Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ottawa Can-Ams: Squeaky wheel greases skids for stadium fight

David Butler can only go so long without seeing his name in print, but that's not a worrying thing.

Butler's grandstanding on Friday was valuable. It pointed out that the future of summer sports, not necessarily baseball, in Ottawa is joined at the hip with who gets control of the stadium. It's not about the sport (it might be about which sport, since you could put a soccer team there). At least if Butler is running his mouth, perhaps it plants a seed with someone else about operating a summer team in Ottawa (Can-Am League, whatever league, maybe footy) in Ottawa.

Please forget the irony in his comment, "We are going try and make a run at it again" (Sun Media) with a Can-Am League ballclub. Butler using word we is a hoot and a half. For two years, he has refused to say who is part of his group which wants to turn Ottawa's baseball stadium into a multiuse entertainment facility. As for again, what was Butler's involvement the first time, besides screwing up the buses for the Rapidz' first road trip?

Anywho, the league's "best bet for strengthening itself could lie in Canada," according to indy baseball scribe Bob Werz. Trois-Rivières is the closest to a firm possibility. Suburban Montréal would be perfect if it was physically possible to put Ottawa's entire stadium on rollers and move it two hours east. Ottawa offers a stadium and some loyal fans.

The Can-Am has received a shot in the arm publicity-wise from Éric Gagné bringing his supposedly shot arm to the Québec Capitales. Running with eight teams is better than the current six, since it makes for a less repetitive schedule. There is some potential, although broader sports-watching trends don't hold much sway in Ottawa. Nothing that happens anywhere else could ever have sway in Ottawa. That point was reaffirmed during the whole MLS-CFL debate in late 2008-early '09. The right side came out on top, but it was rich to see the pro-CFL side dismiss MLS as small-time. It has had tremendous launches in Seattle and Toronto (the expansion Sounders' average attendance rivals the baseball Mariners, albeit it with one-fourth as many games) and will be hit in Portland and Vancouver.

Whoever tries to make a go with baseball in Ottawa is going to have to step up in a market where two ball teams have gone by the wayside. Most people don't know or care the Triple-A Lynx were bled dry or that the Rapidz were rendered a joke by nimrod owners who didn't know their assets from second base. Perception is reality.

Meantime, the onus is on the media to be more judicious with figuring out if someone is credible rather than saying, "Hey, this guy says he wants to own a baseball team." Don't we all want to own a baseball team, and have an elephant?

David Butler is a trifle. The same might go for this other character who has come out of the woodwork, Duncan Macdonald. His description screams, "true believer." Macdonald says he worked for the Toronto Blue Jays during their World Series years. Apparently he did some scouting, but in the grand scheme part-time scouts have about as much to do with a Major League Baseball team's success in a given season as the assistant to the travelling secretary.

Listening to Butler describe his grandiose vision is like listening to George Costanza describe his fake house in the Hamptons. Butler at least has the good sense to scurry off and let it die rather than drive his dead fiancée's parents out to the end of the island.

That doesn't mean Butler won't try the same old ploy of telling anyone who will listen about using the stadium for concerts. It's awfully familiar:
Ottawa Business Journal, Aug. 31, 2007: "David Butler has interests with a prestigious list of firms to turn Lynx Stadium, which hosted its last Triple-A Ottawa Lynx game today, into a multi-service entertainment and sports complex within perhaps 20 months."

Sun Media, Aug. 21, 2009: "David Butler ... says he has submitted a proposal to the city and to Can-Am League commissioner Miles Wolff to re-open the doors of the Ottawa Baseball Stadium and field a team.

" ... However, given the checkered history of baseball at the Coventry Rd. stadium, Butler says he wants to use the facility for more than just baseball.

"Butler would like the city to allow the stadium to be used for concerts and other events.

" 'Baseball would be one product,' said Butler. 'Nobody will make just baseball work. I want something there every day.' "
The point is the baseball story is not going away in Ottawa. Having a stadium and a population of 1 million increases the odds of someone taking a shot. Of course, having a population of 1 million also increases the number of people who will listen to David Butler. C'est la vie!


Anonymous said...

something seems a little off with this whole thing

Anonymous said...

I think someone should take a run at putting a soccer team in that stadium whether MLS, USL or something else.

Triple A baseball stadiums work incredibly well for minor league soccer, just look at Portland and Puerto Rico.

Stop wasting our time with baseball - unfortunately there is just no interest in Ottawa or Canada for that matter since 1994

sager said...

