In the aftermath of today's official revelation that the Senators had reached a corporate sponsorship and regional broadcast agreement with Bell Media, Senators President Cyril Leeder's appeared on 'The Drive' this afternoon to reinforce how monumental this agreement is to the Senators.
You can check out the full interview here, or via the embed below.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On how significant this deal is with Bell Media…
“This is a watershed agreement for us. Without getting into the financial details, all I can tell you is that we haven’t done anything near this size in the twenty-two years that I have been with club and I don’t think we will until another twelve years are up. So, it’s really an important step forward for the franchise and it’s a real game-changer for us.”
No freaking kidding. Depending on how the organization allocates this vastly enhanced revenue stream, the Senators have an incredibly awesome opportunity to do some creative things. I’ll come back to this later.
On how this deal is a dream, the timing of the deal couldn’t come at a better time and brings some legitimate financial stability to the franchise…
“Yeah, it’s been… the timing is pretty good for us. We headlined up all of our different, various agreements to come to (a conclusion) with the national rights. As we knew there would be some interest in the national rights, and we were hoping that we would end up in a situation where we’d have interest from various parties for our broadcast rights and that’s exactly what happened. Now, and we talked about it off-air, it just makes the margin for error a little bigger. When you’re in a smaller market like we are, the margin for error is so small. You have got to draft right. You have got to sign free agents right. You have got to spend your money right. There is just no room for error and when you can have additional resources – whether it’s financial or player-wise – it just means you have a little more room for error, so this is great news for us.”
It’s a smart business decision by the Senators to have the foresight to line their ducks up in a row and have them expire shortly after the awarding of the national broadcast rights agreement.
Leeder’s comments about having a small margin for error allow me to go back to my comments about doing creative things. Just because this team now has an influx of cash, doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be more comfortable blindly re-signing impending UFAs like Bobby Ryan and Jason Spezza to lengthy max-value contracts because they have more cash to paper over mistakes and as a result, less of a fear that it can blow back in their faces.
The organization and management obviously understand the risks associated with Jason Spezza and his health. There’s a reason why he has spent considerable portions of the season saddled with defensively responsible wingers, at the expense of offence.
He’s a great example between the need for balance between cost and risk. When healthy, Spezza can be an incredibly useful offensive piece who can raise the production levels of those around him, but the risk in signing a player with diminished performance and his back troubles, is sizable.
Could the Senators use a healthy Jason Spezza? Yes, but there’s also the possibility that he could be more valuable to the team as a trade chip that lands them assets that they can keep and use as players or use these same assets to bring in another player.
This team has a unique opportunity to be creative.
Their young core and the performance of an underrated free agent signing in Clarke MacArthur has essentially kept them in the playoff mix, but for the past three years, this team has not improved or taken the next step in its development. Despite the growth and development of this team’s young players, it’s been neutralized by the diminished production performance of its veterans.
Too often, we’ve heard conversations about trying to find a winger to put around Jason Spezza, but maybe the question should be, ‘When do we start looking for a top six winger to support Mika Zibanejad?’
Judging by the use of Bobby Ryan on Kyle Turris’ line, this transition from supporting the team’s vets to augmenting the team’s younger core is already taking place on some levels. So it will be interesting to see if it continues towards the NHL trade deadline and into this summer.
On whether more money will be spent on payroll or the internal budget…
“The short answer is yes. Obviously, when you… my… the reason I’m here in the business operations is to really provide the best opportunity for our team to win the Stanley Cup. Eugene Melnyk doesn’t take dollars out of the organization. Everything we bring in, we put back into our player budget or into the community. So what this deal does really, it just allows us to continue to do great things in the community. It allows us to continue to improve the fan experience here. We’re committed to making the fan experience in this building better and there will be more announcements around that from the Bell deal in the next few weeks and few months. And of course, it will allow us to do what we need to do with players to put the best team on the ice. And having said that, it’s a dynamic environment, so I could give you an exact number of how much better we would be, but that would have to assume that the Canadian dollar was still at 99 cents, and it would have to assume that the hydro bills aren’t going to go up any more than inflation, and have to make some other assumptions that we know are not going to be static, it’s a dynamic environment. But, we’re in a lot better position today than we were last week.”
It’s worth mentioning that the Senators’ payroll would go up organically because of the salary cap floor will rise as league revenues go up. The Senators have also gone on record saying that if the situation is right, ownership will spend the money to bring in a player who can help improve this team’s competiveness on the ice. To this point, we haven’t seen it. Eventually, if the organization is going to be taken seriously by its fans, it’s going to have to put its money where its mouth is.
On the timing of the deal and its ability to influence the impression of players…
“Absolutely, there’s certainly a jump in everyone’s step today. These types of agreements, as I’ve said, it’s a landmark, watershed agreement and it really has moved the franchise forward significantly.”
