(Photo via: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
The Ottawa Senators franchise has experienced a tumultuous past few years. From reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, to a remarkably steep drop-off into the basement of the NHL’s standings, the ongoing rumors of the team being for sale, and the often-controversial actions and eventual death of owner Eugene Melnyk, the Senators’ recent existence has been anything but stable. Last month, ten months since Melnyk’s death, the process of selling the Senators officially commenced.
There are a number of suitors making a bid for the Ontario club, ranging from celebrities to more traditional financial bodies. A due diligence website, which is run by Galatioto Sports Partners (who are handling the sale), and serves as a resource for potential buyers to look at the club’s financials, will not be up and running for another two weeks. The NHL hoped to solidify the new owner by mid-January, but wants all possible buyers to be properly vetted on the state of the club. This includes access to financials, an evaluation of the debt that the current owner’s estate holds against the club, and access to the Senators’ memorandum of understanding.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced last month that “more than a dozen parties” were interested in seeing the books. Forbes recently valued the club at $800 million – a 52% year-over-year increase; Sportico estimated the team’s value to be $655 million. Late owner Eugene Melynk originally purchased the club in 2003 for $92 million, in order to rescue the team from bankruptcy. Melnyk is survived by two young daughters, who have chosen to put the franchise up for sale.
The name generating the most public attention is Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds, a Canadian native, is also the co-owner of Wrexham AFC, a fifth-tier English soccer club. He and fellow actor Rob McElhenney produced a TV show, “Welcome to Wrexham,” which documented the process of purchasing the team, and quickly became a hit. The exposure that Reynolds has garnered for Wrexham is tremendously attractive to Bettman and the rest of the NHL. In fact, the NHL has informed potential buyers that its intention is for Reynolds to be a minority partner. (Reynolds has admitted himself that he does not have the funds to purchase a majority stake.) The NHL has gone so far as to tell Reynolds to “hold off on choosing partnership,” so that the eventual buyer is able to bring Reynolds into the mix. “[Having Reynolds involved] has more to do with raising the profile of the NHL than just the Senators,” an NHL source noted last month.
So who will be the majority owner who brings Reynolds aboard? Some frequently-mentioned names include: Michael Andlauer, owner of ATS Healthcare, President/CEO of Andlauer Management Group (AMG), and owner of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs; Andre Desmarais, an Ottawa native and Power Corp executive, and once the fourth-richest man in Canada, according to Forbes; Michael Kimel, a Canadian venture capitalist, hospitality innovator, and owner of the Toronto Defiant, an esports franchise; Roger Greenberg, a managing partner for the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which runs the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s and the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks; Jeff York, a longtime CEO of popular Canadian food market store, Farm Boy, and brother of former Senators’ defenseman, Jason York; and the latest addition to the list, LA-based entrepreneur, Neko Sparks.
Sparks is the owner of a media production company and tech firm, and would become the first Black owner in NHL history. Sparks supposedly would be the front man of a 13–15-person consortium, 75% of whom would be people of color. One source told The Athletic that “they are looking at going to upwards of $950 million for the team. If they have to go there, they will.”
A number of these bidders are rumored to be forming alliances with each other, and/or with other powerful financial entities. Of interest to all parties will be the issue of finalizing a lease agreement for a new arena in a more centralized, downtown area of the city, LeBreton Flats. Thus, a number of these partnerships so far have been between financiers and real estate/builder types. Sparks believes that his group could spur considerable revenue in a downtown arena by bringing in concerts, festivals, and similar events through their entertainment industry connections. Finding ways to fill the arena “on the other 300 days when the Senators aren’t playing,” will be a crucial piece to a successful bid.
While this franchise has been on a roller coaster ride over the last several years, an innovative, forward-thinking ownership group may just be the breath of new life that this club needs. The NHL, the potential bidders, and those within the Senators organization are all seeking a new age of ownership, not simple turnover from one set of hands to the next. The succeeding ownership group has the heavy responsibility of bringing this franchise into a new era – one that creates an immersive, likely tech-based, experience for fans night-in and night-out, among other things. With an array of front people willing to commit the funds, the reach of an A-list celebrity, one who has already proven his worth as a sports franchise owner, has the potential to graduate the Senators back into the upper echelon of the league.
3L at University at Buffalo School of Law; BSELS Co-Vice President
MBA in Marketing;
In pursuit of a career at the intersection of sports law and sports business, specifically in professional hockey.