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Should Ottawa Plan for MLB’s Potential Montreal Return?

Ottawa Champions

With questions surrounding the future of the Ottawa Champions (independent; Can-Am League), some argue that the city should focus its effort on planning a farm club for a potential Montreal MLB franchise.

Since their 2015 launch, the Champions have played at RCGT Park–a ballpark that opened in 1993 for the Ottawa Lynx (Class AAA; International League), before hosting multiple independent clubs following the Lynx’s relocation to Allentown, PA after the 2007 season. The Champions were initially committed to the facility under a 10-year lease, but the agreement was terminated by the city earlier this year after the team fell C$418,942 in arrears. Since then, the team has continued to operate on a per-hour arrangement.

The lease issues surrounding the club, combined with the fact that city officials have openly discussed tearing the ballpark down to make way for new housing, have left plenty of questions about the viability of the Champions in Ottawa. For some, the solution to making professional baseball thrive in Ottawa revolves around Montreal’s ongoing pursuit of a new Major League Baseball team and ballpark. The idea would be to have a new Minor League Baseball team based in Ottawa as an affiliate of the Montreal MLB club, creating similar circumstances to the Lynx’s run as the Montreal Expos‘ top MiLB affiliate from 1993-2002.

That scenario could also yield a long-term facility plan, with RCGT Park either replaced or extensively modernized to reflect current MiLB standards. Proponents of this idea, including Concordia University economist Moshe Lander, acknowledge that it would not be an imminent possibility, but believe that the city should consider consider mapping it out as part of a long-term plan. More from the Ottawa Citizen:

“It makes more sense to have a team affiliated with a major league organization, such as the Lynx were.” Fan allegiance to the Expos was as much a factor in Lynx attendance as the team’s performance, Lander says.

“Seriously, it’s almost better at this point for everyone to cut their losses and look ahead,” Lander says.

“It would make sense for everyone to get together to make a three- or five- or 10-year plan” in anticipation of Montreal regaining a Major League Baseball franchise and establishing a farm team in Ottawa, he says.

The plan would include a smaller stadium of perhaps 3,000-4,000 seats, or a reconfigured RCGT Park, more suitable for a minor league team.

For a number of reasons, the idea of a Montreal-affiliated MiLB is not at all imminent. Montreal’s path back into MLB remains uncertain, with the Tampa Bay Rays currently exploring the idea of a split-season arrangement that would result in new ballparks in Montreal and somewhere in the Tampa Bay region. If that effort falls through, Montreal could become a viable expansion candidate under the leadership of Stephen Bronfman and The Montreal Group, but MLB has not announced expansion plans and remains unlikely to do so until after the Rays and Oakland A’s resolve their ongoing ballpark searches.

As for Ottawa, there are a number of questions about the market. Efforts to bring affiliated MiLB to Ottawa after the departure of the Lynx fell short, and local investors with deep pockets would likely need to step up to create an ideal ownership situation. Ottawa’s professional sports scene is also fairly crowded, as it currently features the NHL’s Ottawa Senators–who are dealing with their own facility challenges–plus a CFL team and USL Championship soccer club.

It is worth noting, too, that the Champions cannot be written off completely. While the lease issues and lower attendance numbers this season have created challenges, team ownership has indicated that it feels it could continue to operate under the existing terms for several more years.

RELATED STORIES: Ottawa Champions Lease Terminated; Will Rent Ballpark By the Hour

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