Association gives voice to fans of Sens and other embattled NHL teams

By Kris Ohashi

While rapidly escalating player salaries and a weak Canadian dollar have led to financial difficulty for the Ottawa Senators, the Ottawa-based National Hockey League Fan Association (NHLFA) wants to ensure the team’s fans still have something to cheer about.

“The fans are the consumers, and they’re the driving force behind the NHL,” says Jim Boone, president and co-founder of the NHLFA. “Players come and go. Fans keep the game going.”

Founded in Ottawa in 1998 in reaction to rapidly escalating player salaries, the NHLFA was started to give fans a medium to express their concerns.

“We give fans a voice for the NHL to consider,” says Centretown resident David Case, a member of the NHLFA’s board of directors. “Fans want to be heard given that they’re the ones shelling out the money.”

The current financial state of the NHL sees the majority of Canadian franchises struggling financially, while in the U.S., the Buffalo Sabres did their best Senators imitation by recently filing for bankruptcy protection.

In response to the financial struggles of the Senators, the NHLFA has been active in their support for the franchise.

Boone was invited to join the Ottawa Senators Community Coalition, which looks to increase accessibility to Senators home games and to build community support for the team.

The organization’s ‘I’m going too!’ program collects donations to provide Ottawa Senators tickets to various groups, including those not be able to afford the $21-$165 price tag for seats.

Michael Allen, chairman with the coalition, says it is important to the community that the team remains in Ottawa.

“When you have an NHL team, it’s part of who we are as a community. Particularly the young kids. It’s about their dreams.”

Case says it’s up to fans to ensure the Sens remain in Ottawa.

“Personally, I don’t think the fans are obligated to support any private corporation,” says Case. “But if you want the team to remain in Ottawa, the best way to ensure that is to attend games.”

With two NHL franchises haveing filed for bankruptcy and others constantly trading away star players to dump salary, Case says the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2004 could lead to a strike.

“That’s when fans are going to want to be heard,” he says.” The NHL and the NHLPA (National Hockey League Players’ Association) need to consider what the fans’ needs are. The fans are the reason the games are played.”

Boone says ticket sales have leveled off because of the possible strike.“Fans don’t want to buy season tickets when there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the game and the state of their favourite teams.”

Despite the Sens’ troubles, Boone says there is enough support for the team to stay.

“This is the most hockey-hungry region that there is. You can’t find a better hockey market than this,”