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'It's about community and it's about winning': Neko Sparks and his bid for the Ottawa Senators

While Ottawa has been buzzing with excitement over the prospect of Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds having a stake in the Ottawa Senators, another bidder says he can bring just as much excitement.

Los Angeles-based film producer and entrepreneur Neko Sparks says he's assembled a team that he believes can bring just as much to the Senators and to Ottawa as the Reynolds partnership.

"He's such a good guy, Ryan Reynolds; I love him too," Sparks said in an interview with CTV News Ottawa's Patricia Boal. "Regardless of what happens, it's good for the city, it's good for the team. I don't see it in terms of competition. We offer different things in terms of what we bring."

Sparks was in Ottawa Friday to meet with mayor Mark Sutcliffe and members of the local professional services firm TAAG, which is helping him explore ways to draw long-term support from Canadian families and Senators alumni. He also attended Thursday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Sparks says his goal is to connect the team with the fans and, just as importantly, win games.

"For us, it's about community and it's about winning," he said. "We've got a nice young team and I think we can really do some damage. If we don't get into the playoffs this time, really make a serious playoff run in the next one or two years and build excitement for the new arena."

The Ottawa Senators are currently for sale, following the death of longtime owner Eugene Melnyk last year, and the prospective list of possible buyers has been winnowed down to about six groups, according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

While there has been some discussion recently about the possibility that a new arena may not be built at LeBreton Flats, with Bettman saying it's ultimately up to the new owner, Sparks says he likes the idea of moving the team closer to downtown.

"Right now, that is the ideal location," he said.

While Sparks was very careful about what he revealed in terms of his bid and his partners, he was confident in the group he had assembled.

"We are well-positioned and we are well-backed," he said. "A nice mix of Canadian money, U.K. money and American money."

Sparks says he's assembled a team that includes a good deal of hockey-related experience, including former L.A. Kings captain Mattias Norström and former New Jersey Devils chief marketing officer Daniel Cherry.

"A lot of hockey experience to say, 'You guys have the experience; what do we do to fix the team, get the team winning and the community back to the point where this is their team, they own this team?'" he said. "We have a very, very well-established partner here in Ottawa. There will be a lot of community ownership with the way that we've structured our transaction."

He wouldn't address rumours of high-profile celebrities who may be on board, but said he expects to make a formal announcement in the coming weeks.

"Right now the city is excited about Ryan Reynolds and what he'll bring to the table, but when the time's right we'll definitely announce who we'll bring to the table and we think that we have somebody that will help us achieve the same goals," he said.

Sparks said he came to the game of hockey later in life, but quickly fell in love with it.

"Once I did find hockey, it was like, wow, I was missing this game my entire life. It's exciting, it's fast, it's action-packed, there's everything in that sport," he said.

He capped his visit to Ottawa by taking in Saturday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I keep hearing about this Toronto and Sens rivalry and the energy in the arena, so I'm looking very forward to it," he said with a chuckle.

Neko Sparks attends the Ottawa Senators vs. Toronto Maple Leafs game at the Canadian Tire Centre. April 1, 2023. (Supplied)

The Leafs beat the Senators 3-0 Saturday night.

If successful, Sparks's group would be the first Black-led ownership group in the NHL.

"Having diverse ownership is always a good thing," Bettman told CTV News Ottawa last Monday as he came to the city to meet with officials. "The question's going to be what is the strongest group? What group has the resources and the ability to execute to make this team even more successful than it's been? We're welcoming the exploration that's going on and if they're the successful bidders, great! But… we haven't gone deep enough yet to pass judgment on any of the groups."

The sale of the team comes with the condition that it remain in the nation's capital. Bettman says there is still about two or three more months' worth of work to clear the final hurdles and establish a new ownership. Bettman says he expects the process to be completed by the summer. Top Stories

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