Professional football is back in the nation’s capital in a big way.
Ottawa has a buzz surrounding their newest CFL franchise, the Redblacks, that every professional sports organization wants.
With the new stadium, TD Place, in an area of the city (The Glebe) where it’s more residential living than commercial properties, fans were walking around the local restaurants and coffee shops sporting their Redblacks swag well before game time. In the days leading up to the inaugural home game on Friday, July 18, it was common to see someone wearing a shirt supporting the rebirth of CFL football in the city. People are proud of what the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group had done.
Thursday there were also a few hundred people in attendance at the pep rally held at Ottawa City Hall to celebrate the CFL’s return to the area.
This all built up to the organization’s first win this season, a dramatic 18-17 victory over the Toronto Argonauts, in front of a sold-out crowd of 24,326. It was an exciting atmosphere to say the least and the winning field goal kicked by Brett Maher with just over 30 seconds left in the game made the place explode with excitement.
The largest question is: will this be sustainable?
Ottawa has the largest season ticket holder base in the East Division this year, approximately 17,000, but considering it has been over eight years since a CFL game in the city, that is the reception the ownership group would expect to start out.
In 2006 the Renegades were on the way out the door, which was the second time there was a team in the city after the Rough Riders folded in 1996.
Right now the product on the field isn’t exactly where it needs to be if they want this to be sustainable. In their opening win the offence was all but non-existent. Special teams, specifically the foot of Maher, kicked them to victory. He scored all 18 points with his six field goals and aside from punting the ball out of bounds once, which prompted some fans to voice their frustrations by yelling “you guys need to get your head in the game,” he was perfect.
Their quarterback, Henry Burris, is experienced and can definitely do things with this team, but he needs the time to do it. His offensive line struggled and he got sacked five times. Rushed most of the game, he was on the sidelines watching more often than not it seemed. That said, when they gave him time to get a good pass off he came through and his pass to Kierrie Johnson on their final drive of the game put them in position for Maher to win the game.
With the win they’re first in the East with a 1-2 record, ahead of Montreal and Toronto at 1-3, but comparing that to the West the last place Saskatchewan Roughriders are 1-2. It’s a far cry from a championship product, but in their inaugural year that wasn’t to be expected anyways. What does need to happen is continued growth and development of the team and fan experience.
The product on the field is the most important aspect of that, but they also need to use their pre-game fan area to their advantage on a regular basis. Prior to the opener they brought in The Trews and there were a couple of thousand fans rocking out. It’s that engagement that will be crucial to keeping fans coming back because if they start to wane in their support the team may be in jeopardy again.
Already there were some troubles with the PA system, food lines, food running out and general systems not working, but the ownership group admitted things didn’t run perfectly and have vowed to fans to have those corrected so there is an enjoyable experience on game day from now on.
If they can do that, maintain a competitive product on the field and make game days enjoyable, football will be in Ottawa for years to come.
Christopher Cameron is the sports reporter for The News and can be reached at email@example.com on Twitter @NGNewsChris. His column runs weekly on Wednesdays.