Sens' biz boss confident club can win over fans wary of mass gatherings

Anthony LeBlanc
Senators president of business operations Anthony LeBlanc (left) joined Mayor Jim Watson at Thursday's breakfast event at City Hall.

As the Ottawa Senators coaches and players look to boost their on-ice performance, the club’s president of business operations has another fierce rival in mind.

Speaking at the Mayor’s Breakfast on Thursday, Anthony LeBlanc said the Senators and other NHL franchises are battling consumer confidence as some fans are uncertain about attending mass gatherings in the wake of COVID-19.

LeBlanc, who was appointed in April 2020, spoke to local business leaders in-person for the first time at an event organized by the Ottawa Business Journal and Ottawa Board of Trade at City Hall. 

LeBlanc said the Senators are diligently following all public health regulations to demonstrate that attending hockey games can be safe.

For example, he noted that anyone entering the Canadian Tire Centre must show proof of full vaccination and an accompanying photo I.D., including employees of the arena, as per provincial guidelines.

“We’d probably have chosen to do that anyway,” LeBlanc said during a fireside chat with broadcaster Gord Wilson.

Double-checkpoint system

Complicating the vaccination check is a new NHL policy banning large bags. Only small, clutch-sized bags are now permitted in arenas.

As a result, the Senators are using a double-checkpoint system, the first to verify vaccination and then a second to screen for security purposes.

To accommodate these new protocols, the doors of the Canadian Tire Centre will open two hours before puck drop, and LeBlanc is urging fans to arrive early to avoid traffic. 

The Senators are also encouraging contactless and cashless transactions through the increased use of electronic tickets and other measures. 

“We have been working aggressively to make sure that people have a very safe experience and that the environment is always safe,” said LeBlanc, adding there has not been a super-spreading event at a Sens game.

"At the end of the day, it’s an entertainment experience. You will see changes that I think everyone will appreciate and be excited about."

He said the team is also looking to enhance the game experience with plans for live networking spaces and more local food vendors.

“We’re adapting and working with our fanbase to ensure that everyone’s concerns are addressed,” said LeBlanc. “At the end of the day, it’s an entertainment experience. You will see changes that I think everyone will appreciate and be excited about.”

Sueling Ching, president and CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade, said the Senators are an “important part of the community brand in Ottawa, and as a business community we’re encouraging everyone to support the club.”

Ching said the challenges faced by the Senators are similar to those being confronted by businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector. It will take time for these businesses to rebuild, she said.

Michael Hughes from NfR Consulting Group, who attended the breakfast, said that the two biggest goals for the Sens should be on-ice success and gaining consumer confidence with safety protocols and fan experience.

The season debut of star forward Brady Tkachuk at Thursday night’s game is also expected to boost morale and excitement, which translates to good business for the team.

“You can’t sell wins and losses,” said LeBlanc. “But it certainly helps when you’re a team that people are optimistic about.”