Alan Taylor was at the Ottawa Aces press launch, and he has given his opinion on rugby league’s latest franchise.
The Aces will come in to League 1 for the 2021 season after they purchased Hemel Stags’ license with the Rugby Football League.
From a fan’s perspective: The Ottawa Aces launch
Before we go any further, I would like to thank Ottawa founder Eric Perez and Gareth from the Howlin’ Hour podcast for the privilege of attending the launch press conference to witness the writing of a new chapter in Canada’s rugby league history.
As I travelled from my home not knowing what to expect, I sit here deep beneath the bowels of the South Stand at TD Place waiting for the press conference to begin. After snippets of what to expect moving forward, there are some questions that need to be answered.
Firstly: What will the team be called? Has a flight partner been found going forward? Do we have a coach?
A lot will ask what makes Ottawa so different to Toronto in terms of who will turn out to support the team. Ottawa has two very distinct communities within its boundary and the surrounding areas. Both the French and English communities are very distinct with each of them having their own newspapers and TV channels.
A bilingual coach would be a very astute business decision to help bridge the divide between the French and English demographics in the city along with two very distinct press packs. If the team can bridge the divide then it will go a long way to filling TD Place. If the team struggles to bridge that gap, the French population will not follow the team.
A prime example here is the Canada Football League’s Ottawa Red Blacks – the French population in the city will lean more towards the Montreal Allouettes, even here in Ottawa.
The team will have to push hard to bridge a divide that has traditionally been a problem in the past. Also, with Ottawa built just across the river from the City of Gatineau Quebec, you will have two markets that will need wholly different approaches.
The name of the club will have to translate easily from English to French and coupled with the new Basketball team being called the Ottawa Blackjacks. As Eric himself said “You cannot have BlackJack without Aces” so you could tell name was thought through to have a connection with the other teams in residence at TD Place
The team name translated into French would possibly be Les As D’Ottawa.
If you could also convince some players to take a leap of faith from Super League teams like Morgan Escare and Hakim Miloudi then they will become special ambassadors for the team in La Belle Province.
TD Place is a very imposing stadium and acoustically is very good for bouncing sound around. One of the arguments against the stadium is that it is too big but one thing that truly deadens the atmosphere at Wolfpack games is the open stands. The sound disappears into the sky whereas the enclosed nature of TD Place will help create that unique atmosphere.
Rugby union in the city is played on an amateur level. A small but very supportive group including myself make regular trips down the 401 to support the Wolfpack. With pledges to support both teams going forward when fixtures allow from the fans in Toronto, I will more than likely make Ottawa my main focus and will be ready to purchase season tickets for the team’s confirmed first home date – which will likely be late March or early April.
From a fan’s point of view, it was difficult to see which path will be selected moving forward, with some fans on social media showing the belief a quick sprint to Super League is needed to keep the fanbase engaged. Perez has maintained that the team will be based here in Canada full-time from the Howlin’ Hour podcast interviews and that there will also be an academy team. With only pre-season and early rounds spent in the UK, I feel that a slower build is the right approach. It is tough to see why the club would need promotion to keep the fans attention in Ottawa as this is not the same packed market of Toronto. We need to allow it to be built correctly to show the club can grow sustainably over time.
There are questions that still need to be asked. The Aces’ entry in to League 1 has the same stipulations as Toronto with the team having to provide accommodation and flights for all teams. There was no announcement of any deal being struck, so it’ll be interesting to see how Ottawa go about getting teams to and from the UK. With Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport being the main hubs for Canada’s east coast for international arrivals and departures, direct flights to Ottawa are only seasonal during the summer months and end before the season comes to a close.
Finally and most importantly, the players to be recruited by the team will early on be predominantly from the UK. Though with regional competitions in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, I believe that open try-outs would be a good idea.
I have a facebook page dedicated to the team and I know there are players who would love to have shot at making the opening day roster. Coupled with that, the CFL dream will end for a large portion of the players in university at the CFL draft. So with the promise of an academy team, younger players will have a chance to develop and once the Aces gain promotion from League 1 to the Championship, they may well be in a much better position to shoot for survival in their first season should the Super League chance present itself.
The future is bright if done correctly.
By Alan Taylor