Excitement surrounding the Senators is paying off at the box office

TORONTO — The work done in the off-season has been good for business for the Ottawa Senators.

While the Senators started the National Hockey League season with a 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night, that hasn’t put a damper on the excitement and the anticipation for Tuesday night’s home opener against the Boston Bruins at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Speaking to the Postmedia Senators’ panel on Friday, Anthony LeBlanc, the club’s president of business operations, said the matchup with the Bruins would be a sellout and he was confident the organization would reap the benefits of a revamped roster.

The changes made by general manager Pierre Dorion, head coach D.J. Smith and the rest of the hockey operations staff have created excitement, as did the June announcement of a successful bid for a new rink at LeBreton Flats.

“It’s well-documented what an incredible off-season this was for us,” LeBlanc said. “Every (move) we saw a spike in season-ticket requests. At this point, we’re over 60 per cent up in season-seat memberships, which is a tremendous metric.

“We have to be realistic, and it’s also been well-documented, we were one of the lower teams in the league with season-ticket base. We are definitely moving this in the right direction, but, from a fan perspective, people are so excited about the game here Tuesday night.”

The place will be packed and it will feel like a playoff atmosphere. There will be more full houses than we’ve seen in the past five seasons.

“Right now we’re searching for any inventory we can find because this is going to be an absolute clean sellout. It will be the biggest crowd in this building in five years,” LeBlanc said. “We’re certainly budgeting for more sellouts than this club has seen (in a long time).

“I’ve only been with the club for two and a half years, and in that time we haven’t really had the opportunity to sell out because of the pandemic. You look back at 2017, when I came back to Ottawa from Phoenix, I certainly haven’t seen the optimism, excitement and demand for tickets. We anticipate significantly more sellouts.

“But we have to be honest. There’s going to be some rough games for us. There will be some games with empty seats. We’re going to do everything we can to implore people to come out to games. I do like the trends I’m seeing on that side.”

The corporate community has also started to return. The Senators completed a three-year deal with local high-tech company Kinaxis for players to wear its logo on their helmets during road games. That happened for the first time in Buffalo on Thursday night.

Kinaxis reached out and wanted to be involved. LeBlanc said he’d be meeting with more corporate sponsors over the next few weeks to see if they could find a fit to do business, too. The Senators are still trying to sell ad space on jerseys, but they’re hardly alone on that front.

“People want to get involved and there’s a desire to get involved,” LeBlanc said. “One of the things that is interesting is the number of corporate sponsors and partners that the club has had over the years that currently are no longer sponsors, and haven’t been for a couple of years, that are putting their hands up.

“That’s a really, good positive sign.”

Naturally, to sustain the good feeling in the community, the Senators need to have success on the ice by pushing for a Stanley Cup playoff spot. The roster changes were made because the Senators want to be playing meaningful games in March and April.

If that happens, it could benefit the organization at the box office as well. There’s nothing like a playoff run that makes people want to head to the rink.

Work is continuing on building a new home for the Senators at LeBreton Flats.

The Senators brought their consultants on the project into town last week to meet with officials from the National Capital Commission. The representatives walked the space where the building will be located and even rode the LRT from Bayview to Pimisi Station.

The Senators signed a memorandum of understanding with the NCC in June. There’s a timeframe of 15 months to get a lease in place. Ideally, everything will be on paper by September 2023.

“We have had multiple discussions and meetings (with the NCC) throughout the process,” LeBlanc said. “It’s ongoing behind the scenes.”

Erin Crowe, the Senators’ chief financial officer, and LeBlanc are working on the bid with the NCC and the club’s partners.

Along with Dorion, they stay in touch regularly with the three-person board of Sheldon Plener, Larry Zeifman and John Miszuk. They were put in place by late owner Eugene Melnyk to operate the franchise for his daughters, Anna and Olivia.

“It’s been really, strong consultative process, but, at the same time, the board is letting Erin, Pierre and myself operate the business,” LeBlanc said. “I think you can see the efficiencies with our organization.”

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2022

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