Interview with RedBlack Pres. Jeff Hunt

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On Saturday, Ottawa's CFL team will have a name, a logo, a brand ... an identity.

Finally, football fans starved for the return of football to the nation's capital will have something to call their own.

Our Tim Baines caught up with team president Jeff Hunt in advance of the launch party at the Ernst and Young Centre and got the lowdown.

Question: Talk about getting to this point.

Answer: It has a 100-year history of being called Rough Riders. Any other name is going to sound foreign. We got an enormous amount of input ... thousands and thousands of names suggested. One of the things that scared me is no one name garnered more than 1% of the vote. There was no consensus. It'll be nice to begin the process of getting the community to embrace it.

Q: Is there the risk of people saying, 'My suggestion was the best name and they chose this?'

A: That's exactly what's happening. We were five-years-plus from the time we got an expansion franchise to the time we started construction. The only thing they could talk about, whether it was -- over a beer or at the water cooler -- ... the name.

Q: Take us through the feelings of frustration to your feelings now when your team is about to finally gain an identity.

A: I'm excited and relieved to get the brand and name finally out on the market. We know we're not going to get universal admiration right off the bat. It'll be a process to win some people over. I hope over time it'll become less of an important thing for fans and they'll be more concerned about our play on the field or the experience of going to the game.

Q: Some fans are still clamouring for the team to be called the Rough Riders. Why can't that happen?

A: Saskatchewan voted enthusiastically in favour of Ottawa coming back to the league. But they felt they'd had exclusive use of the Roughrider name for a long period of time. There's so much equity in that name, they didn't want to share it. The only condition they put on their vote was we could not use the Rough Rider name. We agreed at the time, maybe hoping we could talk them out of it later. They stuck to their guns. The league had always (been) maligned ... a nine-team league, two teams with the same name. Sure, the old fans who remember the glory days would love to have the Rough Rider name. But the fans who are going to make our team successful long-term have no recollection of Rough Riders or if they have any, it's probably not positive.

Q: There will be negativity, no matter what the name is, right?

A: I hope people focus on Ottawa. Ottawa's in the name. We're going to completely reshape the way people think about football in Ottawa. You're not going to go or not go to a game because of the team name.

Q: We've been reporting since January that the team will be called the RedBlacks ... confirm or deny?

A: That's what the launch is all about.

Q: You've got commissioner Mark Cohon here for the launch. What has the CFL been like through this process?

A: Mark sees the return of CFL football as part of the legacy he's building. He was on the job, I'd say, no more than three months and he called me. It wasn't that call that directly contributed to where we are today, but it was a start. This was a key mandate for him coming into his job. He takes great personal pride in the return of the CFL to Ottawa. I think it'll be a proud day for him and the league.

Q: Does this ownership group try to bury some of the painful memories here ... or does it embrace the whole history?

A: We have 100 years of history -- the good, the bad and the ugly. The city's self-esteem and pride took a hit when the team left. It wasn't quite as much fun to live in Ottawa. Everybody remembers that, but they also remember the great nights, the successes.

Q: Why will fans buy into this version of the CFL in Ottawa when the team has died a couple of times?

A: I remember the bench seating, the inadequate washrooms, lineups for everything, the not-so-cold beer, the not-so-hot hot dog, the not-so-great sound system, the non-existent videoboard. It was not a pleasant experience. I'm not saying we're going to come out the first year and win a Grey Cup. But I think we're going to see a team that competes every game and develops. I think fans will be reasonably patient if they see those two things occur.

Q: What about Mardi Gras and beads?

A: We've taken that out of our playbook. Mardi Gras Night will not exist. We need to be relevant to all aspects of the demographic. We need to get moms and kids out to football games. If I do my job right, mom and dad will bring their two kids and the kids will be bugging them to go the next game. That's not to say a group of guys can't have fun, too.

Q: What is the team doing to appease the francophone fans?

A: It starts with the francophone name. We need to be part of the community. I don't think we can just run ads in Le Droit and expect that's going to win the hearts and minds of those in Gatineau or franco- Ontarians. When they come to the stadium, they have to feel welcome. I don't want people from Gatineau feeling like they're coming to watch an Ottawa team play. I want them to feel like they're coming to watch their team.

Q: Give us an update on construction at Lansdowne.

A: My partners don't like me talking about construction because I don't know anything about it. From what I understand, we're on pace and going to be good to go for 2014.

Q: Any guarantees of the Grey Cup being played in Ottawa?

A: What's on our minds and we just have to get the CFL to think the same way -- 2017 is Canada's 150th birthday. There are already thoughts of the (NHL) Winter Classic being in Ottawa that year. To host the Grey Cup, you'd have to add additional temporary seating. Wouldn't it be nice to build the extra seating and keep it up for a Winter Classic?

Q: When will fans be able to purchase season tickets?

A: We continue to get requests for Priority Registration Numbers. We're hoping to have a preview centre (at Shoppers City East) finished in early September.

Q: What will tickets cost?

A: That's something we're working on. They'll be in line with other CFL clubs. It's particularly important to my partners and I that CFL football be accessible for all walks of life in Ottawa, especially for families.

Q: Have you had time to sit back and say, wow, this is really happening?

A: Every time we've had a success along the way, you wake up the next day with the realization of everything you have to do now. You don't get many of those moments to just smell the roses. The launch will be one of those moments. This is an opportunity to interact with fans who are real passionate. That's what this has always been about.

