By Jason Menard
Just when you thought it was safe to be a CFL fan. Where’s Paul McCartney and Brigitte Bardot when you need them? After all, each time a Canadian feels it’s safe to poke their head out and be proud of our national league, someone comes along and Gliebermans the fan.
It’s truly cruel and unusual punishment – especially for those long-suffering folk in our nation’s capital and it must stop.
Whether it’s the Roughriders or the Renegades, Ottawa fans have now twice faced a divorce from their beloved team. Sure, the first marriage lasted a heck of a long time, until 1996, which made the hurt all the more painful. And then, just when the old fans were feeling comfortable about expressing their love for the new arrival, they get left at the altar 10 years later.
And the league thinks the fans are going to welcome the team back after one year off?
Take one year, take 10 years, take however long you want. If once bitten, twice shy is the old adage, what’s the formula when you’ve had two chunks taken out of you? Oh yeah, it starts fool me once…
The league has to be insane if they think that the fans are just going to walk back into Frank Clair Stadium and pick up where they left off. There’s too much mistrust to get personally involved.
Look at the example set by the Montreal Alouettes. Despite a team that was consistently able to beat the bushes and find superlative talent, Montrealers refused to support the team in any substantive way and ended up losing Nos Amours to Washington. However, it wasn’t for a lack of passion in baseball or a lack of enjoyment of the spectacle – opening day crowds can attest to that. It’s just that fans were tired of being told that their team was going to leave.
The situation denigrated into a constant cacophony of how terrible the stadium was, how the team couldn’t compete in the fiscal environment, and how the players were just going to end up leaving anyway. Montreal’s own Gleibermanesque Jeff Loria promised the moon – a downtown stadium on land whose lease he allowed to lapse – before delivering the knockout blow and putting Montreal baseball to sleep for good.
While sports is a business, there’s so much more to it than just that. To run a successful sports franchise you need not only savvy business and personnel people in place, you need a fan base that feels attached to the team, feels a sense of ownership and pride in the organization, and feels invested in the product on the field. It’s hard to get the fans to stand firm when you keep pulling the rug out from under their feet.
Look at how Montreal has rebounded since the return of the Alouettes. When the Concorde left, the thought was that football was gone from that town for good. But with the failed American expansion behind them and the absorption of the former Baltimore franchise, Montreal’s CFL brass made all the right moves. They embraced the history of the team by reverting to the Alouettes name, instead of choosing the failed Concordes moniker or an all-new title. They moved to the cozy confines of McGill’s football stadium to turn a night at the football game into an event. And they encouraged their players to go out into the community and be a part of life in the city.
The Renegades? They should have Horned Mr. Chen and obtained the rights to the Roughriders title. And the last thing they should have done is shelved the team for the year.
The league’s commitment to finding solid, long-term local ownership is admirable. However, the decision to suspend operations and disperse the players through the league (and the unemployment line) is short-sighted at best. Like Toronto and Hamilton in the recent past, the league should have ponied up the dough to maintain operations.
Who’s to say that after a year off, the fans are going to want to come back? What will they be coming back to? Nothing more than an expansion team with new, poorer-quality players, and an immediate future that looks bleak. Why are they going to invest their time, money, and – most importantly – passion in a situation that’s proven to be folly in the past?
Like in any marriage, it’s easier to work things out together than to come back after a separation. Unfortunately for the Ottawa fans, this marriage appears to be going down the road to divorce because of irreconcilable differences.
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