Riders’ return hinges on corporate involvement

By Bonnie Van Toen

Football could be coming back to Ottawa…again.

Since the Rough Riders left in 1996, several attempts have been made to try and bring them back.
Now, the Ottawa Football Union (OFU) has begun another campaign to resurrect the team by the year 2000.

But first it needs $4 million to convince the CFL that there is support for a team in Ottawa.

So the OFU has a plan based in community ownership. About $1.4 million is expected to come from the business community, with the rest from individual supporters.

“Every dollar we gain in corporate support we can deduct from public support,” says Micky Green, head of the OFU.

Although Green would not say which businesses are on board, he says there has been interest.

One reason is that businesses in Centretown stand to profit if football comes back to Ottawa.

It’s not the roaring crowds in the stadium that excite retailers and restauranteurs but where those crowds could go before and after the games.

“I think the business community recognizes the financial benefits of professional sports,” says Peter Harris, manager of the Sparks Street Mall. “When you have 20,000 people coming downtown and they’re buying things like food and gas.”

Gerry LePage, executive director of the Bank Street Promenade, agrees.

LePage figures there could be “hundreds of thousands of dollars in economic spin-offs” per game.

Despite the potential boom times the CFL could bring, neither group has officially given their support to the bid.

“I think the word on the street is wait and see,” said LePage. “You have leaders and you have laggards. And most of us are going to wait and see where the wind blows.”

Green expected the guarded reaction.

“I can tell you at this point we’ve had a lot of discussion with people in the business community,” says Green. “I’m sure you can appreciate that it’s a snowball effect.”

Green says businesses want to know how the public feels before making a move.

“When you purchase a membership as an individual, you are granted a degree of anonymity. When you are a business, you don’t have that luxury.”

Supporters are being asked to buy $200 memberships to support the campaign. Those memberships give them the chance to vote, run for the board and jump to the head of the line for season and Grey Cup tickets.

Green says the goal is to sell at least 6,500 memberships this year.

Green expects that businesses will cough up the cash as more and more people are seen supporting the cause. The critical moment, says Green, will be the public rally planned for Oct. 3.

Some businesses have given their support in other ways. CFRA has made and played commercials without charge.

“The bottom line is we have had people step up, [but] we’re not where we need to be yet.” says Green. “They’re comfortable with the plan, they’re comfortable with our goals.”

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” says LePage. “I’m a firm believer in that.”

Centretown Sportscard

Frankie Papalia

Team – St. Anthony’s Under-14 Soccer Club
Position – Centre/Midfield
School – Grade 9 at Immaculata High School
Age – 14 years
Hobbies – Basketball, volleyball and soccer; president of the Student Athletic Association.
Hero – Alessandro Del Piero, soccer player for Juventus, Italian Soccer League
Future Goals – “I’d like a scholarship to play soccer at a Canadian or American university. One day I want to be a professional soccer player in Europe.”