Ottawa Champions owner hopes to sell team in coming weeks

The owner of the Ottawa Champions hopes to have a new owner prepared to buy the team, and city councillors are already coming up with ways to be on firmer financial footing with any future tenant of the stadium on Coventry Road.

"I think we are very close. We have had several people doing more than just kicking tires," said Miles Wolff, owner of the Ottawa Champions and commissioner of the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball on CBC's All In A Day.  "I am very hopeful that within a week or two we can have some kind of announcement."

Wolff has been looking for a local owner since first launching the Champions in 2015.

"Our goal now is to keep baseball here and find someone who wants to take over the team," he said.

Coun. Laura Dudas set in motion a plan at Tuesday's finance committee meeting that would see any new owner take on the Champions' unpaid rent, which totalled nearly $420,000.

The Champions have been on a repayment plan after the city terminated their lease. They were renting the stadium by the hour for the 2019 season — in what city staff called a one-time bridging arrangement — that gave the Champions a means to try to pay back debts.

The team saw an average of 1,800 fans at its games this season, even though the stadium has capacity for more than 10,000.

Wolff said the new arrangement with the city would cost a new owner much less than the team has been paying and that could make the team profitable.  "It will make much more probable that a team will be able to make money."

Mayor doesn't want to give up on baseball

Mayor Jim Watson acknowledged the stadium was hindered by limited bus service, and a light rail system that hasn't arrived yet.

"Those were two strikes against the Champions. I hope that... either Mr. Wolfe continues or we have a new owner, and that we not give up on baseball for the baseball stadium," said Watson.

Jean-Sébastien Marier/Radio-Canada

Dudas's motion, which will be debated by full council on Sept. 25, has a long list of ways staff might turn the baseball stadium around for local taxpayers.

For instance, she asks that staff get a new owner to prove they can make baseball viable to see through a lease of seven to 10 years. Such a lease would ideally be signed by 2020.

But she also asks city staff to investigate ways to allow the city to redevelop parts of the site, which has also been considered for future affordable housing.

"We're about to unlock the economic opportunities with this stadium with the start of LRT," she said.

Other ideas include allowing community lacrosse or cricket teams to use the facility during baseball's off-season.

The what-ifs

Baseball has had some misses in Ottawa — the Ottawa Lynx were sold and left in 2007, the Ottawa Rapidz folded after a single season in 2008.

Some councillors who were around when the now-terminated lease was originally debated back in 2013 wondered aloud at what might have been had council spent $40 million to upgrade the stadium back then and lure a AA-level team.

Coun. Scott Moffatt listed a number of major league baseball players, such as Sean Reid-Foley and Nate Pearson, who might have played in Ottawa had the city secured a farm team.

"It's easy to make a safe choice, but sometimes it's important to go out there and see what options are out there, and be open to what that could create," said Moffatt.

Watson, however, maintained Tuesday that "it wasn't a realistic option" in 2013 to spend $40 million on a stadium when it was in "pretty good shape."