The Hockey News - Money & Power
FOR EUGENE MELNYK, ownership of the Ottawa Senators has definitely been a rollercoaster ride. When he purchased the franchise (and its arena west of the city) out of bankruptcy for $92 million in 2003, he was generally hailed as a savior, perhaps keeping the organization out of the hands of an owner who would have relocated the club to an American destination.
During his honeymoon phase as the team’s new owner, he paid out of pocket to bring The Eagles to perform. He also spent to the limits of the salary cap when the club made its only run to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. Fast-forward to today and fan frustration with Melnyk, 59, is everywhere in Ottawa. Much of the fan base has been turned off by his cost-cutting and micromanagement of the franchise.
Following the departure of former team president and CEO Tom Anselmi in February – Anselmi had been in the post for only 13 months after former president and co-founder Cyril Leeder was fired – Melnyk appointed himself as CEO. In the spring, a fan-funded campaign led to widely publicized #MelnykOut billboards. Following the trade of superstar captain Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks in September, Ottawa’s season-ticket sales sunk below 5,000. Despite the unrest and empty seats, Melnyk insists he will neither sell the team nor take in a business partner. He has said repeatedly he will ultimately pass on the franchise to his daughters, Anna and Olivia.
The location of the arena, 15 miles from downtown Ottawa, has also been a contributing factor to dwin- dling attendance. Accordingly, the long-term viability of the franchise is centered around the potential construction of a new arena in downtown Ottawa, as part of a colossal rebuilding project in the LeBreton Flats area. The ongoing negotiations, involving Melnyk and several layers of government, are mired in secrecy and are moving along slowly. A new arena would surely increase the value of the franchise significantly.
In November 2017, the franchise was valued at $420 million. Melnyk, who made his fortune in the pharmaceutical industry, was also ranked as the 79th-richest Canadian, with a net worth of $1.2 billion.
Bored with business courses at York University, Melnyk founded Trimel, a medical publishing company, in 1982. Seven years later, he sold it to the Thomson Corporation.
Melnyk subsequently founded Biovail, a specialty pharmaceutical company. From 1995 to 2006, Biovail’s revenues grew from $19 million to $1.1 billion. For all that, his position as Biovail chairman and CEO came to a controversial end. He left the company in 2007, amid news that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission planned to sue Biovail for accounting fraud, claiming management was misleading investors. Biovail eventually settled for $10 million.
In 2011, Melnyk was fined $565,000 by the Ontario Securities Commission and banned from senior roles at Canadian public companies for five years.
At the time Melnyk took over the Sens, he was also a big player in the thoroughbred horseracing industry, owning lavish farms in Florida and Kentucky. Melnyk’s horse Archers Bay won the Queen’s Plate in 1998 and Melnyk was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2017. During the past few years, however, he has become a smaller player in the horse trade, primarily involved as a breeder.
Throughout his life, Melnyk has kept close tabs on the political turmoil in the Ukraine, as a member of the Ukranian Canadian Congress Advisory Council. He has been involved in offering assistance to Ukranian orphanages through Help Us Help The Children. Melnyk grew up in Toronto as the son of Ukranian immigrants, and now spends the majority of his time in Barbados.
Every December in Ottawa, Melnyk offers free skates and helmets to underprivileged school children, and allows them to skate at the arena. He has also asked for the community’s support to keep him alive. In 2015, Melnyk made a public appeal for a liver, ultimately undergoing a successful transplant at Toronto General Hospital. – KEN WARREN