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FOOTBALL: CFL

March 25, 2008

Hunt faces challenges in bringing CFL back to Ottawa

Bruce Firestone couldn't make it work. Nor could Horn Chen, Bernie and Lonie Glieberman or Brad Watters, which is why it's now Jeff Hunt's turn to transform Ottawa into a CFL success.

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon will announce today what The Globe and Mail reported last week - that a conditional expansion franchise will be awarded to a group of local investors headed by Hunt, the owner of the OHL's Ottawa 67's.

The Ottawa team would begin play in 2010 to allow Hunt and his partners (businessmen Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy and William Shenkman) time to secure an agreement to use Frank Clair Stadium at Lansdowne Park, which has been earmarked for development after the southside stands were condemned last fall.

Hunt had been in negotiations with the CFL for months and has said several times that much of what went wrong with Ottawa football in the past had to do with the stadium. He and his partners would like to see an upgraded stadium, one with luxury suites and state-of-the-art amenities, but may not be the ones doing the upgrading.

While Hunt is backed by civic goodwill and legitimate money men - two necessary ingredients - he is about to venture into new territory. As a major-junior hockey operator, Hunt inherited a legendary coach in Brian Kilrea, who has made the 67's consistent winners. Ticket sales are not only limited by the number of seats at the Ottawa Civic Centre (roughly 10,000), but game-day tickets cost just $15 for adults.

As a CFL operator, Hunt will have in excess of 25,000 seats to sell for 10 home games with average ticket prices likely to cost $50 to $60. He'll also have to hire the right general manager, extract more money from the corporate community and work within the confines of the CFL, and that's not an easy task.

First, there's the $4.25-million salary cap for each team's players. Some CFL insiders say it's being strictly enforced; others insist it's a policy without teeth.

Then there are the always-fractious CFL club owners and presidents, who have never been anxious to surrender quality talent through an expansion draft.

"I'm not sure going back to Ottawa again is a good idea," a source said. "But I know this: You've got to put a good product on the field and they're going to be an expansion team and that means they're going to be terrible."

The CFL has an expansion-draft procedure in its new collective labour agreement with the players. It is not known whether Hunt has been able to negotiate a better expansion-draft format for his team. What he has garnered is high praise from commissioner Cohon, who pointed to the 67's as proof of Hunt's abilities as a sports owner.

"[When] you have both owners with financial means coupled with a great operator, I think that's potentially a winning combination," Cohon said last fall.

Ottawa first lost its CFL team in 1996 when the Rough Riders folded because of bad management and horrible teams. The Renegades were born in 2002 and, for a time, appeared headed in the right direction before they fell victim to ownership issues and were suspended by the CFL in 2006.

A couple of things:

-I doubt the average ticket price will be $50.

-Though the expansion Renegades only won four games, I don't recall any real ill-will against them for that. It's expected that an expansion team will struggle. When they started going cheap on Grey Cup year, THAT's when people truly started to become turned off.

I think putting a competetive product on the field from the get go is important this time. Ottawa was turning the corner in 2006 if they were allowed to keep it going.
The big problem may be getting that experienced starting QB and of course the starting Canadians. The non-import problem could be solved by phasing them in over three years. Have to start three the first year, five the second and then up to seven the third year.
The QB could be a bit more of a challenge, as what team is going to give up a player capable of starting.
The main thing is to not let the GM's decide. The owners have to step in here and make the GM's bite the bullet for the good of the league.
Hopefully there will be a lot of veteran free agents available in 2010 like this year. Quite a few of the guys released this year because of the SMS can still play and would give a new team that veteran presence it needs.

I would have to question those who became turned off by a break on GC tickets. How big of fans are these guys. Not very. Of these people(fans?) I would say ...

Never had them, don't have them now, and don't need/want them in the future.

kel

The article is a tad overly negative but factual.

Ottawa needs to be competitive out of the gate. Will owners be honnest? Hard to say. Will Bob Young be willing to give up 4 players 2 of them NI's after paying through years of sawking, Doubtful.

Players looking for a potential increase in pay signing new contracts this year would be wise to be FA in 2010 :slight_smile:

Competitive will be important but only if it is tied with potential. A competitive team made up of mostly old guys who will be done in 2 or 3 years will do nothing for the team.

TSN does an excellent job in providing some analysis of the new Ottawa Franchise:

http://broadband.tsn.ca/tsn/?id=348&vid=40644

I don't recall a "break" on Grey Cup tickets, rather the opposite. People (from everywhere) complained that the tickets were abnormally high for Grey Cup compared to the past.

What I mean though is that the team was doing little to improve itself. They weren't spending money, they were cutting corners, and it showed both in customer service and on the field.

They wanted to make a quick buck on the Cup at that point at that was priority #1. That's where the quoite from Lisowzki comes from about how he would rather go 0-18 and break even than lose money and win a few games. tillman used to refer to it constantly to point to what a messed up organization it had become.

If you dont think the average ticket price will be $50, what do you expect it to be?

$49.68

Exactly.

No seriously, I think it'll be less than that. One of the first things Hunt about running this team is that he would want it to be affordable for family. I think there'll be some cheap family section which will being the average down.

I really don't see how the tickets could be much less than that, really. By the time 2010 rolls around, ticket prices could be in the $60 dollar range, if you are expecting $35-$40, prepare to be disappointed.

They would be in line with Hamilton I would guess, about the same size staium right.

I won't be disappointed. I expect to pay about $50 myself (I was paying $48 for the Renegades), but I think the average will be lower.

I don't plan on spending much time in the family zone. :wink:

That is great news for the league but to be honest they need 3 more teams besides ottawa. A place like halifax, quebec city, and st. johns would be good places to field new teams make the league more competative and bring more players in.

I understand what you are saying, about when it was learned that it was Banjo Bowl 07' the sequel but, trust me, there were breaks man. I recall that Windows restaurant offered Grey Cup 07' tickets that were cut in half, post Argo implosion. Are you arguing that there was a demand for tickets? There are still some unused tickets available on Ebay right now!

kel