Ottawa Champions left off new league's 2020 roster
Group has agreement-in-principle to buy team, but deal rests on new stadium lease
The Ottawa Champions are a baseball team in search of a new owner, a home field and now, it appears, a league to play in.
Current owner Miles Wolff told All In A Day he was disappointed to discover the newly merged Frontier and Can-Am baseball leagues didn't include the struggling Champions in its roster for the 2020 season. The Frontier League announced the merger Wednesday.
According to Wolff, the Champions were left off the list to avoid having an odd number of teams in the new league.
"With baseball you play every day, so you need an even number of teams. And the Frontier League had nine teams and if they took all six [Can-Am teams] they'd have an odd number in 15," Wolff said.
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That's despite the team lining up two prospective ownership groups, as well as a commitment from the City of Ottawa that a new lease for RCGT Stadium was forthcoming, Wolff said.
"Our lease was not set in stone. So they said, 'Aha, Ottawa doesn't have a lease, we can kick them out,'" Wolff said.
Normally, an independent league will subsidize "a road team" — teams without a home stadium — in order to maintain an even number.
"My read is simply, they didn't want to field a road team and so, let's get rid of Ottawa," Wolff said.
Two groups have expressed interest in taking over the franchise.
One of those was Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) — owner of the CFL's Redblacks, the USL's Fury and OHL's 67's — and partner Regan Katz on behalf of the Winnipeg Goldeyes, a successful franchise in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
But Wolff said an agreement-in-principle has been reached with another group. That group is led by Rob Abboud, portfolio manager with Wealth Strategies, Fred Saghbini, a project management consultant, and Rob Lavoie, the regional operations manager of Play it Again Sports franchises across the city.
The deal is contingent on a new lease agreement being reached with the City of Ottawa.
Both groups were aware that the city expects them to clear nearly half a million dollars in debt the Champions owe before they field a team in 2020, the city said. Wolff was on a repayment plan with the city, but missed his Sept. 4 payment.
"We're trying to minimize our loss and get our money back. It's been part of the negotiations," city manager Steve Kanellakos told councillors in September.
"We feel now that we have two viable, legitimate owners' groups who are interested in the team [and] who have the financial means to be able to deal with that outstanding debt."
Wolff told CBC News they're still interested in pursuing baseball locally even if it means switching leagues.
Champions manager and former player Sébastien Boucher told Radio-Canada he's weighing his options for the upcoming season, but isn't hopeful for a return to pro baseball in Ottawa before 2021. Boucher also coaches high school baseball in town and owns Gatineau's Académie de Baseball Ultime.