Ottawa’s redeveloped Lansdowne Park will set a new standard for sports facilities around the world, the commissioner of the Canadian Football League told an audience at City Hall on Thursday.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon speaks to reporters after Thursday's Mayor's Breakfast at City Hall. (Photo by Michael Curran)
Mark Cohon said TD Place, the home of the CFL’s expansion Ottawa RedBlacks and the heart of the Lansdowne redevelopment, is part of a recent stadium “renaissance” that has seen facilities being renovated or new parks being built across the league, including in B.C., Winnipeg and Hamilton.
But he singled out the Lansdowne project, saying its blend of residential, sports, parkland, retail and entertainment space puts it in a class by itself.
“The uniqueness of the 350,000 square feet of retail, the condos, the townhomes, the urban park – so many people are thinking about what a project that is,” Mr. Cohon said. “I think this is really setting the bar very high for the sports industry globally. It’s just a remarkable renaissance that is going on right now and coming part to Ottawa is a big part of that renaissance.”
The commissioner admitted there was some resistance to granting another conditional franchise to Ottawa after the previous failures of the Rough Riders and Renegades. But he credited the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, the owners of the RedBlacks and the organization behind the new Lansdowne, with putting together a strong plan that convinced the league to give CFL football another chance in the capital.
“When the south stands (at Frank Clair stadium) were condemned and they came down, it created a new opportunity for the city,” he said. “We said, ‘OK, the CFL has to be a catalyst for it. We have the right local ownership group – let’s see what they can put together.’ It really morphed from ‘OK, let’s get a lease agreement with the stadium’ into now a half-a-billion-dollar project that is transforming the city.”
The CFL also guaranteed Ottawa would get to host a Grey Cup game within the team’s first four seasons. Recent history suggests that will be another major economic boon to the city, Mr. Cohon said, noting the CFL’s championship game generated about $130 million in economic spinoffs in Toronto in 2012 and pumped nearly $100 million into the Saskatchewan economy last November.
“The economic activity that’s going to be generated in this city, in addition to all the things that are going on at TD Place, it’s going to be great for the city and for the region,” he said.
Mr. Cohon, a former executive with major league baseball and the National Basketball Association, has guided the league through a period of significant growth and prosperity since taking the CFL’s top job in 2007.
The league has inked a new four-year television deal with TSN worth a reported $40 million a season, a dramatic increase from the previous deal that brought in $15 million per season. Ratings have increased substantially since Mr. Cohon took over, and new venues are being built or older ones refurbished around the league.
But the league also faces some stiff challenges. The CFL’s labour agreement with its players expires at the end of May, and the two sides have yet to find common ground on a revenue-sharing model in a new deal.
With training camps set to begin in about two weeks, a players’ union source told TSN on Wednesday that strike ballots are ready to be mailed out. Mr. Cohon, who was slated to join the negotiations later Thursday in Toronto, said he believes an agreement can be hammered out that benefits both sides.
“I’m not naive to think that the players aren’t serious,” he said. “We’re taking their potential threat of a strike very seriously and that’s why we want to negotiate a fair deal. Our goal is to get football started in the preseason.”
He said he doesn’t think the hype surrounding the CFL’s return to Ottawa puts any extra pressure on the league to reach an agreement quickly.
“This is all about looking after our fan base,” he said. “Our fans want football. So whether it was the RedBlacks coming in or whether it was just a normal year, I think we owe it to our fans to work as hard as we can to get a deal done.”
Mr. Cohon addressed a crowd of Ottawa’s business community members at the Mayor's Breakfast, an event hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.