Ottawa

Meet the 2 groups angling to keep baseball alive in Ottawa

One's a high-profile partnership between the owners of the Ottawa Redblacks and the vice-president of one of Canada's most successful baseball teams. The other's a trio of local businessmen with a passion for local baseball.

One's local sports royalty, while the other's a bit of an unknown

There are two groups vying to take over the stadium lease at Ottawa's RCGT Park after the city terminated the existing agreement with the Ottawa Champions earlier this summer. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

A pair of groups are trying to keep professional baseball in RCGT Park — but just who are they?

Yesterday, city council heard that two "viable, legitimate" consortiums were looking to lease the Coventry Road baseball stadium for 2020 and beyond, after the Ottawa Champions racked up nearly half a million dollars in debt and had their lease terminated.

One's a high-profile partnership between the owners of the Ottawa Redblacks and the vice-president of one of Canada's most successful independent baseball teams. 

The other's a trio of local businessmen with a passion for local baseball.

The high-profile option

The potential partnership between Ottawa Sports Entertainment Group (OSEG) and Regan Katz, vice-president and chief operating officer of the Winnipeg Goldeyes, definitely has the higher public profile of the two.

OSEG owns a trio of local sports clubs: the Redblacks, 67's and Fury FC.

While Katz might be less familiar to local audiences, he's been involved with the Goldeyes, Winnipeg's well-supported independent ball club, in various capacities since 1999. 

The Winnipeg Goldeyes have a history of success in the American Association of Independent Baseball, including repeating as league champions in 2017. (Winnipeg Goldeyes)

Katz told CBC News when OSEG asked him to come on board, he jumped at the chance.

"I'm just the little guy who knows something about baseball," he said.

"I'm hoping that with their talents … we can put something together that's really special for the city."

Katz declined to share specific ideas he had for enhancing baseball in Ottawa, other than that the "secret" was creating an entertaining, family-oriented product.

However, some of the promotions held during the Goldeyes' 2019 season — a zombie-themed evening at the ballpark, a "bacon night" sponsored by Manitoba pork producers, and a rotating craft beer corner — could provide a few clues.

"It's really early at this stage," said Katz, whose club draws over 4,000 fans a game to the 7,500-seat Shaw Park in downtown Winnipeg, second in their league and more than double the Champions' average attendance in 2019.

"The motivation here is to see if we can open up dialogue with the city to discuss lease options. With no lease there's no team."

No one from OSEG was available Wednesday, but a spokesperson said in an email they'd had early conversations with Katz and "are big supporters of local baseball."

OSEG and the Champions made a "strategic partnership" this past winter to help market the baseball team to businesses and fans.

The lesser-knowns

Rob Abboud's group might be made up of "three unknown guys," but the Ottawa businessman said they've got both a passion for local baseball and the business acumen to make it successful.

Abboud is the owner of Ottawa financial planning firm Wealth Strategies.

His business partners are Robert Lavoie, a general manager with sporting goods outlet Play It Again Sports, and Fred Saghbini, whom he described as a project management specialist.

Abboud told CBC News that it was while he was taking in a Champions game this summer, not long after news emerged they were struggling financially, that he began thinking about putting in an offer.

"We saw that the team needed an owner," Abboud said. "As three local guys, we got together, we looked at our skill set, and said, 'Let's see if we can make this happen.'"

Abboud said the trio would seek a minimum five-year lease for RCGT Park, in which the Ottawa Champions would be the "core event" with non-baseball activities sprinkled throughout the year.

Like Katz, Abboud said his group's goal was to foster an affordable, family-friendly ballpark experience. Also like Katz, he declined to go into specifics.

"For me, the objective is to keep the team in Ottawa. For young kids it's a big deal to have a stadium — what kid doesn't dream of playing on a big field? And this is our big field in Ottawa," Abboud said.

"Be it our group or the other group, as long as there's a team that stays in Ottawa, I'm a happy guy."

With new groups interested in bringing baseball to Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson says he's hopeful that attendance numbers will rise. 0:59

What about that debt?

Of course, there's the $463,000 debt the Champions have accumulated over the years, a debt the winning group is expected to clear away before a team takes the field in 2020.

Both Abboud and Katz acknowledged that debt will be a major element of the negotiations process.

"We are very aware of the debt owed to the city," said Abboud.

"The city's debt is one of the main parts, we realize, will be part of the lease."

"We need to know where the city's at as far as lease negotiations, to determine what's going to make the most sense," Katz added.

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