CFL saviour in Ottawa?

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Finally. Finally, it looks like somebody gets it when it comes to what would make a Canadian Football League team work in this community.

A chief executive or president from this community, who knows this community, who works and lives in this community, who knows the people, the businesses, the values and the fabric of this community.

A guy like Jeff Hunt.

The Ottawa 67's successful owner says nothing is signed yet, but judging by the excitement and the passion in his voice yesterday, it sure sounds like sometime today he will tell Golden Gate Capital he will be willing to be the face of its CFL operation here in Ottawa if it acquires the defunct Renegades franchise.

"Why would I do it?" he wondered yesterday on the Team 1200 as he stared in the face the years of futility which have have sacked every attempt to run a CFL team here in the last 20 years.

"The easiest way to never fail is to never try anything."

It's expected Golden Gate Capital will be one of three groups to submit bona fide bids tomorrow to own a revived CFL franchise here as early as next season.

TWO OTHER BIDS

The other bidders are expected to be embarrassing beer huckster Frank D'Angelo and another group of 8-10 U.S. investors fronted by Bill Palmer -- the ex-CFLer and Jesse's dad -- who has his own credibility in terms of knowing this market.

One of the critical failings in former CFL business plans here have been an almost total lack of a local presence in either the ownership group or in senior management.

"Carpetbaggers," has been a popular term to describe previous owners of CFL teams here, though that is a bit harsh.

Bernie Glieberman, for all his shortcomings as an owner, was at least willing to put his money where his son's mouth was when nobody from Ottawa was willing to step up.

But Lonie Glieberman, as well-intentioned as he might have been, always seemed to be out of touch with what was acceptable in this marketplace.

His Mardi Gras promotion was far from a failure in terms of getting people into the stands, but the adverse publicity generated when at least one young lady bared her charms for beads and a $1,000 prize, damaged the team's already tattered image in the minds of many in the community.

Hunt is already enthusiastically talking about how the focus of a new CFL team has to be on kids and families.

He remembered when he took over the 67's and faced a focus group of kids. They didn't even know what a 67's sweater was, he said.

Hunt made kids and families the focus of the 67's marketing and, despite the presence of the NHL's Senators, he has almost quadrupled attendance at 67's games.

A CFL team under Hunt's guidance would make tickets cheap for kids, recognizing they are your fans of tomorrow.

"We need 5,000-10,000 kids a game," he said yesterday, "and their moms. We have to get away from the stereotype of going to a football game for a few beers and having a guys night out. There aren't enough guys like that (in the National Capital Region) to fill a stadium eight times a year."

The fact the folks at Golden Gate Capital recognize the importance of having somebody like Hunt involved in their bid is a reason to be at least guardedly optimistic they know what they are doing.

SHARED OPERATIONS

It didn't sound yesterday like Hunt would have an ownership position, but could be contracted to be the president of the team and use an expanded 67's infrastructure to run both the hockey and football operations.

Talk has been the 40-ish Anthony Primerano, a former chief of staff in Veterans Affairs, is the driving force behind the Ottawa CFL bid in his current capacity as the president of Toronto-based Golden Gate Funds (II) Inc. It's part of a bigger company that provides financial services with offices in Southern Ontario, Montreal and here in Ottawa.

In his approximately 15 years here in federal government, it's a good bet Primerano would have become quite knowledgable about how things work in Ottawa, both on The Hill and in the community.

Convincing Hunt to be the everyday face of the CFL franchise here would be a wonderful coup and a positive and most important step in bridging the credibility gap between new owners and this city's long-suffering and skeptical football fans.

For the sake of those long-suffering fans: Do it, Jeff.


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