Several high-profile representatives of Ottawa's business community have lent their names to a new effort to get season ticket pledges for a possible AA baseball team.
Citibank's David Gourlay.
On Tuesday, a community group called Champions for Ottawa Baseball launched a drive to sell 2,500 season ticket pledges for $25 each. This would be a commitment of $62,500 if fully subscribed.
Helmed by David Gourlay, a past OBJ Forty Under 40 recipient, the group also includes quotes of support on its website from Mayor Jim Watson, Ottawa Convention Centre chair Jim Durrell and Erin Kelly, executive director of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, among others.
These "ambassadors", Mr. Gourlay said in an OBJ interview, will spread the word among their own networks about the business worth of a baseball team. They will assess progress in early May.
The most important element now is to make sure there is enough support to prove the team can come here, he added. This means getting pledges from ticket holders as well as starting discussions with businesses about opportunities.
"Getting those conversations started early is really key, so when the team arrives they've got themselves really settled," he said.
"That's the lesson to learn from the last time," he added, referring to the failures of past baseball franchises the Ottawa Lynx and Ottawa Rapidz.
The city is in negotiations now with Beacon Sports Capital Partners to finalize an agreement in principle announced in February to bring a AA team to Ottawa. That would also include upgrades to Ottawa Stadium. A team would come no sooner than 2013.
Those negotiations are separate from the ticket drive, Mr. Gourlay said. But on his side, he has been talking informally with entities such as the University of Ottawa for opportunities; the institution is discussing agreements to let the team use their athletic facilities and residences during the summer, when demand is lower from students.
There is also ample business opportunity when teams come from out of town for local restaurants, hotels and other tourism entities to line up at the plate.
"One of (our) community endorsements is from Ottawa Tourism because they see a lot of value, whether it's (using) the Hampton Inn, which is next to the ballpark, or airlines and restaurants – whatever it may be."
The Chamber of Commerce plans to promote the drive among its members through e-mail blasts and mentions at its events, said Ms. Kelly in a separate interview with OBJ.
"Whenever you have an attraction, (it works) on different levels," she said.
"Just having sporting attractions makes the city a more attractive place to live and work, so I think companies – when they're looking for places to invest – they'll take that into consideration."
Mr. Gourlay, who is an employee of Citibank, said he initiated the drive independently of the city, as a baseball fan. He has been leveraging his own networks to get support. Mr. Gourlay also is a former employee of Mr. Watson from his first run as mayor in 1997-2000.
"When the team arrives, they need to put bums in the seats, so this is a two-way relationship: this is about the community supporting the team, and the team supporting the community," Mr. Gourlay said.
"This gives them access to business leaders in Ottawa that can help them."