Love it or hate it the RedBlacks are Ottawa’s newest CFL franchise.
The Ottawa franchise group officially unveiled its new name and logo Saturday amid much fanfare, a year before the team will take to the field at a brand new stadium at Lansdowne Park.
The announcement was made among more than 2,000 football enthusiasts in addition to a number of Ottawa CFL alumni. And while the general reaction was positive, ownership knows there are those who will need convincing to embrace it.
“We knew that no matter what we picked we were going to have a challenge,” said Jeff Hunt, president of the sports division of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG). “I think by the time we kick off in 2014 the name will not be the main topic of conversation. I think people will get used to it, I hope people grow to like it and I think a team brand is so much more than just a name or just a logo.
“Building a brand takes a long time.”
After much deliberation the Ottawa ownership group felt the RedBlacks would give them the best opportunity to tie into Ottawa’s rich football history.
The colours and large “R” in the logo, images of which were leaked online last month, are reminiscent of the defunct Rough Riders franchise, while the circular saw blade ties into Ottawa’s lumber history. While many would have likely preferred to see the name Rough Riders resurrected, it just wasn’t an option.
“We wanted something unique to Ottawa and something distinctive and something that honoured Ottawa’s sports history,” said Hunt. “I like the fact that it’s a unique word, it’s a made up word, it’s one of a kind. We wanted something distinctive that we could own.”
Even with his ties to the past, Canadian Football Hall of Famer Russ Jackson, who spent 12 seasons in Ottawa and led the team to three Grey Cup victories, said he was less than impressed when first told of the name.
“It’s grown a bit,” Jackson said with a laugh. “I don’t think there was a name you could have picked, other than the Rough Riders, that everybody would have liked. I think it will grow on people.”
Regardless of the name, Jackson is thrilled to know that football will be back in Ottawa. He compared the excitement at Saturday’s announcement to the enthusiasm he saw in the city after winning the Grey Cup in 1960.
Jackson wasn’t alone in his skepticism. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said when he was first told of the name he suggested they go back to the drawing board.
“It grew on me and it really has grown on me,” Cohon said. “The most important thing is the word in front of it — Ottawa. The fact that we’re coming back with football in this city is the most important thing for the league and this town.”
Cohon went so far as to say this was the best ownership group the city and league could ask for and he is convinced football will once again be successful in the nation’s capital.
Ottawa lost its CFL franchise following the 2006 season after the league suspended operation due to poor ownership. From the time he took over as league commissioner in 2007, Cohon had always wanted to see football return to Ottawa and Saturday was a joint celebration for both the Ottawa ownership group and the league.
“I always said you have to start with great local owners,” said Cohon. “You couple that with a brand new facility essentially and an environment that’s an entertainment place for people to go to it’s a winning formula.”
Having worked with various leagues, Cohon said he understands the challenge the Ottawa ownership group faces in convincing fans to embrace the RedBlacks moniker.
“Whenever you come out with names for teams there’s never a name that universally everyone is going to love,” Cohon said. “I think it will take time, but it’s more about what this team does in the community. What type of team they put on the field, what type of charities they support, how they treat their customers. That’s what this is about and I think with these guys you will have that.”
Lansdowne Park is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation that will include the new stadium as well as commercial and residential development.
Construction is on schedule and all signs point to the stadium being ready for kickoff in late June of 2014.
Marcel Desjardins, general manager for the RedBlacks, said finally having a name and a logo should go a long way in helping build the team’s roster.
“It gives us an identity and it’s not one that when you say that people aren’t going to easily forget about it either,” said Desjardins.
Desjardins’ scouting staff has already been at work and expects to spend time at CFL pre-season games followed by NFL training camps.