Interest in the CFL's expansion to Ottawa seems to be building. The team may not yet have a name (although the smart money's on RedBlacks, despite significant opposition), but it has an impressive general manager and a solid front-office staff, and fans in the city appear to be already be buying in. The Ottawa Sun's Tim Baines writes that the team's already had over 5,000 people pay $25 each for a priority registration number that will give them early access to season tickets, and that's without a marketing campaign. That's remarkable, considering that the team isn't set to begin play until 2014. Here's what Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (the consortium that owns the team) president Jeff Hunt told Baines:
“We haven’t spent 10 cents on marketing,” said Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group president Jeff Hunt. “It’s a great indication of what’s to come. It’s pretty organic. No business expects to sell its product without marketing.
“In 2008, when we got the expansion franchise, we got 2,500 PRNs (Priority Registration Numbers, at $25 a pop) within a week. We then became preoccupied with getting the process underway. We felt let’s get the stadium approved and do the marketing later. Since we got that certainty (the final OK to build the stadium last October), there was another run on PRNs.
“It’s word of mouth ... people coming to us. When we do launch our (tickets), probably in early June, we will start to market our season tickets.”
Of course, just because 5,000 people are willing to pay $25 and sign up for a priority list doesn't mean that they'll all become season-ticket holders, and the team would likely need more than 5,000 season-ticket holders to be successful anyway. Still, this is an impressive sign, especially considering that there didn't seem to be overwhelming enthusiasm about the CFL in the city as recently as October. That seems to be changing: hey, there's even a CFL-themed play in Ottawa this week. It may be particularly telling that this many people are willing to seek the CFL team out before they even have a name or a player, though. That speaks to a strong core audience for CFL football in Ottawa, and that could be crucial to the franchise's long-term viability.
It's going to take more than just 5,000 diehards (or even a larger number of season-ticket holders) to get this to work over the long haul, though. The team's going to need to find ways to attract more than just hardcore fans, and that's where the name, the colour scheme, and various marketing campaigns could be crucial, as well as building a strong on-field team. In many ways, bringing in the casual fans may be the most difficult element here, given the league's long absence from Ottawa; the multiple CFL failures there in the last few decades won't have left a good taste in the minds of many, either. Thus, this story's a long way from suggesting that it will be all clear sailing from Ottawa from here on out. The strong interest in season tickets long before they go on sale and the amounts of people signing up for priority registration numbers without a marketing campaign are certainly positive indications, though. There appears to be strong enthusiasm for the CFL's return to Ottawa so far, and that should only build further as the team gets ready to take the field next year.