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Inside the CFL: Ottawa returns

By Ted Michaels, CFL Columnist

Ottawa, ON (Sports Network) - If the enthusiasm in the room meant anything, then the team is already a winner.

On June 8, Ottawa's new CFL team announced that RedBlacks will be the team's official nickname and the logo will be a classic R on a background that represents a round saw blade.

The announcement and logo reveal took place during a special event with over 3,000 football fans, Ottawa CFL alumni and special guests, including CFL commissioner Mark Cohon and Hall of Famers Russ Jackson and Tony Gabriel, in attendance.

It's the third time football fans in the nation's capital will watch a team play in the CFL.

The Ottawa Rough Riders were formed in 1876, and they played in the CFL from 1958-1996. A new Ottawa franchise was formed as the Renegades in 2002, but lasted only until the end of the 2005 season.

The RedBlacks are owned by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, a partnership of five Ottawa business and community leaders. The partners - Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy, Jeff Hunt, William Shenkman and John Pugh - each own successful business enterprises and are well-known in Ottawa for distinguished community service.

The CFL conditionally awarded a franchise to OSEG in March 2008. In June 2010, Ottawa City Council voted to partner with OSEG and proceed with the revitalization of Lansdowne Park, which will serve as the home of the new CFL team. Stadium construction at Lansdowne is ongoing and the new team will commence play in the 2014 season.

"We are thrilled to confirm our team nickname and logo design and to finally be able to tell the story behind them," said Jeff Hunt, the president of OSEG. So, the obvious question then, why RedBlacks?

"The story is steeped in Ottawa tradition," Hunt told "Inside the CFL."

"The Rough Riders got their name from a regiment back in the 1800s called the Roosevelt Rough Riders, who fought in the Spanish-American War. The colors of that regiment were red and black, so the original football team took the name and the colors. Every sports team in Ottawa since then has donned the colors of red and black.

"It was a way for us to connect with the past. We wanted a name that was unique and distinctive to Ottawa. When we first heard the name, it reminded me of the legendary rugby team, the New Zealand All-Blacks."

While the day was special, it also was anti-climactic in many ways. The team name and logo had already been leaked on social media for days prior to the unveiling. Hunt noted that while it was frustrating, it also created a lot of talk, both locally and nationally.

"At the end of the day, it tuned into a positive for us," he said. "I think the market had time to get used to the name, and we got feedback, both good and bad. When you have a long history with a name that goes back one hundred years, any new name is going to sound foreign."

The RedBlacks logo will remind some CFL fans of the old logo which the Rough Riders used for years. And therein lies the battle that Hunt and his group had to fight.

For years, some people would laugh at the fact that the CFL had two teams with the same name ... Ottawa Rough Riders and Saskatchewan Roughriders. When the league governors voted to put the new team in Ottawa, they had a stipulation that Saskatchewan be the only team to have the name Roughriders.

Hunt pointed out, in some ways, it was a no-win situation.

"Initially that was the case," he said. "Keep in mind, we had a five-year journey from the time we launched the franchise, and in that time, the only things fans really talked about, was the name of the team. I think it will be short-lived, and once we start playing, the name will be less of a focal point."

One of the most beautiful places to watch a CFL game is at Landsdowne Park, a 40-acre site in the heart of the city, adjacent to the historic Bank Street Bridge and wrapped to the East by a gentle curve of the Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The view from the stadium, especially, on an early fall day when the leaves are starting to change color, is breathtaking.

OSEG has some major plans for the area, including a modern, 24,000-seat stadium for football, soccer, concerts and other major events. In addition, there will be a refurbished 9,862-seat arena for the Ottawa 67's of the OHL and community hockey, other arena sports, mid-size concerts and other events; two condominium towers and town homes with a combined 280 units; a 360,000-square-foot shopping/entertainment district; an office tower; 1,300 underground parking spaces; and an 18-acre urban park. OSEG also will own a new NASL expansion team named Ottawa Fury FC, and the 67's hockey team.

Yet while the sketches and video of the proposed site look amazing, there was a small, vocal group that did everything in its power to try to stop the renovation and revitalizing of the area. The end result? A process that could have been completed sooner wasn't.

"There were times when I thought we wouldn't prevail," Hunt admitted. "We had two votes of council to get through, plus some legal challenges that went all the way to the Supreme Court. When you do have that kind of reality, you wonder if it's ever going to come to fruition. The opposition never deterred us; if anything, it made us stronger."

Anyone who drives down the Bank Street Bridge or next to the Rideau Canal will notice how the new stadium is starting to take shape.

"The new southside stands are coming up, probably they'll be capped off by late July or early August," Hunt said. "We're on time and on budget. It'll be one of the greatest stadium experiences in the league, in one of the most beautiful cities in the league."

The football operations side of the team also is taking shape. Marcel Desjardins, the former general manager in Hamilton and assistant GM in Montreal, is the RedBlacks' new GM.

Hunt has a definite timeline for the next key hire: the head coach.

"I think it'll be before the end of the year before we reach a decision," Hunt said. "That's not to say we're not already targeting people we want to talk to. You've got a certain group of coaches that are not in the league actively, and those are people we can talk to perhaps over the summer and into the fall. As the CFL season starts to wind down, and teams are eliminated, and then the Grey Cup is over, we can talk to more, and, hopefully, we'll have our coach in place by the end of the year."

The Grey Cup has been played twice in Ottawa, 1988 and 2004. What about a third time? Hunt says, they have a business plan for that as well.

"We've made no secret about the fact that 2017 is Canada's 150th anniversary, and we think it would be a great event to mark that milestone by having a Grey Cup in Ottawa as part of the festivities. In an ideal world, we'd have the Grey Cup tied in to an NHL Winter Classic. If we have temporary stands already erected for the Grey Cup, wouldn't it be something to leave them up and play a Winter Classic a few weeks later?"

GREY CUP'S ECONOMIC BOOST

If Ottawa hosts the Grey Cup, organizers clearly would hope to mirror Toronto's success from last season.

In a presentation to the City of Toronto's Economic Development Committee, the results of an Economic Impact Assessment conducted for the event were released.

The total economic activity generated by the 100th Grey Cup was more than $133.1 million throughout the province, with $94.7 million occurring in Toronto. These expenditures supported $38.4 million in wages and salaries throughout the province, and supported 795 jobs, of which 596 - including $26.6 million in wages and salaries - occurred in Toronto.

The net economic activity (GDP) generated by the event was $70.2 million in the Province of Ontario, of which $48.9 million occurred in Toronto.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?

06/18 10:42:50 ET

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