Hunt opens Golden Gate

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

Jeff Hunt moved his 67's junior hockey operation into the offices vacated by the CFL's late Renegades last week.

Talk about foreshadowing.

Hunt agreed yesterday to ally with Golden Gate Capital, a Toronto-based financial services company, to bid for another CFL franchise for Ottawa.

"It's almost like it was pre-ordained," he said of how things have turned out in light of last week's move. "I'm going to put my hat in the ring with these guys and see where it goes. We've got an agreement in principle and I'm excited about it. I think there are a lot of great synergies (between a football team and the hockey club). I'm trying to contain my enthusiasm.

"I've been doing this for nine years now and by no means am I bored," he added, "but not everybody gets an opportunity to do something this special. This is an opportunity to impact the landscape of the city in a profound way."

Today is the deadline for interested parties to communicate to the CFL their intent to bid for a franchise for Ottawa.

Last spring, in another sad chapter for the CFL in this city, the Renegades franchise was suspended after former owner Bernie Glieberman refused to keep underwriting unlimited losses.

In addition to Golden Gate Capital, it's anticipated there will also be bids from ubiquitous beverage entrepreneur Frank D'Angelo and another from a group of 8-10 investors fronted by former CFLer Bill Palmer, father of NFL quarterback Jesse Palmer of Ottawa.

Hunt's presence gives the Golden Gate bid star power in this town and a huge advantage if you were going to handicap the field.

WOULD BE A COUP

One of the critical elements which has been missing from previous CFL regimes here has been strong local representation. Hunt, given his success in building the 67's into a junior hockey juggernaut, gives the Golden Gate bid instant credibility in the community.

It should also be regarded as a coup by the CFL governors who will decide if a team should return to the nation's capital and if so, who should own it.

Hunt said his agreement in principle with Golden Gate will give him complete control over the business operations of the football team if Golden Gate is successful in acquiring a franchise.

Not that it was an easy decision for the 42-year-old, self-made millionaire.

He said he agonized over the decision to work with Golden Gate on the weighty task of resurrecting the CFL here.

"I was worried sick about spreading myself too thin and taking away my attention and time from the 67's," he said yesterday from Toronto where he was attending Ontario Hockey League meetings. "If there's one thing I've learned is sports is a volatile business. One year you're on top of the world and the next you're on the way down. Taking my eye off the puck to put it on the ball, so to speak, was one of my major hesitations. I know if we get a franchise it's going to be a lot of work, but I am going to be diligent the 67's don't miss a beat. To be successful in football, but have the hockey team suffer wouldn't put me any further ahead."

In the end, the chance to leverage the combined weight of two significant sports properties in this city -- and make the CFL a successful story for the first time in 25 years -- made the deal intriguing to Hunt.

"This could be beneficial to the 67's on the sponsorship side. There were sponsors the Renegades had that the 67's didn't and sponsors the 67's had the Renegades didn't. This will open the door to make a deal for two properties, the ultimate sports package ... we're hoping one plus one will equal three."

Hunt already has a front office staff of 22 working at the 67's offices, a number that already rivals some CFL operations (the Renegades listed 11 administrative people in their media guide for the 2005 season, including Lonie Glieberman as president and John Lisowski as CEO).

"We'll have to ramp up and hire additional people, but it's going to be literally like a turnkey operation," said Hunt.

One CFL source said league governors, if they are going to come back into Ottawa again, are intent on doing it right.

There have already been rumours associating former Renegades GM Eric Tillman with the Golden Gate bid.

"The buzz words this time are 'character, commitment and financial stability' when it comes to an owner,'" said one league insider.

The league, meanwhile, is apparently making plans for an expansion draft which will better equip this Ottawa franchise to be more competitive than in 2002 when the Renegades made their debut.

"They want to make sure they do it right this time. They want to give a franchise in Ottawa every chance to be successful," said one insider.

Hunt made the decision yesterday he wants that chance if Golden Gate gets the nod from the league.

"Will we sell out every game and win the Grey Cup the first year? No," he said, "but will it be better than it has been? Definitely."


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