Sens management to fans: We've messed up, but don't give up

As senior managers for the Ottawa Senators made the media rounds to promote their new season seat program for 2019-2020, it was clear they had reconciliation on the mind.

'What I'm feeling right now from our fans is, 'I don't like you but I still love you.''

The Ottawa Senators hope to turn the page on a rocky relationship with fans and earn back the loyalty of season seat holders. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

As senior managers for the Ottawa Senators made the media rounds to promote their new season seat program, it was clear they had reconciliation on their minds.

The Sens have branded the program as "The Seventh," a reference to the fans being a sort of seventh player during games. 

It gives season ticket holders 20 per cent off food and non-alcoholic drinks at the Canadian Tire Centre — along with the current perk of 20 per cent off merchandise — and promises a limited-edition, exclusive set of team gear for them.

Chief marketing officer Aimee Deziel and chief operating officer Nicolas Ruszkowski admit to widespread fan frustration and said Thursday's announcement was the first step towards making things right.

"Aimee and I have been on the job now roughly eight months, and from the moment that we stepped into the building we took the approach that we were going try and bring a level of accountability and self-awareness for whatever challenges we were going through," Ruszkoski told CBC Ottawa on Thursday.

Nicolas Ruszkowski, chief operating officer for the Ottawa Senators, says the team is trying to avoid a "slide into disengagement" when it comes to fans. 1:01

"I think we live and breathe with the concern that, while anger, frustration, resentment are suboptimal and they're not comfortable, they're reassuring in the sense that they're the opposite of apathy … Everything that we're doing, not only today but that we have been doing from the beginning of the season, is about trying to combat that slide into disengagement."

And there have been several reasons for fans to disengage, from the departure of all the team's high-profile unrestricted free agents to the failure of the team's bid to be part of the redeveloped LeBreton Flats.

The target of fan frustration on these issues keeps landing on team owner Eugene Melnyk. 

"None of this is news to Eugene Melnyk. He is part and parcel of the conversations that we've had about this," said Ruszkowski.

"One of the things that's refreshing about working with him, which I think some fans will acknowledge whether they like it or not … He is blunt and direct to a fault." 

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has been the primary target of fan frustration. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

After several rounds of consultation with fans, Deziel added that ownership was one of many areas of fan discontent.

"I think what I'm feeling right now from our fans is, 'I don't like you but I still love you' … We've been criticized for being tone deaf in certain situations this year and it was really important to me that this message wasn't, 'Hey, everything's wonderful. Renew your season seats.' It was, 'We understand that rebuilds are hard.'"

The Ottawa Senators want to win you back. 14:44

Deziel said The Seventh is the first step towards proving to fans the team is listening and learning.

"I think when you put [the perks] all together, that's when it starts to be 'OK, now I'm starting to see the value come back in terms of my investment.'"


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