That is not a bad idea; if you don't mind, I might adapt it for a post.

Portland has had the Triple-A ball team (Beavers) and USL team (Timbers) sharing a stadium. Apparently the plan is to do a reno to get it MLS-ready and build a new minor-league ballpark.

You can put a 100 yard x 60 yard soccer field along the right-field line (the wall is 325 feet from home plate). Wheel in bleachers along the west sideline (left field) and you can get the capacity up to 13,000, similar to Saputo Stadium in Montreal.

As for the 1994 comment ... As you long as you admit it's an excuse for not following baseball and not the reason, we're cool. Pete Toms made a great comment several weeks ago on ShysterBall:

"I’m sick of the 94 strike being blamed for the demise of baseball in Toronto, it is an excuse not a reason. See the reaction in this country to the (2004-05) NHL lockout for evidence. When the NHL returned TV ratings went up significantly and attendance was boffo. The reason? Simple, we missed hockey. We didn’t miss baseball, it was an excuse for the trendy fans to jump off the bandwagon.

"Professional baseball is dead and dying in Canada. The Expos died, the Jays are floundering at the gate. AAA has left Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Lower level leagues abandoned London, St. Catharines and Medicine Hat. Indy ball folded in Ottawa and is struggling in Edmonton and Calgary. There just aren’t enough ball fans here."

Sub in "Canada" for "Toronto," it fits. Please keep in mind it's an excuse. The trendies hauled ass after 1994 and god love them, you need the trendies.

Anonymous said...

Please do a post.

In fact you can fit a larger pitch on the stadium if you look closer. I know of a group who is looking at this very seriously for USL that is not affiliated with Lansdowne.

As for 94, those comments are accurate. But any sport needs a base of hardcore fans, but it is the bandwagon fans that make or break them as a business.

Dave said...

We are sold nothing but hockey-hockey-hockey 12 months of the year from all media outlets, television, radio, print. Even Rogers, who owns the ball team and broadcasts Jays-Yankees-Red Sox games, includes hockey in EVERY broadcast all year. They also hold the rights to MLBnetwork which would balance things a bit, but choose not to air it. There is year round coverage for junior, select, ladies, drafts, everything hockey.

When baseball was at its peak popularity in this country, we had 2 teams and a host of minor league teams from the late 70's-mid 90's. These teams were given vast coverage (relative to the era) and access via TV, cable, and national radio networks. Print coverage in the summer led with baseball (not Dany Heatley's continued silence or Sundin's latest golf outing). It was also possible to follow on "free" television more of the teams in the respective leagues (rather than just the Yankees-Jays-Sox), giving fans a more overall view and rooting interest by being able to understand the overall drama of the pennant races (as we're able to do with the CFL, NFL, and hockey with most games available and accessible). Local radio also used to announce all the baseball scores daily from both leagues, granted, easier to do when there were fewer teams. But baseball fans need to know this more than other sports.

Long story short, customers are made by promotion and access to product. When you could sit on your deck and listen to Duke n' Dave or Tom and Jerry each night of our brief glorious summers, you were a fan. That doesn't exist anymore.

Most of us never really played any of these sports seriously, but we did play them, and there's no reason we shouldn't be fans, other than lack of access. It doesn't make sense to be a hockey fan in the summer because they don't play games in the summer. Yet Subway is giving away Senators cups in August, others mini-hockey jerseys. Those items used to be Gary Carter 7Up batting helmets and Shoppers Drug Mart Jays Calendars.

If you want customers, you must sell to them. And you're absolutely right, the bandwagon or fair weather fans are what puts it over.....

Dave said...

Oh, and another thing. AAA did not die in Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver due to lack of attendance. In Edmonton, they built the new ballpark required and were well-attended to the end. Calgary and Vancouver would not upgrade the stadiums, despite solid fan support and heartbroken owners forced to sell(Vancouver's single-A club is well attended and its owners have publically stated that they wish to return to AAA).

The "no ball fans here" is an easy excuse but does not account for two of the most successfully marketed indy teams, in Quebec (baseball's dead in la belle provence remember?) and sustained AAA level support in Winnipeg of all places.

They sell their product. A half-assed effort and endless excuses (hello JP?) won't.

Anonymous said...

Can a stadium built for baseball,be converted to football?

If it can this would be a good size stadium for uOttawa or a revived Carleton team if Lansdowne turns out not to be viable for whether. It could then also be used for the Sooners, Jr. Riders, Cumberland Panthers and OVFL teams.