RE: “Time to wake up and sell field of dreams” (Guest post by Andrew Denny)
[This piece is a reply to this editorial from Elizabeth Payne in the Ottawa Citizen this morning, written by Andrew Denny. I may put something similar out. ]
Before I dive in to this article, I want to tell you a little bit about who I am and what I do (let’s face it…. no one likes to waste time reading irrelevant opinions). My name is Andrew Denny, I’m a lifelong resident of Ottawa and I’m a writer for a US sports network covering Major League Baseball (more specifically the Chicago Cubs). Of course, my career choice makes me a baseball fan and I’m a strong fighter for the continuation of baseball in Ottawa at any level.
After reading the article that Ms. Payne wrote – which is in itself was a reasonable and on point article – I feel as though she missed the mark on a few issues.
The City of Ottawa did “build it”, but on the contrary to what Ms. Payne stated, they did come. They came in hoards and they stayed.
There is no doubt that baseball in Ottawa is broken. We can argue until we’re blue in the face trying to say otherwise, but there is no doubt about this simple fact. After the Lynx’s failure, the Rapidz failure and what will soon be the eventual demise of the Fat Cats (more on this later), it’s becoming quite apparent that sustainability is a serious issue in this entire affair.
No team means no revenue from the stadium. Even a simpleton could understand this concept.
I agree with Ms. Payne that if the stadium is bleeding public funds, then why must all residents of this city bear the burden of dead weight? Not every resident is a baseball fan and in a city that is covered with snow for arguably 6 months of the year, it would seem a silly concept to even dream of having a local pro or semi-pro baseball team. Besides, Ottawa Stadium couldn’t support the one million plus residents that Ottawa now boasts at every game anyway…
But while she leaps to the conclusion that the only recourse is to tear the stadium down and lay waste to the dream of baseball in Ottawa, she misconstrues a couple of facts that have significant impact on the implications of bringing sustainable baseball to Ottawa.
Firstly, the statement that “the city is talking about a $5.7 million renovation to the stadium” is only half correct. These renovations were only to take place should the Beacon Group be successful in its purchase of a AA squad. They have yet to do this, and so the renovations will not be taking place as of yet as stated by Mayor Jim Watson some time ago. The crafty diction leads the reader to believe that these renovations will be taking place regardless of circumstance; and believe me, I know a few literary tricks to persuade readers to side with your opinions, and this one is clear as day.
I know for a fact that Beacon Group is still pursuing teams for sale while Champions for Ottawa Baseball, a local group founded by David Gourlay, is working hard to motivate the community as a whole to rally behind professional baseball.
Gourlay started a campaign many months ago asking the residents of Ottawa to put down a cash deposit for ticket packages and season tickets for the “to be AA team”. This campaign was met with much success, collecting well over 3100 deposits from baseball fans in Ottawa. This was a complete and total success in the eyes of the MiLB, Beacon Group, and the City of Ottawa alike.
But the desire for baseball in Ottawa did not stop there.
Even further, back in the early to mid 90s, the Ottawa Lynx were selling games out without issue. You couldn’t get a ticket for love or money at one point. The average attendance ten years later (2004 is the sample I use) is well over 2000 fans per game – a very sustainable fan base that many teams can work off of.
Even today, the Fat Cats draw large crowds of 2000+ to their Saturday night games. While these numbers are not published, as a season ticket holder I can see the evidence first hand.
This raises another point, if the Fat Cats can draw such a healthy crowd, why is the team losing money? (and yes…. they’re losing money. I can guarantee this.)
The answer is very simple: overhead operating costs.
If you need any more details on that, I encourage one of your reporters to contact both the Ottawa 67’s and the Ottawa Fat Cats and compare the rent of both facilities, assuming we can agree that they make a relatively level comparison. You may find the answer quite shocking.
The rent that ANY baseball team must pay the play at Ottawa Stadium is obscenely expensive and does not make the challenge of keeping a baseball team in a hockey loving city any easier.
Take into consideration that the team is semi-pro, does not pay their players an outlandish amount of money to play, and considering they have shattered all IBL attendance records, should be able to sustain a team rather comfortably.
Another franchise within the IBL, the aptly named Toronto Maple Leafs, play at Dominico Field – a rather minimalist set up with basic outdoor bleachers and a grassy hill for fans to sit and enjoy the game from. There is little to no room for more than 300 fans, which the team draws consistently to each home game.
By the same assumptions we make for the Fat Cats, the Toronto Maple Leafs should be bankrupt several times over by now. Yet they continue to be a force to be reckoned with within the IBL standings year after year. Revenue is clearly not an issue for this team.
The bottom line is that the stadium, being the second largest in Canada (not counting old Stade Olympique) is too expensive for any other team but a high end professional team to operate in.
The Fat Cats are essentially doomed to be victims of circumstance in this regard, forcing them to take on events such as the Escapade Music Festival, to cover their inherent sky high rent payments – another point brought up my Ms. Payne for the destruction of the stadium. While this can seem askew, even MLB teams will rent their stadiums to concerts and promoters, as Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs did in June 2012 to help recoup some funds while the Cubs played a road trip. Ms. Payne’s argument that it is “a somewhat awkward fit with baseball” is invalid as this is practiced within the most elite circles of baseball operations.
Ms Payne also stated that the stadium goes largely unused. This is not the truth. (she also goes on to later contradict herself in the article, but I digress)
The National Capital Baseball League will often use the field to play their league games. Community events, most famously the “Jose Canseco Home Run Derby” are hosted at the stadium.
If you want to make baseball work in this city, which is appears that the City is doing everything in its power to do; you need to create a reasonable business environment for a team. A low end semi pro team cannot support the rent of Ottawa Stadium, and kudos to the Beacon Group and Champions for Ottawa Baseball for pursuing a AA team that can support the operating costs in Ottawa.
Lowering the rent on the stadium is clearly the answer, but this is not a reasonable or a realistic one, knowing that the City will want maximum return for the property.
The key issue in getting a AA (or low A, or A, or short A, or AAA) team is waiting for a team to go up for sale.
Until then? We’ll have to wait, but the destruction of Ottawa Stadium seems brash and uncivil. The stadium is one of a kind in a country that does very little to support its baseball talents. It also adds some flair in Ottawa, which is already rather dry and quite boring for residents. Ditching the stadium will only feed that reputation further.
Baseball in Ottawa has a celebrated history, and it can continue to be this way under the proper circumstances, but these will not come easily with the backlash of those like Ms. Payne.
The destruction of the stadium is indeed the easy way out. But like a good marriage, you have to fight for something to make it last rather than give up and divorce.