To use a fitting metaphor, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group just keeps adding to its bench strength.
Bernie Ashe is CEO of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group.
Barely a year ago, the organization behind the capital’s new Canadian Football League and North American Soccer League franchises – as well as the city’s existing junior hockey team, the Ottawa 67’s – had only about 10 full-time employees. Today, with the CFL’s RedBlacks and the NASL’s Fury soon set to begin their inaugural seasons, that number is approaching 100 and will eventually reach about 125.
OSEG’s office on Ogilvie Road is a beehive of activity, and CEO Bernie Ashe can’t imagine the frenzy is going to slow down any time soon. In the months ahead, the group will need to hire another 200 to 300 part-time events staff to handle everything from serving beer to greeting fans.
“It’s really, really interesting work and important work in our city, and it’s fun,” says Mr. Ashe, who was hired to lead the organization in January 2013. “So it’s attracting really, really great people. We’ve made sure we’ve tried to add some experience, and that helps us as we prepare for opening (the revamped Lansdowne Park).”
Mr. Ashe was previously the chief executive of KOTT Group, a lumber supply company, and president and CEO of tech firm AiT (now 3M-AiT). However, he’s no stranger to the business of sports. From 1991-97, he was an executive vice-president and later chief operating officer of the Ottawa Senators.
Since joining OSEG, he has assembled an all-star management team. For example, he lured Adrian Sciarra, the former CFL vice-president of commercial assets, away from the league’s head office to oversee merchandising and corporate partnerships for the RedBlacks, Fury and 67’s.
“Adrian had five years as an executive in the CFL,” says Mr. Ashe. “He knows the people by name in all of the big sponsors and advertisers and partners that work with the CFL. He’s been a huge help.”
John Mathers, OSEG’s new vice-president of ticket sales and service, came to Ottawa after working for several years in sales and ticketing in English soccer’s top pro leagues, including the Premier League. Before that, he spent four years as director of ticket sales with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
“We look to make sure we can add people that can deal with football, soccer and hockey,” says Mr. Ashe. “Here’s somebody with CFL experience and soccer experience.”
It’s not every day one organization launches two new professional sports franchises in the same season at the same stadium. For most of the OSEG front office, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they couldn’t resist, says Mr. Ashe.
“It’s an exciting project. It’s also a diverse project,” he explains. “You can’t find too many sports organizations where they control the venue and the teams that play in the venue. Here we have three teams that play in the venue that we own – the 67’s, the Fury and the RedBlacks. That diversity has attracted a lot of people here.”
It’s a huge undertaking, and it hasn’t come without its share of growing pains – including complicated logistical challenges such as setting up ticket distribution systems, Mr. Ashe adds.
“We’re doing a lot,” he says. “For most of us, we’ve been around for 12 months or less. We’ve had a lot to do in a short period of time.”
Sidebar: Clock countdown
First Fury NASL match:
April 12 at Fort Lauderdale Strikers
First Fury match at Carleton University:
April 19 vs. Minnesota United FC
First Fury match at TD Place:
July 20 vs. New York Cosmos
First RedBlacks regular-season game:
July 3 at Winnipeg Blue Bombers
First RedBlacks home game (TD Place):
July 18 vs. Toronto Argonauts