The organization that owns the Ottawa Redblacks, Fury and 67’s is teaming up with the Ottawa Champions baseball club in an effort to boost the minor-league ball team’s ticket sales and corporate sponsorship revenues.
The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group said Tuesday it is forming a “strategic partnership” with the Champions, who play in the eight-team independent Can-Am League. OSEG will help the professional ball club negotiate sponsorship agreements with new corporate partners and lead efforts to increase ticket sales to groups such as Little League Baseball teams.
Champions owner Miles Wolff said the two organizations are already very familiar with each other and have promoted each other’s events in the past. He says he’s hoping the new arrangement will help his team tap into OSEG’s expertise to further build its fan base.
“They know sports marketing,” he told OBJ. “They have so many contacts that we don’t. They’ve got a large sales staff; they’ve got ticket people that know the groups. We’ve only got a couple people in sales and we need more.”
Wolff said the two organizations are still working out the specifics of the deal, but he said group sales and corporate sponsorships will be the focus for the first year.
“We think both sides are going to benefit,” he added. “If this works well, we can add x, y or z next year. Let’s see how this works and then over the fall re-evaluate and see where we go.”
Adrian Sciarra, OSEG’s senior vice-president for sports business operations, agreed, saying he sees the new partnership as a win for both sides.
“We’ll be talking about new opportunities, maybe talking to new companies in new categories that we haven’t in the past,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to maybe open a few more doors, talk to a few more people, a few more companies, and then find synergies.”
Sciarra said the more fans the Champions can draw, the better it is for the city’s pro sports organizations as a whole.
“We believe a healthy and vibrant professional sports community is a benefit for all.”
“We believe a healthy and vibrant professional sports community is a benefit for all,” he said. “Having a strong Champions we think is a good thing, not a competitive thing, in our marketplace.”
Since joining the Can-Am League in 2015, the Champions have consistently attracted an average of about 2,000 fans per game to the 10,000-seat Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park on Coventry Road. Wolff said the team is still in the red, but he estimates it would take an average bump of only about 500 fans a game to put the club’s balance sheet in “great shape.”
The veteran minor-league baseball entrepreneur said the Champions have a solid base of hard-core supporters but have struggled to appeal to a wider audience.
“People who know us love us. But we need to reach the next level,” Wolff said. “We need to get the more casual fan, and that’s where we also think OSEG can help. I’m sure when they draw 25,000 (people to a Redblacks game), that’s not all 25,000 football fans. They’re there for the event and the unique things they do. I think they can help us reach that next level where we’ve got more than just the really solid baseball fans, which I think we have now, but to introduce the product to a lot more fans.”
Wolff conceded baseball can sometimes be a tough sell in a northern climate such as Ottawa’s, especially early in the season, and he’s well aware of the city’s checkered past when it comes to sustaining pro franchises. The Triple-A Ottawa Lynx folded in 2007 after a 15-season run, and a previous Can-Am League franchise lasted just one year at RCGT Park.
But Wolff said he’s never doubted the team’s chances of surviving over the long haul.
“I’m always impressed with how strong and loyal our base of fans is,” he said.
Ultimately, Wolff said, he’d like to sell the club to Ottawa-based interests, believing solid local ownership could benefit pro baseball in the same way it has reinvigorated fan support for CFL football in the capital under OSEG’s guidance.
“We’ve talked to local groups, and I think that’s going to be a possibility down the road,” Wolff said.
While the Redblacks, Fury and 67’s have been model franchises as OSEG properties, Sciarra said the group has no intention of making a play for the Champions.
“This is not an ownership stake in any way,” he said, noting it is “purely a business partnership.”