Published on April 27, 2008 6:35 PM by dbo.
The most important piece of Canadian Football League news this off-season is the announcement on March 25 that the league has granted a conditional CFL franchise to a four person Ottawa group. The franchise is granted on the condition of the group negotiating a stadium lease, which requires City of Ottawa redevelopment of Frank Clair Stadium at Lansdowne Park. While I was not able to post at the time of the announcement, this is such a monumental announcement it deserves detailed coverage.
It has been known that the CFL has been negotiating with a new local Ottawa group for a ninth franchise since last year’s announcement regarding the required demolition of the lower section of the south stands at Frank Clair Stadium. Besides a discovery of the names involved, not much was known of the progress of the negotiations and the seriousness of the partners since last September. On Tuesday, March 18, a week prior to the announcement, globesports.com reported a deal between the parties was close and later the Canadian Press stated in a story the CFL was “quietly optimistic” that they would soon be returning to Ottawa and an announcement on the granting of a conditional franchise was expected in the next few weeks.
The next day, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon confirmed a deal was close to being announced and Jeff Hunt, a primary piece of the ownership group, also confirmed an announcement was near. On Monday, a news conference at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa on Tuesday to announce the new franchise was confirmed.
The CFL announced March 25 they had awarded a conditional Ottawa franchise to a group of Ottawa businessmen in a press conference and press release. A short clip of the announcement highlights can also be found on the CFL YouTube channel. The ownership group consists of Ottawa real estate developers Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy and Bill Shenkman along with Jeff Hunt, the owner of the Ottawa ‘67’s OHL franchise. The franchise is conditional on the ownership group working out a lease with the city for Frank Clair Stadium. This is complicated by the fact the City of Ottawa is opening public consultations and a design competition for the revitalization of the 40 acres of Lansdowne Park that the stadium sits on. Proposals do not need to include a stadium and there will likely be some public and political opposition to rebuilding the stadium, despite a potential football tenant waiting in the wings.
The franchise could potentially take the field as early as 2010, but 2011 is more likely. The franchise fee of $7 million will be payable upon the team taking the field. An expansion draft would held prior to the Ottawa team’s entry, but the details of such a draft could change by the team’s entry date. The current rules for an expansion draft are outlined in the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the CFL Player’s Association. The agreement comes up for re-negotiation after the 2009 season and because there is a strong desire for new franchises to be competitive early, the CFL will likely push very strongly for a change in the expansion draft rules.
The ownership group the CFL has found in Ottawa has been described as the “dream team”. In the past twenty years there has been no interest from the Ottawa business community in operating a CFL franchise. Unlike the last group that owned the Renegades franchise, these are local Ottawa people with strong ties to the community that will not walk away from a team on a whim. As the biographies of the Ottawa principals attest, they also have the financial resources and sports management experience in their group.
The conditional owners expressed their motivations for acquiring a football franchise as a belief that the City of Ottawa deserves a world-class football facility and franchise. Their franchise bid is not tied to their being successful bidders for Lansdowne Park redevelopment, although they will undoubtedly submit a proposal. Neither requiring the work to redevelop the site or manage the stadium, they only wish for Ottawa to receive a world-class facility and they a team to play in it.
Following the exuberance of the announcement came the second look at the challenges the new franchise faces. Steven Brunt listed a competitive team (notably at quarterback), a Salary Management System that holds water, a successful resolution of the stadium situation (with the political dealings being the challenge) and most of all, overcoming the memories of the past owners of the last twenty years and the teams of the past thirty years as challenges the new group needs to overcome. B.C. Lions owner David Braley was quick to state he didn’t see the team taking the field until the 2012 season. Others quickly made the assumption football can never compete with hockey and politics in the national capital.
Concerns also popped up that Ottawa would abandon its public process for the revitalization of the Lansdowne Park area, despite no evidence leading to this conclusion. Former Ottawa Renegade CEO John Lisowski disagreed with the new owner group’s statement to Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien that a parking facility would be key to the stadium revitalization. A parking facility would add an unnecessary exorbitant cost to the project as people can continue to walk and take public transit he stated. Ottawa Rough Rider legendary quarterback Russ Jackson believes the CFL can work in Ottawa and sees no reason the team should not be called the Rough Riders.
Many media reports asked whether Ottawa deserved another chance at a franchise, completely missing the fact the the CFL and various Ottawa owners have let down the fans of Ottawa, not the other way around. Ottawa fans should be commended for supporting their team in the numbers they have in the past three decades as the teamed suffered from ownership neglect, shoestring budgets, poor management, circus manager owners, absentee owners, poor league support and bad luck. If anything, Ottawa should be asking whether they give the CFL another chance. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon got it right in a passionate and truthful letter to CFL fans when he stated that Ottawa fans “…never let football in Ottawa down, even when the reverse was true”.
There appears to be a commitment from the CFL and this ownership group to do it right this time, from the stadium to making the club competitive from the start. As it is, everyone does not have to support the endeavor, just some key people to see it through, and there is support for the politicians to make sure they do not lose this opportunity to restore this area of Ottawa that has neglected to the point of becoming a joke. Once that is overcome, the local owners, the synergy with Jeff Hunt and the Ottawa ‘67’s, the financial resources of the other partners, a fresh, new stadium for the fans, possibly the Rough Rider name, and a competitive team in a growing league with a competitive balance system in place should lead to success in Ottawa.