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Cyril Leeder Speaks: Improvements to CTC, Outdoor Game and an Entry Draft in Ottawa

After being a keynote speaker at an Ottawa Kiwanis Club meeting earlier this afternoon, Senators Sports and Entertainment president Cyril Leeder joined hosts Ian Mendes and Shawn Simpson on TSN 1200‘s ‘The Drive’ program to elaborate on many of the improvements and initiatives that Leeder identified earlier in the day.

Some of the topics like being able to use your smartphone to display digital tickets instead of printing them off or the evolution of the Canadian Tire Centre Vision (including GPS technology tracking) were not brought up during the interview, but you can read more about them via the Senators’ website.

I have embedded Leeder’s speech from the Kiwanis Club meeting at bottom of this post where you can also find the embedded the audio of Leeder’s interview. If you’d simply like to download Leeder’s interview or stream it elsewhere, you can simply click here.

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On the improvements in the works for the Canadian Tire Centre…

“We’ve been focused on this for the last couple of years and we’ve got really a five-year plan that started a year ago that will take us up to 2017 and we’ve spent about $14 million in the past two years on upgrades. We really want to transform the building here over the next few years and we’re really focused on three things: 1) is the fan experience; 2) parking and particularly, getting off the site quicker; and 3) our premium seating.”

The initiative really started with the addition of the new scoreboard and expanded last season with the roll out of the Canadian Tire Centre Vision. 

On what business has been like in the offseason thus far…

“Well, sometimes quiet is a good thing. We don’t need some of the publicity that some of the other teams have been getting. No, it’s much better to be in the playoffs than out of the playoffs for us. We had a great run there last year with the first round win over Montreal and it’s tough not being in the playoffs. It’s certainly slower than it was a year ago, but there are some good signs here and we continue to push forward with our plan for next year. The only silver lining here is we’re doing our planning a little bit sooner which gets us off the mark sooner.”

In the past, Leeder has specifically mentioned a season ticket holder target goal of 13,000, so it will be fascinating to hear how season seat sales are doing throughout the course of the summer. Unmet expectations and the doublespeak coming out of the organization (specifically ownership) have made a “fickle” fan base weary.

Hearing Leeder say that things are definitely slower than last season is concerning, simply because I was hoping that the Senators would not have to reallocate some of their television broadcast revenues to compensate for the drops in revenue elsewhere; especially when you’re counting on the organization using this money principally to fund player development, scouting, hockey operations and etc. The more money, the more resources – in theory anyway, assuming that the organization is true to its word. 

On expanding upon the parking improvements…

“The great thing about parking here is everybody can park onsite. We’re the only building in the league where every fan can park onsite and the bad thing is that every fan can park onsite, so they can leave at the same time. So we’re trying to work on some ideas. We had a consultant review this for the past nine months. (He or she) went to a number of the games, monitored the traffic patterns, modelled it and has come up with some solutions that will improve egress after the games by 60-percent. So we’re obviously keen on implementing those and we met this week with our councillor out here, councillor Qadri, to talk about those and ask for some advice to get the right audience at the City to review this. The types of changes that we’re talking about are, there’s nothing earth-shattering here. Its’ just getting people off the site quicker, but it would require some investment on our part and some cooperation from the City and possibly MTO as well to facilitate adding some exits from the parking lot. So now you’re in a lot with maybe one or two exits. If you added one that would help get the traffic off a little quicker. One of the things that slows down the traffic the most is the cars conflict with the pedestrians, so people getting to their cars are slowing down the cars trying to get away from the site. The consultant’s come up with a plan to eliminate most of the pedestrian conflicts by moving some parking lots around and again, we’d like to do that as well. A lot of this can be done before the start of the season we hope, if we can get the necessary approval from the City to do that.”

My late father, who was an architect and a season ticket holder since day one, complained about the infrastructure of the parking lot and the inability to foresee the problem in putting the parking lot roads so close to the arena where vehicular traffic would inevitably clash with pedestrian traffic. I’m sure he’s smiling down now knowing that the organization has finally hired a consultant to resolve this issues almost 20 years after the arena first opened. 

Of note, it’s noteworthy to hear the organization talk about its need for cooperation with the City of Ottawa. Not that this is new per se, but after the City of Ottawa voted to sole source the bid for a prospective casino to Rideau Carleton Raceways, it was only a matter of time before the organization looked to the City to help subsidize other projects that benefit the organization. 

On prospective alterations to the 200 and 300 levels and the potential addition of food trucks to the arena…

“Yeah, I should qualify that a little bit. We showed some plans that we’ve been working on – schematics from our building, so these aren’t just pictures from other arenas – so we’ve been working on it a little bit with the original architects who did the plans here. We’d be looking at the 100 level, 200 level and 300 level, so all different seating areas and one of the concepts in the 300 level is similar to what they’ve done in Tampa where they took out some seating in the stadia and opened that area up and they were able to install the organ called ‘Between the Pipes’ in Tampa. The picture is a little better than me just waving my hands here, but we were looking at doing one or two or maybe even three sections where we take out some stadia and open up the area in behind and then you get the big huge viewing platforms for the fans and the concept was to put some food trucks on the viewing platform as a way to enhance the space and give them an amenity there that they can use. I think in one of the (artist renderings), we actually had a Zamboni reconfigured into a food truck, so that’s one of the things that we’re looking at for the 300 level.”

