Ottawa Senators owner clarifies comments on fan attendance: 'That time is not now'
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk speaks with the media in Ottawa on September 7, 2017.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
OTTAWA -- Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is clarifying his stance on having fans at home games, saying he recognizes now is not the time to welcome spectators back to the Canadian Tire Centre.
"The Ottawa Senators are committed to continuing the development of a plan that allows fans to safely enjoy NHL hockey in-person — but only when the time is right," Melnyk said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "That time is not now."
The statement came after Melnyk said earlier Tuesday he wants to see fans in the seats at the Canadian Tire Centre this season and he has submitted a plan to do it.
Melnyk tweeted that he submitted a public safety plan that would allow 6,000 fans into the arena to watch the Senators play. The tweet was later deleted.
A senior provincial government source told CTV News it is not happening. The said a green light isn't coming and they were stunned by the timing of Melnyk's tweet.
It was posted shortly before Ontario Premier Doug Ford was set to announce new COVID-19 restrictions in the province, including a second state of emergency.
In Melnyk's updated statement, he acknowledged the new measures and said the Senators will adhere to them.
"We understand as an organization that we must do our part to control this virus before we can entertain plans to bring fans back into our arena," he said. "When the day comes that we can allow fans back to games in a safe way, you can rest assured that our organization will be ready."
Melnyk added that he and his family won't be attending the Senators' opening night for the first time since he bought the team in 2003. The Senators open their season Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Like thousands of others, we will be watching and cheering the game from home," he said.
The Ontario government announced earlier this month that the Senators would be allowed to play and host games at their home arena, despite the provincewide lockdown that is currently in place; however, fans would not be allowed in the stands.
Several social media users responded to Melnyk's initial tweet, calling it "tone deaf", given the recent surge in COVID-19 infections in Ontario.
Melnyk had also discussed his idea on Zoomer Radio AM 740 in Toronto earlier this month.
In an interview on Newstalk 580 CFRA on Tuesday, Mayor Jim Watson said he was glad Melnyk clarified his plan.
"I didn't think that was too wise and I'm glad he responded relatively quickly," Watson said "Six thousand people in one facility with one roof doesn't make any sense in a pandemic, that's for sure."
In a statement to CTV News, Ottawa Public Health said it had reviewed the NHL's return to play plan but that plan did not include public attendance.
"The NHL return-to-play plan reviewed by Ottawa Public Health did not include plans for fans to attend in-person at the hockey arena," OPH said.