OTTAWA—When Jeff Hunt surveys the grounds at TD Place Stadium on a game day, he’s very aware of the good thing that’s all around him.
“I think right off the bat there’s an energy when you walk in,” Hunt, the president of the Ottawa Sports Entertainment Group said.
“People come to the game early and of course we’re also very fortunate to have the whole (Lansdowne Park) development around it, so people come to the bars and restaurants. If you’re not into some of the more popular bars or restaurants three or four hours beforehand you won’t get in.
“People come early, it’s a party and it feels like it.”
In just their third season of existence, the Ottawa Redblacks can make a serious argument that they’ve created the best game day atmosphere in the CFL. As Lansdowne Park has blossomed from the construction site it was two years ago into a polished mix of retail units, bars, restaurants and condos, it’s made for an instant, organic game day atmosphere for the Redblacks.
Game days involve a tailgate with $6 drinks and live music on site. Touchdowns are celebrated by flannel-clad fans in the west end zone chainsawing a log. Most important, to Hunt and the rest of the CFL, is the fact that there’s a strong presence of young fans in the stands.
It’s not something that the Toronto Argonauts can fully duplicate, but as they work their way through their first season at BMO Field, they’d love to put their own spin on creating the vibe that’s been created in Ottawa.
“I think we had different circumstances than Toronto and really the other markets,” said Hunt, who speaks often with Argos president and CEO Michael Copeland and Sara Moore, the senior VP of business operations.
“There was a long history of football in Ottawa but really it’d been gone for over a decade and even then it was a three or four-year flash in the pan. That was good for us in that especially young fans, being the so-called lost generation of CFL fans in Ottawa, they didn’t have an impression, a hard opinion of what the CFL is.”
“Whereas I think a lot of markets, my line is always that it’s your father’s kind of sporting event, going to a CFL game in a lot of communities. It’s not something that a younger fan naturally aspires to do and that’s the challenge across the league, both on TV and the stands is (capturing) the elusive younger market.”
While the Argos face a sports landscape in Toronto that’s unlike any other city in Canada, Hunt said he sees similarities in what the Argos are doing with what the Redblacks have done.
“It sounds simple, but it’s really not that simple. We really focused on marketing to a younger fan and creating a game day experience that caters to a younger fan without upsetting our older fan base,” Hunt said.
“The first 15,000 people in the door (in 2014) were people that remember Tony Gabriel and Russ Jackson. They’re a very important part of the mix that we have, but it’s a party.
“I think in Toronto they’ve created a real good buzz with that tailgating aspect but they’ve got to build a substantial fan base with that younger audience and they know that. They’re a very smart group of people running it, very experienced. They know the Toronto market and they know that it’s absolutely imperative that they become that hip, cool place to be with the younger Torontonians.”
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