Just because the news that Jeff Hunt is stepping aside as OSEG’s (Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group) president of sport after the 2018 CFL season is surprising, does not make it a negative for the Ottawa Redblacks. In fact, it’s a clear sign of the franchise’s health.
Although one of just four partners responsible for redeveloping Lansdowne (Roger Greenberg, Bill Shenkman and John Ruddy were the others), Hunt has been the face of OSEG for many in the community since day one.
Even during the redevelopment’s rockiest hours (Friends of Lansdowne, I’m looking at you), Hunt always projected an air of calmness and control.
Much of the respect Hunt has earned over the years stems from his success with Ottawa’s OHL team, the 67’s. Within two years of purchasing the team in 1998, Hunt managed to increase the 67’s attendance from 2,200 to over 7,000, a trend that continued for the next ten years.
Given his previous experience in Ottawa’s sports market, Hunt immediately gave legitimacy to OSEG’s attempt to return pro football to the nation’s capital. His presence in the group checked two big boxes for any potential bid to bring football back; he was local and he was credible.
OSEG’s revitalization of Lansdowne has literally turned a sprawling concrete parking lot and a dilapidated stadium into one of the city’s trendiest districts, interweaving retail, residential, green space and three sports franchises.
Most importantly to R-Nation, Hunt oversaw the launch of the Redblacks’ franchise. As he mentioned in a radio interview with TSN 1200, under his watch, the Redblacks have gone from having zero season ticket holders and corporate sponsors to a franchise that is the envy of the CFL; boasting a strong season ticket base and a healthy business model.
The fact that Hunt is willing to step back truly shows how well established the Redblacks franchise has become. Given all he’s invested, both financially and emotionally in football’s return to Ottawa, there’s simply no way he makes the decision to step down as president if he wasn’t completely confident in the Redblacks’ executive group.
So as the 2018 CFL season gets underway, I urge R-Nation to show Jeff Hunt their appreciation.
Thank him for laying the foundation for pro football to flourish, both on and off the field. Thank him for sticking through the long grind of the redevelopment process. Thank him for consistently putting fans first. Thank him for always being approachable, both in the media and around the stadium. Thank him for reminding the city what a competent sports owner looks like at a time when Ottawa sports fans have been clamouring for exactly that. Thank him for never cutting corners. Thank him for his passion and dedication to the Fury, 67s and Redblacks. Thank him for respecting Ottawa’s rich football history. Thank him for being a fan too.
Lastly, wish him luck in whatever he pursues next. Hunt has hinted that his next project will be in Ottawa, and if history is any indication, that will only lead to good things for the community as a whole.