Let’s not turn off the lights and lower the curtain on our entertainment; let’s innovate instead

January 18, 2021
Eugene Melnyk

Let’s face it, no matter where you are in Canada, we’re all struggling together with Covid-19.

Whether it’s physical, mental, economic, frustration or fatigue, the pandemic has affected and upended almost every corner of our lives. We are hurting. These days, the daily infection count — and related deaths — has become our new national score card.

In the pandemic world we live in today, we all desperately need a distraction and escape. But almost all of our social, entertainment, cultural and sports activities are dependent on mass congregations of people. Obviously, large gatherings are off the table until we find an effective way to wrestle the virus.

Still, that shouldn’t mean we wait for a magic bullet. We need to innovate, be creative and adapt to the new world brought on by the global pandemic.

The world of entertainment — sports, concerts, theatre and the like — will never be the same, even in a post-vaccine era. Much of the changes we’ve seen would never have been contemplated before Covid, but make no mistake, they will be long-lasting.

With no exaggeration, I say that it has taken a village to finally get us to the start of a new NHL season. The league, led by Gary Bettman, has achieved a monumental feat getting hockey players back on the ice. Collaboration between the hockey clubs, in the case of the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been unprecedented. Dozens and dozens of hours of conference and Zoom calls between top officials from both teams, as well as the Ontario government, and numerous health officials in the province’s Chief Medical Officer’s office, and public health in Ottawa and Toronto.

A special shout out goes to everyone at the Ontario ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture. They have not only been supportive, they are a big reason why the Senators can play during the pandemic lockdown -- and at home in the Canadian Tire Centre. It has been gratifying to see everyone pulling together to get our national past time back into our lives.

However, the work doesn’t end there. This is the first major hurdle – and there are many more to clear.

I have been working hard for months with my senior management team to lend our support, be of service and devise innovative ways to help our community, the city of Ottawa and the province of Ontario to cope with the pandemic and fight the spread of the virus. This effort is on-going and our top priority.

It may not seem like it now, but the pandemic will eventually end. As many of us dream of a slow return to normalcy, myself and my executive team have been looking forward, working on developing plans for when the dangers of the pandemic have subsided.

As I have said many times in recent weeks, 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. 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.

My extensive background in the pharmaceutical world gives me experience and knowledge of the vaccine development process. As well, I have access to health experts, scientists and innovators all over the world.

After lengthy consultations, and continually examining and assessing our options, I believe the path forward is through the following important steps:

  • Physical distancing and masks must be mandatory;
  • Testing protocols: The NHL implemented a rigorous testing regime for all players, coaches, staff and media with access to the arenas and other common areas when it resumed play last August. Every team, including the Senators, had input into creating that successful program, which created impenetrable bubbles in the two hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton. For the 2020-21 season, a similar testing regimen that will need to be replicated to the same perfection in many more cities across Canada and the U.S.;
  • Continuous disinfecting and sanitizing arenas and venues;
  • Air purification: The Senators organization is already investing millions of dollars to retrofit the ventilation systems at the Canadian Tire Centre;
  • And finally, when we reach the point of allowing fans back into the arena, ticket holders must be screened in real time. I am actively exploring methods of rapid testing that can produce reliable results within minutes.

These essential health modifications – not a vaccine alone – will allow us to return to enjoying all of our favourite past times.

The old adage that necessity is the mother of invention holds true in the pandemic world we live in today. I believe that what we’re working on today will lead to better and safer crowd experiences in the future, no matter the size of the congregation.

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