About 155 local business leaders got a chance to rub elbows Tuesday afternoon with the group behind what is perhaps the city’s biggest startup in a decade.
Dozens of players from the Canadian Football League’s newest franchise, the Ottawa RedBlacks, joined the team’s owners, coaches and executives for lunch with some of the capital’s top businesspeople at City Hall.
League commissioner Mark Cohon, who was also on hand, told the audience Ottawa’s business community will play a major role in determining whether the capital’s third kick at the CFL can is a winner.
“It’s important that all of you get behind this franchise whether it’s season-ticket holders, whether you take your employees out to the game,” said Mr. Cohon, urging local employers to think about hiring players who stick around in the off-season. “It’s so important for the business community to get behind a franchise like this.”
Mayor Jim Watson agreed, calling on local businesses to purchase season tickets and invest in sponsorships to help ensure the RedBlacks remain a vibrant part of Ottawa’s sports landscape for the long term.
So far, the RedBlacks have sold about 16,500 season tickets.
“We’ve got to make sure that we support this team,” Mr. Watson said. “That’s what’s going to make this a true success.”
All-star quarterback Henry Burris, the team’s biggest free-agent signing of its inaugural season, was among 21 players who mingled with those in attendance. Mr. Burris, who won two Grey Cups with Calgary and led Hamilton to the championship game last season, said he is convinced the city’s football-starved fans, including its businesspeople, will support the franchise.
“It’s electric here,” he said, flashing the grin that has earned him the nickname Smiling Hank. “The guys are feeding off this energy. We talk about it each and every day as far as how excited we are to be here. We just want to make sure we do our part as far as continuing this electricity and the energy that’s here.”
Defensive lineman Keith Shologan, who was chosen by Ottawa in the expansion draft after winning a Grey Cup with Saskatchewan last November, said the fact the revamped TD Place is already sold out for the team’s home opener on July 18 bodes well for the club’s future.
“There’s a good buzz around here,” Mr. Shologan said. “Ottawa is a town that I think is really looking for something to get behind and hopefully that’ll be us. Lots of people are excited about it and we’ll see how Week 1 turns out with that packed house.”
Tuesday’s event, hosted by OBJ, raised more than $2,500 for local minor football organizations.