Awesome. After visiting the CONSOL Energy Center and the Nationwide Arena for the first round of the playoffs, one of the things that I was struck by was how dated and stale the Canadian Tire Centre actually is (note: the arena, not the crowd). Any improvements that can be made to improve the atmosphere and experience will be greatly welcomed. 

On the local business connections and partnering with some of the local vendors…

“We like doing that. It’s good for us. I think it’s good for the people coming to the games; they really want to have a different experience. They really want to have a different experience. They don’t want to come here just to watch the game, they’re here for that overall experience. Anytime that you can provide that local food or something special, that’s great and if it helps their business, that’s good for us too. We really think that we have a role to play to help the economic activity and if we can help guys like Bill Kwong at Golden Palace or Ryan Smolkin at Smoke’s Poutinerie, who’s done very well here as well, and hopefully guys like Shawn Dawson (Fat Boys Barbeque) in the future, that’d be great. We try to focus on local whenever we can.”

It’s great that the organization supports local products, but hopefully this type of focus will lead the organization to include bringing in local craft beers into the arena (and not just Big Rig beer). 

On possibly adding a broadcasting studio into the arena…

“Yeah, we’re looking at that as well. As you know, we signed a new 12-year agreement with Bell Media, so TSN 1200, TSN and RDS will be our media partners for the next 12 years and hopefully longer. As part of that, we’ve talked about the concept of building a studio in the building that would serve a number of purposes. One could be used for radio for part of the game. It could be used for TV for part of the game and also be viewable by the fans so they could see what was going on. You’ve probably seen a few of these in Tampa and in Boston. They have similar configurations, so we’re definitely looking at that and we’re having our architect work on a concept that includes a Bell Media or a TSN broadcast area.”

Cool? 

On the possibility of the 2017 outdoor game at TD Place at Lansdowne…

“Yeah, it’s a real confluence of anniversaries. It’s our 25th. It’s the NHL’s 100th and the first game was played December 19th, 1917 in Ottawa between the Senators and the Canadiens. I’m not going to mention who won that game. We’d like to recreate that game. That would really be, we think, the right concept or the right rationale for an outdoor game here in Ottawa would be to recreate the first NHL game 100 years just about to the day when it was played. We’re going to make an application to the league. They know we’re interested in that and we need their cooperation, but hopefully we’ll find a way to make that happen in 2017.”

And if that game comes, I will gladly buy tickets for it. 

On applying for another NHL Draft…

“Yes, we’re going to apply again for another Entry Draft and we’d like to get that in the next four years, so again, as part of this plan. We call it our plan leading up to 2017 and hopefully our marketing guys will come up for a good name for it in the near future. But, part of this plan is to host another Entry Draft and we’ll be applying and again, we’ll need the league’s approval for that. We’ve had great success (hosting) both times at the Draft and it was good for the community and I think our fans embraced it. We couldn’t think of a better place to hold it than here in Ottawa, right the heart of Hockey Country. As I’ve said, we’ve got to apply for that, but we’re certainly going to do that and we’re going to apply for a number of other non-hockey events as well. We’ll be bidding on a number of them leading up to 2017. Some of those we can’t talk about for competitive reasons, but certainly today, we talked about the Draft and the outdoor game being high on our list of things that we’d like to do here.”

The Drafts in Ottawa have been polarizing. On one hand, the Senators passed up the opportunity to draft Anze Kopitar in 2005 at the Westin Hotel so that John Muckler could pick Brian Lee – the 15th ranked North American (!?!?) skater by Central Scouting – with the ninth overall pick. On other hand, at the advice of European scout Anders Forsberg, the Senators moved up at the 2008 NHL Draft so that they could select Erik Karlsson. 

I’m not sure what other off-ice non-hockey events the Senators could be bidding on, but if any readers have any ideas, please don’t hesitate to put them in the comment thread at the bottom of this post.

On starting the season again in Europe as part of some tour…

“Again yes. It was a great experience for us. We did play an exhibition game as part of that trip in Frolunda – Alfie’s old hometown. We got to play against an 18-year old kid there named Erik Karlsson at the time, so that was quite a good experience there for everybody involved. Our players enjoyed it and I’ve talked to Bryan Murray a number of times and he thought it was a great experience and would like to do it again. We have talked to the league about going back to Europe and they know our interest in going and there seems to be a renewed interest in getting teams to go back to Europe now that we’ve got the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed. Hopefully we’ll be able to do another one of those trips. We went with about 150 fans from Ottawa and it was a good experience. I know the folks who made it over really enjoyed it and as I’ve said, we’d like to do another one of those sometime in that four-year window.”

An excuse to go to Sweden and have beers with @steffeG? Count me in. 

Leeder’s Kiwanis Speech

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