Ottawa Redblacks president Mark Goudie has sent the message to the league office loud and clear: his franchise is ready to play football at all costs in 2021.
Although, Goudie won’t be shocked to hear the outcome of the recent board of governors meetings leading to the season kick-off being delayed.
“I’d like to see us commit to fans that we’re going to be back and playing, but I don’t know that we need to box ourselves in. We can watch and see how the situation develops and pick the route that’s best for us,” Goudie said on TSN 1200 radio in Ottawa.
“If you ask people what they expect to happen, personally from the governors to the presidents, they are confident that we can get back to playing football in a safe format. What they are less confident about is when they’re going to be able to get what they need in place to be able to put fans in the stands.”
That’s the key element for the league overall, bums in seats decreases the CFL’s financial losses if any number of games are played. The CFL unveiled its 2021 schedule in November with the pre-season slated to begin on Sunday, May 23. The regular season is scheduled to get underway on Thursday, June 10 and the Grey Cup is currently set for Sunday, November 21 in Hamilton.
“What we’ve told the league as the Redblacks is we’re good to go, tell us when. If that means no fans to start, fine by us. Not happy about it, but fine by us. If that means no commitment on fans, but we need to push going the season, we’ll do that. So we’re good to go, whenever that happens,” Goudie said.
“That’s the question right now, do teams take a leap of faith? Understanding that we’re going to figure this out. Vaccinations are arriving, we got off to a horribly slow start, but things are going well, Canada is one of the top per capita vaccinators in the last couple of weeks. Things are now going in the right direction, we just have to have some faith.”
OSEG owns the Redblacks and the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League, which in 2016 had a value of over $55 million. Roger Greenberg, OSEG’s chairman and managing partner, was named Canada’s 74th richest person by Canadian Business in 2018 with a net worth of $1.57 billion.
“I have the luxury, working for the owners that we work for, that they will allow us to push the button and say, ‘We’ll take that risk.’ We know there’s no guarantees, we expect that we’re going to have fans, but there’s no guarantees. Go ahead and call everybody back, let’s get training camp going,” Goudie said.
“If we need to start and there’s nobody in the stands for the first couple games, that’s the way it is, we’ll take that risk. I’m not sure that everybody’s in that same position, so I don’t think it’s a confidence thing. It’s just having the ability to push that button with your ownership’s approval, that we’re good to go, we’re committing, we’re in regardless of what happens.”
On Thursday, April 15, Ontario set a new single-day high reporting 4,736 cases of COVID-19 — that number pushed the total over 400,000 in the province since the pandemic began. Due to the spiking case counts, premier Doug Ford declared a one-month stay at home order on Wednesday, April 7, and recently extended it until Thursday, May 20.
“It’s tough to have wholesome conversations with the province given what’s happened with rates and public health over the last couple of weeks,” Goudie said.
“But in the next couple of weeks, we can start having more of those conversations, and hopefully getting a high degree of confidence that we’re just in to a matter of time now before we can get something in place and get on with cheering on football in our home stadiums.”
The league office and players’ union began meetings during the second week of February with a focus on playing football in 2021. The two sides have submitted return to play health and safety plans to various levels of government in Canada. Each province would have to give approval with the feds needing to provide the final stamp.
“I see the numbers in Ottawa are down under 200 for the first time in a couple weeks. The dark clouds are starting to lift here. We got a couple difficult weeks ahead of us, but I’m confident that when we get through into the summer we’re going to be in a much better, much different place,” Goudie said.
“The countries that are ahead of us, UK, Israel, and it pains me to say, the United States, you’ve seen what’s happened to their case rates. They’re falling off a cliff when they get enough vaccines in. I assume that’s going to happen to us, and I assume that’s going to allow us to welcome some number of fans for Redblacks football this summer.”
In 2013, Goudie was hired by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group as chief financial officer. The 30-plus-year sports executive took on the responsibility of chief operating officer in April 2018. He remains committed to putting pro three-down football back on the field this year.
“I said a couple weeks ago: ‘We’re playing football this year.’ And I stand by that. There’s things we can’t control, but I’m 90 percent sure we’re going to play football this year,” Goudie said.
“And I expect that at some point we’re going to be welcoming fans to be part of that. How many? I don’t know, but I expect that this year we’re going to play football — we have to.”