MIAMI, Fla. (January 18, 2020) —
Unless you live in Ottawa, Ontario, you probably have no idea Jeff Hunt is. Just who is this “mystery man” involved with a bid to bring back professional soccer to Ottawa?
The mystery man is actually a local Ottawa businessman who, in 1998, at the age of 32, rescued junior hockey in Ottawa when he bought the 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League and saved the franchise. He also was behind the successful bid to bring back a Canadian Football League team to Ottawa — the Redblacks played their first game in 2014 — and over the past few months he was doing plenty of legwork to figure out if another soccer team could be viable.
He got results. As early as next week, it could be announced that an Ottawa franchise will be added to the Canadian Premier League in 2020, which begins in April.
“I can confirm that the CPL reached out to me some time ago to provide advice and guidance in bringing a CPL team to Ottawa,” Hunt said late Friday afternoon. “I can tell you we’re very close in putting together a launch of professional soccer through the CPL in Ottawa in 2020. That’s certainly the goal. My involvement — that’s to be determined — but for the right situation, I would hope to play a role not just as a partner, but as a frontman on the ground in Ottawa.”
Hunt is known as someone who has done much in the community.
Prior to Spanish media disclosing that the team involved is Atlético Madrid, all; Hunt said to local Ottawa news outlets is: “We are focusing on doing this with a major European group; when and if the day comes, it’s their announcement to make, not mine,” said Hunt. “It’s not my place to make any announcement.”
It wasn’t long ago — a bit more than two months — that Ottawa Fury FC suspended operations.
A Win For the Canadian Premier League
The addition of Ottawa is a win for the Canadian Premier League. Ottawa is the nation’s capital and has a good venue for the games. It also has had a successful soccer team and has an established fan base that was left without a team when the Fury suspended operations and sold its USL franchise rights to the Miami FC, whose general manager, Paul Dalglish, ironically, coached the Ottawa club from 2016-17.
While it seems like fielding a team for the 2020 season might be rushing things, it would help the league in its scheduling, going from a seven-team league to eight. The CPL’s teams are Pacific FC (Victoria), Cavalry FC (Calgary), FC Edmonton, Valour FC (Winnipeg), Forge FC (Hamilton) York 9 FC (Toronto) and HFX Wanderers (Halifax).
Ottawa is a major Canadian market, with a city population of 934,243 and a metropolitan population of 1,323,783 making it the fourth-largest city and the fifth-largest metropolitan area in Canada.
The CPL wanted Ottawa as one of the original teams, but the Fury were not interested last year. Fury FC ran out of patience with soccer’s governing bodies. Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (“OSEG”), which had owned Fury FC since its inaugural season in the North American Soccer League in 2014, pulled the plug on the team when it couldn’t get sanctioning to participate in the United Soccer League (USL) Championship this year. Unlike a year ago, when they were ready to take the battle to a Court of Arbitration for Sport, Fury FC walked away with the OSEG collective wanting out.
It should be noted that Hunt, an OSEG partner, distanced himself from the operations of Fury FC after a couple of seasons.
But this is different. While TD Place would provide the venue for the professional soccer team, OSEG, as a group, wouldn’t be involved in ownership. And in many ways a partnership with the CPL at this time makes sense.
The CPL season runs from late April to October. Each team plays 28 games, including 14 at home.
The expectation is that OSEG will be supportive of Hunt’s involvement and with professional soccer in a stadium that would otherwise be vacant on those game nights. The departure of Fury FC without a replacement team would have hurt the restaurants and bars that surround TD Place on game nights. So this will be a breath of fresh air.
The hope is that soccer fans young and old in Ottawa would gravitate toward a franchise in an all-Canadian league where there’s a heavy emphasis on giving exposure to Canadian talent. League rules say that 50 per cent, plus one, of every team’s roster must be made up of Canadian players (with a limit of seven foreign nationals). Teams must also start a minimum of six Canadians. At least three Canadians on each team must be under 21 and those players must combine to play a minimum of 1,000 minutes per season.