Q: When can people buy team apparel?

A: We're going to have it available at the launch event. If not right away, real soon, it will be available online through our website. Hopefully not too far in the distant future, we'll see it in local stores.

it certainly sounds as if RedBlacks will be the name. good to read there will be merchandise available right away. makes me suspect we will see uniform designs today as well.

Amazing job by Jeff Hunt. Was a little critical about the name but with the amount of work that has gone into that project how can you not be supportive. Welcome to the Ottawa RedBlacks ! Can't wait to go see a game there on Canada Day !

Thank you Mr. Hunt and his partners for investing in the league we love !

Go RedBlacks !

Good stuff, looks like he's doing a good job of getting things running as a serious operation... unlike last time. Was fun to go to games in Ottawa, but man. Sometimes it was total amateur hour.

Shame about the name, but nobody will care once the team is on the field. Particularly if they're competitive.

Hunt has done a GREAT job....I can see both sides of the Rough Riders argument... RedBlacks will grow on people over time. The most important thing is Ottawa will be BACK in the CFL and for the first time in several decades the league is very healthy and positioned very well, give Cohon lots of credit for that. It's an exciting time for the league!

P.S. I wil order up a RedBlacks hat if I can today!

It is going to be the redblacks with the r on the helmet, it will grow on people especially if they win, which I think they will out of the gate, He seems as a owner , he has got it together,

…Welcome back to the CFL Ottawa :thup: …it’s been awhile…I hope they are successful and their finances are more in the black than the red…It’ll also be interesting to see if there will be a team re-alignment, or will the league see fit to keep things the way they are… :roll:

No matter how much I dislike the name, I can at least appreciate that some thought and reasoning went behind it.

Jeff Hunt takes writes an article for the Sun explaining the name:

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When we announced we were looking for a team name, we heard from the universe. We had lots of suggestions.

At an event we had at the Grey Cup, at Real Sports in Toronto, a guy said: ‘What about Red and Blacks?’ I said Red and Blacks is a bit wordy, how about just RedBlacks? It was one of those casual conversations that was relatively unremarkable.

I went from that right to dinner with some of my partners. I happened to be sitting right across from Bill Shenkman. I said, ‘Hey, what do you think of the name RedBlacks?’ We call him Blunt Bill because he’s not afraid to speak his mind. He immediately said he liked it. He kind of took more ownership in that name than I did.

We hired Downstream. We started with a wall of names. We had some very specific criteria that we wanted to achieve. We wanted a name that was authentic to Ottawa. I didn’t want to take the name Bears or Nationals – or any other prominent existing sports names. We wanted something distinctive, unique and authentic to Ottawa.

And obviously translation was a factor, a big factor.

Any name that started with R gave us the possibility of preserving that iconic R on the helmet. When I called Russ Jackson, Tony Gabriel as well, to share the name, I wanted them to buy in … I told them, ‘It keeps that R on the helmet.’ That immediately struck a chord with those guys and I started to feel like we were onto something.

We still had this wall of names. We started to pick them off one at a time.

We put out five names for focus groups. It wasn’t five names just for the sake of it. Every one of those names we were seriously considering. Let’s just say going into it, if we had thought one of the choices was the fifth-most popular and the focus groups were overwhelming to that name, we would have had to take that seriously.

We started to narrow in on RedBlacks. Red stands for desire, black stands for power. One of the things I did not know, in the mid- to late-1870s, when the Rough Riders started, one of the thoughts is they were named after the Roosevelt Rough Riders. They took the red and black colours from this regiment. I believe those colours influenced the colours of every Ottawa sports team since. I thought, what a tribute to Ottawa sports history – even if you think about the guards on the Hill with their red and black colouring. It’s just so synonymous with Ottawa history.

There was a realization within our partnership group that the name only worked if we could come up with a logo that was appropriate.

We had the name RedBlacks. And when we saw the sawblade, it was like, ‘Aha, this is it.’

The sawblade is a tribute to Ottawa’s heritage as a logging town. The sawblade is menacing, scary. Wait until you see the image on a huge jumbotron, the logo sawing through the opposition logo.

When we got down to five names and conducted the focus groups. I remember our ad agency saying RedBlacks is the most courageous choice – there are easier ones. It’s unique, it’s not a name like Voyageurs or Gladiators or something. There’s no obvious logo. But they thought long-term there was a lot we could do with that name.

I don’t want to get overly philosophical, but when they said it was the more courageous choice, I said maybe that’s our first move as a football team is to do something courageous. I like that. We could have picked a name that wouldn’t garner the same extremes of reaction.

I’ve heard people say it’s a made-up word. I put that in the asset column. I didn’t want a me-too name. We knew it was going to have a little more extreme reaction than if we picked something a little more vanilla.

It’s unorthodox, without precedent. I know we’ll take flak no matter what name we picked. It has inspired emotion. We’ve seen that already. I hope that’s something we stand for as a team.

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The team hopes to have its jersey finished within a couple of months — home and away, probably a third jersey.

i see they are spacing their announcements out, unveiling a little at a time to keep themselves in the headlines. smart, i suppose.

imagine another launch event in 2 months time - this time for jerseys - and out come Russ Jackson and Tony Gabriel in the new jerseys...which look almost identical to the old RR uniforms and the classic helmets in their hands as well.

that would be a home run...or touchdown.