On concerns that TSN will create a specialty channel like Sportsnet Sens to deliver the content and whether Sens fans would have to pay a subscription to a new channel to get their Sens content…
“Yeah, that was one of the items that we had discussions and negotiations around with the team at Bell Media. Right from the first meeting, they said, ‘No, that is not our plan. If we’re able to secure your rights, we will have enough of the Canadian market in terms of hockey teams.’ They have the part of the Leafs broadcast, they have the Jets, they have the Canadiens in French, they get the Senators English rights and French rights – they will move to regionalize their network similar in the means that Rogers had done with Sportsnet originally. So there will be a channel that will suit our broadcast territory and if you only have one TSN channel and you’re in (Ottawa’s broadcast territory) and the game is on, you will get it on that channel.”
Thank you hockey gods.
On the broadcast talent that TSN offers and how attractive it is for the Senators…
“Yeah, I agree with that. I think we’ve been well-served by Sportsnet, but I think there’s a real good feeling about going over to TSN. You mentioned the connections with James Duthie and Aaron Ward, the old Blackburn Stingers boys who grew up in the east end and Stuart Johnson, who’s the President of TSN, he’s an Ottawa boy, so there’s a real good hometown feel there. And they do hockey right. They do a real good job on their broadcasts. I’d put it up there as the best in the world when you’re watching a broadcast and we’re kind of excited about that as well coming to Senators games.”
On whether this is the Senators have input in who calls the games or whether TSN has final say…
“No, we again, this is one of the things we had to discuss and work into our agreement. We certainly have a significant say in consultation rights in who does our games and where they do them. You know, Dean’s been with us a long time and it would be great that he could continue to work with us in some form or fashion in this agreement. There are a lot of different platforms on this agreement, so I’m sure that we could find a way to make that work. And as I’ve said again off-air, there’s more games being televised now and broadcast than ever before, so the guys that are in that business, I think that’s good news for them that there’s more games out there between the companies that are competing for (them). And I don’t see that slowing down. I see there being more interest in hockey on different platforms – whether it’s radio, tv or smartphones going forward.”
That certainly doesn’t sound like the Senators are too committed to getting the current broadcast team on TSN television.
On the importance of fans still having to come out for the live experience…
“Absolutely, and again, I think our experience here live with Senators and with hockey, is as good as you can get in sports and pro sports. But again, part of the Bell commitment was to help us enhance the in-arena experience and we will have some announcements on that coming forward in the months ahead. And one of the simple things is to have an in-arena app that people can access that gives you some great access to… whether it is camera angles that are not on the video replay or overhead shots of disallowed goals or whatever it is… to be able to bring that type of content right to the seats for the people in the arena, to improve that in-arena experience.”
On Bell taking on the possibility of ownership stake in the Senators and them having a stake in the business…
“Yeah, absolutely, it’s become so important now. We would have been talking about this agreement even three or four years ago as (Bell) is a rights holder now (in this agreement). Well, they’re no longer a rights holder, they’re a true partner with us in the operation of the Ottawa Senators.”
On the frustration of being unable to watch Sens games on their phone or their tablet…
“I think we’re going to get there. It’s not really hammered out at this point. That’s something we want to work towards. We have to work that out with the league. There are certainly some rights and entitlements that we could not convey to the Bell Media group as part of this agreement and there are some agreements that have to be made with the national rights holders as well – in this case, Rogers and TVA. So, I think those negotiations will happen over the next little while and it’s our hope that within a short period of time, you should be able to watch games on different devices.”
On expanding on the relationship between the Senators and Bell…
“Bell has been with us since 1988. So that’s even before we got our franchise, they were an original sponsor of the ‘Bring Back the Ottawa Senators’ bid. And they’ve been with us continuously every year since then and it really comes back to that, again, sort of local connection and the local executives here. David Roy, who was the original guy that did the deal and was the head executive in Ottawa was at the press conference today. He doesn’t work for Bell anymore but he came to the press conference… And Bell said at the press conference today that the Ottawa Senators are their longest standing client in the National Hockey League, so it says a lot to the relationship we’ve developed and it should come as no surprise that they were today for this landmark agreement.”
“And they gave us piles of cash. Sweet, sweet, glorious and magnificent piles of money. We even filled a kid’s pool with dollar bills and put it in Eugene’s suite. That’s why he wasn’t at today’s press conference. He’s been swimming in this pool of money all morning.”
On the on-ice product and crowds and players are improving and then the announcement of this agreement, it seems like things are looking up…
“The feeling around the club is really good now. Our staff are excited. I saw some players in the hall and they were excited, so you see a noticeable improvement in the attitude and it transcends into the community as well. I get out, you run into people – when we’re winning, (fans) are in a much better mood and a lot happier and this certainly is about winning. Today, this agreement really puts us in a good spot and helps us to move the organization forward.”
On the dynamic that the Senators are on TSN and not playing second fiddle to the Toronto Maple Leafs…
“It’s always good when we’re the number one dog.”
If what Cyril says about the players having a bit of extra jump after this announcement is true, then it sounds as if the whole financial fiasco we went through in the summer and at the beginning of the season may have had a more significant effect on team morale than previously thought.
@JumpedAShark Great point. The drama of the offseason by Melnyk's fighting with the City of Ottawa over the sole sourcing of the casino and the Alfie departure probably had adverse effects on the team. How could they not?