.

“The seats that aren’t selling, generally, are the low-priced seats,” he said.

The team is also looking to improve the fan experience with enhanced entertainment at the arena as well as new food options, he added.

LeBreton Flats

When team owner Eugene Melnyk introduced Mr. Anselmi in January, he said part of the incoming CEO’s job was to “reinvigorate the brand” as well as guide the upcoming redevelopment of LeBreton Flats.

In April 2016, the National Capital Commission said it preferred the bid by the Senators-backed RendezVous LeBreton consortium for the massive redevelopment project, which is to include a new arena for Ottawa’s NHL team, 4,400 residential units, restoration of the aqueduct and retail space. The Crown corporation voted to start negotiations in November.

On Tuesday, Mr. Anselmi said he had little in the way of an update, other than that discussions were ongoing with the city and the NCC.

“We’ve got lots of work to do,” he said.

While saying that the timeline for the move is “still very much in the air,” Mr. Anselmi said he hopes it would be within the next four to five years.

Mr. Anselmi was speaking at the Mayor’s Breakfast Series, co-hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.