‘These sporting events aren’t causing outbreaks’: OSEG CEO Mark Goudie commits to playing without fans, but looks to UK for approval reasoning

Photo courtesy: TD Place

How many fans will be allowed at CFL games in 2021 remains an open question that many provincial governments are hesitant to answer, but the Ottawa Redblacks are staying optimistic.

“My expectations remains, and I’m probably a little bit more optimistic right now, that we’re going to have fans,” OSEG CEO Mark Goudie told Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun on Thursday.

“And, if I was betting, I would bet that we’re going to have fans for our opening day game sometime in August.”

That is, of course, if the CFL begins on time in August. The board of governors are scheduled to vote on the proposed August 5 start to the 2021 season on Monday, June 14 and while an air of positivity surrounds the decision, the continued uncertainty around attendance has left it far from a sure thing.

One yes vote that is secure is Goudie’s, who is pounding the table for the league to play with or without fans.

“We have to play football. I don’t think we can be out of the public consciousness for another season,” he said. “It’s critical that we play football this year. That’s why we committed as an organization, to taking that risk of doing whatever it takes to play football.”

The Redblacks were one of seven Ontario professional sports franchises that petitioned the provincial government earlier this week to allow 35 percent stadium capacity in Stage 2 of the province’s re-opening. That’s important to the team’s bottom line but it won’t effect their decision on Monday.

“If we have to commit to that without any certainty of fans, we wouldn’t be happy about it, but we would do that because we need to play football at TD Place this year,” Goudie emphasized.

Other teams may not share that view. In late April, the CFL delayed its start date with a 14-game schedule targeted to kick-off on August 5, culminating in a currently planned December 12 Grey Cup. For the timeline to be met, the league requires ‘a significant number of fans’ to be allowed in stadiums by municipal, provincial, and federal governments.

Those official approvals have not yet come, but Goudie and his team have been looking across the pond for evidence of why they should be allowed. Experimental sporting events in the UK with post-event tracing and testing have not shown outdoor sports to be dangerous and the Redblacks have planned using that data.

“These sporting events aren’t causing outbreaks and that’s positive. We looked to the U.K. because we thought they had a pretty prudent and progressive point of view on how they get fans back into sporting events. They were probably about six weeks ahead of us with their vaccination rates, and we’ve probably caught up a bit here, but we could look at what was happening with COVID-19 rates in the U.K. and see when they got around 40% first vaccinations that things just started dropping like a stone,” Goudie said.
“We expected Canada would follow that model, and that’s exactly what’s happened. They have a pretty liberal reopening plan with fans and they’ll be back to place where they have full crowds mid-summer. That was the model we used, in terms of a sensible model to reintroduce crowds to our sporting events.”
The planning is sound, but whether the Ontario government feels similarly won’t be known for a while. In the meantime, Goudie will stay focused on securing football on the field and hope the cheering crowds come naturally.