Ottawa isn’t typically known as a sporting hotbed, but some believe that could be changing with four new professional sports teams poised to set up shop in the nation’s capital.
Last month, the National Basketball League of Canada announced it will be expanding to Ottawa in 2013. It joins the Canadian Football League, the North American Soccer League and most likely Double-A baseball as pro leagues set to join the city’s sports scene over the next two years.
What’s next? The National Basketball Association? The National Football League? Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League?
While such rapid growth of the city’s professional sports landscape will no doubt excite hardcore fans, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this all ends well.
For any franchise to be successful, generating a steady revenue from ticket sales is a must. Putting wins on the board, creating a memorable fan experience and playing in a fancy new stadium will help, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the market.
Is this market ready to support four new professional sports teams (in addition to the Ottawa Senators and the Ottawa 67’s)? Maybe. But not within the span of two years.
The CFL and NASL have long been expected to enter Ottawa’s sports scene in 2014. Excitement has been building for years. Why would the ownership groups behind Ottawa’s expansion NBL and Double-A baseball franchises risk competing with that?
Everyone needs to take a deep breath. Whatever happened to baby steps?
Among the four incoming teams, the CFL is probably in the best shape. Professional football has a long history in this city. Formed in 1876, the Ottawa Roughriders were a founding member of the CFL. They won nine Grey Cups. Things didn’t end as well, of course, but at least they have an existing fan base to rekindle (not to mention a younger fan base that will likely emerge with varsity football returning at Carleton University next fall).
With soccer making strides around the country, the NASL should be just fine in Ottawa, too. But adding two more teams may be pushing it.
The Ottawa-Gatineau region has a population of around 1.2 million, according to the 2011 census, so it’s not as if there’s a shortage of potential consumers to target.
But that in itself won’t make this work. Look at the Greater Toronto Area, for example. That region has a population of around 5.5 million and yet teams such as the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Marlies still struggle to put “bums in seats.”
This isn’t to say Ottawa isn’t an attractive market for expansion; but the timing just isn’t right.
As the population continues to grow and diversify, this market is only going to get better. The Conference Board of Canada came to the same conclusion in a recent report on the Canadian professional sports scene.
It’s a shame that concept seems to be lost on the ownership groups behind Ottawa’s expansion NBL and Double-A baseball franchises.
At least one of these organizations will suffer. It would be unrealistic to think otherwise.
The only question that’s left to answer is: Which one will it be?