Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ottawa 33 1/3: The Final Insult

The CFL announced Tuesday that a conditional franchise in Ottawa has been granted to an investors group led by Jeff Hunt, who runs the Ottawa 67's, and includes some other prominent local businessmen. The team could be in operation as early as 2010 provided a number of hurdles are overcome, most notably renovations to Frank Clair Stadium.

There has been much talk about the strength of the investor group. All members of the group have close ties to the Ottawa community and when you throw in the fact that Hunt has experience managing a sports team it makes for a pretty impressive bid. As successful and well-regarded as these people are, I do have to question their sanity. I mean what businessman in his right mind decides that this is the best venture to invest his money in? They are making an investment in a concept that has failed twice and hinges upon a stadium that was condemned last year and was slated for demolition. Not to mention the fact that the keys to the venture's success (quality players and coaches) are currently under contract to their competitors, potential fans are jaded since they haven't had a decent on-field product in over 30 years; it cost them $7 million for the opportunity to pursue this venture regardless of whether the team actually comes to fruition; and the league's future has been cast into doubt now that a large American competitor is starting to move in on their territory. I would really like to see that business plan and how they manage to justify it as a good investment!

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that football may be returning to the nation's capital and I think this group of investors has a good chance at developing a sustainable franchise. It's just that when you look at this from a purely business perspective it seems pretty crazy.

CFL fans, Ottawa fans in particular, have good reason to be skeptical about this announcement. Football in Ottawa dates back over 100 years and that history has been full of ups (such as winning 4 Grey Cups in an 8 year span) and downs (such as having 2 franchises fold in a similar span). Here's a brief history...

It all started in 1876 with the Ottawa Football Club (130 years later people in Ontario still hadn't come up with an original idea for a team name and give the same name to a soccer team). They adopted the name Rough Riders in 1898 and went on to win 9 Grey Cups, the last being in 1976. But that's about where things began to go wrong for the Rough Riders. Poor on-field performance and even worse management put the team in a downward spiral. This spiral reached an all-time low in 1995 when the team drafted Derrell Robertson. Although Derrell had a decent college career, Ottawa overlooked the minor detail that he had died a few months earlier. Finally in 1996, they folded.

In 2002, football was resurrected in the form of the Ottawa Renegades but a string of losing seasons and dwindling fan support once again put the team in a downward spiral.

Then in 2005, two knights in shining armour arrived... Sir Bernie and Sir Lonnie of Glieberman. Not being satisfied with failing as owners of the Ottawa Rough Riders and Shreveport Pirates, the Gliebermans looked to complete the trifecta by taking over the Renegades. Sure enough, team operations were suspended prior to the 2006 season due to mounting debt that the Glieberman's didn't want to cover. Some highlights of the 2nd Glieberman regime in Ottawa include hiring a coach who hadn't coached since the Shreveport Pirates folded 10 years earlier and who, at one point, couldn't remember the name of his starting QB (hint: it rhymes with Merry Boseph). They also came up with a promotion that involved offering Mardi Gras beads to women at home games which drew much public criticism. Apparently the whole story has inspired a made for TV movie entitled "Boobs and Bimbos: The Glieberman years"

So here we are again hoping the 3rd time is a charm. At least this time the Glieberman's are not involved which increases the chance of success exponentially. While there are still some major hurdles before this conditional franchise becomes an actual franchise it looks like Jeff Hunt and his group are off to a good start and I wish them all the best. And hey, if Hamilton continues their futility and Montreal continues its fall from glory, Ottawa may be pretty much guaranteed a playoff spot in their first season (if Winnipeg rejoins the West division it could even be a home-playoff game).

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