New Sens CEO brings 'mega-deal' experience as team negotiates downtown arena

A changing of the guard in the Ottawa Senators front office is a sign the team is looking for an experienced hand to guide the construction of a new arena in the LeBreton Flats redevelopment, according to people familiar with professional hockey operations.

Former Oilers' president says he saw similar change in his organization

Tom Anselmi was introduced as the new president and CEO of the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre on Wednesday. (CBC)

A changing of the guard in the Ottawa Senators front office is a sign the sports franchise is looking for an experienced hand as it constructs a new arena in the LeBreton Flats redevelopment, according to people familiar with professional hockey operations.

Tom Anselmi was announced as the new president and CEO of the Senators Wednesday. He'll be taking over for former president Cyril Leeder, and while the organization is in the midst of negotiating a development deal with the National Capital Commission for LeBreton Flats. 

Patrick LaForge, the former president and chief operating officer of the Oilers Entertainment Group, guided the Edmonton Oilers through similar deal-making.

"It's a political arena. Things are going to be said and done, that are going to politicized," he said. "Understanding that, having a feel for it and knowing how to deal with it is going to be critical."

Patrick LaForge, former president and CEO of the Edmonton Oilers, helped his organization negotiate a deal for a new downtown arena. The new Ottawa Senators president will be faced with a similar task. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

LaForge helped negotiate the deal for a new downtown arena in Edmonton, now called Rogers Place, which was partially built with public funds.

"You go from selling tickets and sponsorship and events to the public and your focus changes to selling a big vision, big dream, big-dollar commitment for everybody involved," LaForge said.

Anselmi has experience with 2 'mega-deals'

LaForge said Anselmi's time as president of Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, when he managed the Toronto Maple Leafs transition to the Air Canada Centre and the renovation of BMO Field for Toronto FC, has prepared him for the task ahead.

"He's managed a number of mega-deals associated with the building of MLSE. He's got some experience there," LaForge said. "And I got to tell you, in that vein, that experience is worth a lot. It's worth a lot. This [LeBreton Flats redevelopment] is going to be a big one."

The RendezVous LeBreton Group's proposal moves the Ottawa Senators' hockey franchise to a new downtown arena that has a public space called LeBreton Square right outside. (Image supplied by RendezVous LeBreton Group)

Trevor Whiffen, co-founder of the Prime Time Sports Management Conference, says sports teams are looking to develope arenas and entertainment districts as part of a complete product.

"When you're overseeing the business, you're really responsible for the entire fan experience," Whiffen said. "And Tom has had great experience in that area with two major professional teams."

Move could 'cure a lot' on business side

Whiffen said moving the Senators into the core from Kanata will "cure a lot of what may be ailing the business side of things."

The team recently saw attendance drop to its lowest level in 20 years, despite a winning record.

Whiffen said Anselmi has the skills to navigate complex negotiations with the NCC and the city.

"It can't be any more difficult than it would have been negotiating with the Province of Ontario, the federal government and the City of Toronto when the Air Canada Centre was being built, which was … in an old postal facility that had historical significance," Whiffen said.

The Senators are also trying to organize an outdoor game to mark the centennial of the National Hockey League and Canada's sesquicentennial after being turned away from Parliament Hill by the federal government.