I’ve got to say, Twitter and the blog space in general has been a black hole of cynicism and pessimism of late, a sphincter spewing bilious hatred and seething rage in the direction of Eugene Melnyk and Senators management because they don’t have the money to spend on payroll. As James pointed out in our recent roundtable post, it’s gotten to the point where people were so devastated by the fact that Ottawa didn’t sign Benoit Fucking Pouliot, who they’d only heard about as a candidate for signing about 24 hours earlier, that WTYKY had to collectively stay off Twitter for a few days just to scrub the poison off of us.
We can all admit that hockey is a business, right? We can all admit that the owners of hockey teams are often using the day-to-day operations of hockey to minimize losses while they wait on their underlying investment to increase in value until its time to sell, or to make money on ancillary investments made possible through franchise ownership, like real estate or retail leasing or whatever, right? And for these reasons, we can all agree that it probably doesn’t make sense for Melnyk to sell this team now.
Sure, he’d make some money, considering the valuation of the team today compared to the price at which it was purchased. But with the new television deal in place, and having just suffered through another lockout that resulted in yet another owner-friendly collective bargaining agreement, most of Melnyk’s team-related money is set to come in over the next 5-10 years. Plus the franchise will continue to accrue value. If anything, the Senators are one of Melnyk’s few investments that actually seems be trending upwards. If we can agree that there’s a right and wrong time to trade Jason Spezza from an asset management perspective, then we can agree that there’s no way Melnyk is going to sell this team right now.
So the team is his. But that doesn’t change the fact that he still doesn’t have any money. Most of his worth is tied up in non-liquid investments, which means he has low cash-on-hand. His overall value has tumbled, as has been documented exhaustively. Ottawa doesn’t generate a lot of gate revenue, especially compared to other Canadian markets (average ticket sales, average ticket prices). Melynk doesn’t have a lot of satellite investments in the area.
So there’s no money to spend to contention, and there’s no money to subsidize losses over a prolonged rebuild, and Melnyk won’t sell. On these basic facts we can all agree.
And yet we read blog post after newspaper article after social media zing about how Melnyk needs to spend. I agree that it sucks that Jeff Vinik doesn’t own this team, but Jeff Vinik doesn’t own this team.
So what do you expect from the Ottawa Senators? What else can they do but try to squeeze value out of what they have, try to sell the fan base on hope and exciting prospects, and preach hard work in the absence of elite skill? What do you actually want management to do?
As far as I can see it, we, as fans, have four options:
- Give Melnyk what he wants and let him develop ancillary investments in order to subsidize team payroll. This could be tax breaks, actual subsidization by the city a la the Coyotes, or preferential terms on investments, like the casino. All of which seems like a bad idea to me. Forgoing tax revenues for social services, or allowing additional gambling will impact the social determinants of health and, hey, let’s admit that it’s only fucking hockey. I’m OK with not sacrificing actual quality of life so that my local hockey team of millionaire players gets better at swatting rubber discs into nets.
- Boycott games until Melynk sells the team. Good luck with that. People wouldn’t even boycott games when the owners cancelled a season of hockey, and then another half-season, to pad their pockets. People love hockey. An owner can stomp on puppies in front of his arena while laughing maniacally for local news cameras and people would still buy enough tickets to maintain status quo on an owner’s PR-o-Meter.
- Go to more games. Subsidize the team directly out of your own pocket. Set up a fan pledge page that says that if the team commits to spending to the cap, fans will buy all available season tickets and accept a ticket price increase. Except I’m on the same page here as everyone else: I like hockey. I don’t like spending more than an hour on a bus to the arena when I can go to the bar at the end of my street, watch the game on one of about 50 giant TVs, and enjoy a drink special and a meal, all in an atmosphere build explicitly around the game. It’s nobody’s fault. The tech bubble burst and Kanata didn’t turn into a city. It’s the reality of hockey in Ottawa.
- Allow joy to enter your cold, dead heart and stop complaining for Christ’s sake. I hate this suggestion. I hate it when people suggest it to me when I’m talking about movies, or music, or sports. I hate it when people tell me to just relax. Analyzing a problem is how I enjoy most things.
And we’re all entitled to our opinions. I believe blogs play an invaluable role in uncovering aspects of the game often ignored on purpose or for lack of capacity by traditional media. It’s only on the internet where you have whole schools of analytics beings developed almost entirely through volunteer hours, e.g. people actually sitting at home and tracking zone entries on their own time just so they can feel like they’re a part of something. Hockey coverage in Ottawa has been pretty amazing over the last few years, especially as it’s uncovered the truth about Melnyk’s finances and the gradual disintegration of a contending team. The level of passion you encounter for this game can be inspiring at times.
Complaints about a poor owner are totally, totally legitimate, and I don’t challenge those assertions for one baby second. But you know what? It’s covered. This topic has been thoroughly and exhaustively and absurdly covered. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I’ve written on it. But this topic is now officially the deadest horse in the world. It’s been beaten to a pulpy horsey mash. There’s no horse anymore. It’s just us and our roiling, inexhaustible anger and frustration over the fact that some rich fuck isn’t some very, very rich fuck.
So you can spend the next, oh, two to tens years decrying Melnyk’s gradual descent to Harold Ballard status. You can allow that to become the principle method by which you enjoy, the mucus covered lens through which you view our game.
Or…you can participate in the analytics renaissance and write about possible efficiencies to be exploited and approaches to the game to be scoped out. You can see this an an opportunity for innovation and creativity. You can explore the school of thought that says being the first to do something a certain way is much more rewarding than being the latest to buy success.
Or…you can just enjoy hockey because before you knew anything about hockey there was something that attracted you to it.
Or…you know what? Take a break. Go for a bike ride. Participate in a rally. Volunteer at the local shelter. Read a book. Call your grandmother and ask about how much a sandwich cost in 1954. Hell, get angry about something which also doesn’t matter, like Game of Thrones. Mix it up.
But until then, have the serenity to accept that which you cannot change. Melnyk doesn’t have money. He’s not going to sell the team. Hockey starts in October. Your move.