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Suitor: Football returns to Ottawa in a meaningful way

Glen Suitor, TSN
7/21/2014 1:17:58 AM
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At a press scrum last Thursday, the day before the Redblacks were to play their season home opener and officially open the new TD Place Stadium, one of the owners, Roger Greenburg, was asked why he decided to become the co-owner of a football team.

His answer just may be the best example of why football will work this time, when it didn't on two previous occasions in Ottawa.

I'm paraphrasing, but the chairman/CEO of Minto Developments said that he believes there are four pillars that make up a strong community.

The first is the medical system. Second, is the education system. The third is the arts and the final one is the sports culture. He went on to say that the Senators have contributed to the sports culture, but it was time to add to that with the return of professional football to the city and the addition of professional soccer. Greenburg and his partners John Ruddy, William Shenkman and Jeff Hunt wanted to be part of building and strengthening one of the pillars of a strong community.

In other words, this ownership group has done all of this for the right reason - to strengthen the community that they live in and they were rewarded on Friday night for all their hard work and perseverance.

Friday's home opener was an unforgettable experience and, hopefully, showed one of our other major cities in the country, that happens to be only about four hours away, just what is possible.

The Redblacks didn't score a touchdown on the field, but they did in the stands and that is what mattered most. Jeff Hunt said the team could have sold another 15,000 tickets to the game and that will translate into demand. Based on the in-game experience on Friday night, nobody should be surprised to hear that the next home game will be sold out soon.

The atmosphere was electric. It was a young energetic crowd, who partied like they were attending a rock concert. In fact, in what was an ingenious move, there was also a rock concert going on before the game to get people pumped up for kick-off at what was a Canadian-style tailgate party.

TD Place Stadium is fantastic with great sightlines and a design that not only looks outstanding, but is designed to enhance the fan experience for soccer and football, specifically. It doesn't feel like an all-purpose facility that accommodates many, but pleases none.

The game itself was not a masterpiece, but it had an exciting finish when, down by two, Redblacks QB Henry Burris hit Kerrie Johnson on a deep ball to set up the game winning field goal. It wasn't a walk-off winner by Brett Maher, but when Ricky Ray was intercepted in the dying seconds, it was game over and the crowd erupted.

The game's MVP was the crowd, that included Prime Minister Steven Harper, who sat beside CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon and Rough Rider great, Russ Jackson. In fact, one of the highlights of the night was when our TSN cameraa caught a fan walking by the PM and the commish to shake hands with Jackson. It was not a slight to our country' leader or the leagues top man, but a show of respect for history of football in Ottawa.

And speaking of the telecast, I owe the football fans in Ottawa an apology for mistakenly saying that the five Grey Cup teams in the '60s and '70s were all coached by Frank Clair. My intention was to say that all the Cup teams in the '60s were coached by Clair. Jack Gotta was the coach from 1970-1973 and George Brancato was the coach when the Rough Riders beat Saskatchewan to win in 1976.

The telecast wasn't perfect and neither was the night - apparently, some of the concessions ran out of beer and the traffic was a bit tricky, which, of course, was pointed out by some sportswriters...I swear some people would complain that their ice cream is too cold.

I recently went to a George Strait concert in Dallas at AT&T Field, one of the most elaborate and state-of-the-art stadiums in the world and it had traffic issues, as well. In fact, it was so jammed up, I ended up tailgating in the parking lot for almost two hours after the event waiting for it to clear.

On Friday night, the small issue were just that - small - and didn't, in any way, take away from the success of the event.

It was a look at what is possible, even in Ontario ,when it comes to CFL football. The capacity of TD Place Stadium is 24,000, which just may be the perfect number and a blueprint for a possible stadium in Toronto.

Our country has great football fans, but just not the volume to consistently fill a 40-to-50,000-seat stadium and at 24,000 in the stands, owners are making money.

For those who would say that, if the NFL were in Toronto, they would sell out the old SkyDome, I would remind those people that the NFL regular season games played in Toronto were not sell-outs and not even close. In fact, sources have said that upwards of 20,000 tickets to the games in the Buffalo Bills series were freebies, handed to people on the street.

No, 25-30,000-seat stadiums are the perfect size for CFL football, professional soccer and summer concerts and, for proof of that, look no further than Friday night in Ottawa. It can work in Toronto, as well, with a stadium at a realistic capacity and one built for football and soccer, specifically.

It worked in Montreal, it is working in a big way in Winnipeg and, after Game One in Ottawa, it looks like it will be a huge hit there, as well.

The answer may be BMO Field, which seems to still be part of the plan for the Argos.

On our TSN set in Ottawa, Commissioner Mark Cohon had this to say when asked what it would take to replicate the Ottawa plan in Toronto:

"The answer is a smaller stadium like BMO," said Cohon. "We know that they have a four-year deal left with Rogers Centre. We're talking to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, we're talking to the city of Toronto and we're working to see if we can move [the Argos] into BMO Field and replicate what we have [in Ottawa.]" 

The blueprint for the correct business model has now been created and now all that is needed in Toronto is for David Braley, or whomever buys the Argos, to start building the fourth pillar in that community.

Congratulations again to the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group and, on behalf of the football fans in our country, thank you.

At the end of the night in Ottawa, the scoreboard read Redblacks 18 - Argonauts 17, but the true winners were the fans and the community in our nation's capital.




Golfer Taylor Pendrith is the highest ranked player on Canada's men's national team. The recent graduate of Kent State University is 18th on the world amateur rankings. More...

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