Monday, June 17, 2024

Ottawa Redblacks prez Adrian Sciarra talks Burris, new jersey, winning

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There’s good reason for Ottawa Redblacks fans to feel energized: Highlights of the team’s CFL season include an opening-game appearance by legendary CFL quarterback Henry Burris, a pre-Canada Day celebration with Canadian rockers Big Wreck, regular in-game DJs at TD Place to liven up the game-day experience and a new Redblacks-branded beer.

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But for some of the team’s fans, that’s window dressing — the 2024 season will be about wins. Like former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis said long ago: “Just win, baby.”

It’s hard to ignore the downhill slide of the Redblacks since they played in the Grey Cup in 2018 — four seasons, four losing records, a total of 14 wins.

The effect of losing football games has been felt financially — a long string of sellouts is in the rear-view mirror.

But Ottawa Redblacks president Adrian Sciarra is optimistic brighter days are ahead — for the team and for its fans.

There are several events tied into the team’s 10th anniversary celebrations and the in-game entertainment will be ratcheted up, but, again, finding a way to get back into the playoffs is very much top of mind.

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Here’s a Q and A with Sciarra as the Redblacks open their season Thursday at home against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Ottawa Redblacks president Adrian Sciarra.
Ottawa Redblacks president Adrian Sciarra. Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group

Q: New season, new hopes … what has to happen to bring fans back into the stadium like in 2014, 2015 and 2016?

A: “We need to re-establish a winning culture. I know that the pre-season games (Ottawa won both of them) don’t matter in the standings, but they do matter in many other ways. It gives you the feeling of winning. We’re looking forward. The years past are the years past. We made a lot of changes in the off-season that have made us better. We’re optimistic on that front, but until you do it on the field, you haven’t done it yet. We’ve got to get wins and confidence under our belts, build momentum and carry that that culture forward. And, knock on wood, stay healthy and get off to a good start.”

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Q: You mention the word “win.” Is that the best way to bring back the fans?

A: “For sure. This is professional sport. You play to win games, you play to win championships. The fans expect wins, they expect our best effort every game. I don’t think its any secret the best way to engage your fans and fill the stadium is to win games. We’re going to do all the things we need to do to make sure our fans have a great experience. There are a lot of things that happen off the field we can control. Hopefully we win more games than we lose and our fans have a great time every time they come to the stadium.”

Q: From a business perspective, the last few years have to be frustrating, the team isn’t making money. Is there a pressure from ownership?

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A: “They’re competitive, they want to win. (But as far as pressure goes), it’s not in a way that scares me in terms of dollars and cents. They just want to win. They love football. They love the team. They brought the CFL back to Ottawa, they brought it back to our community. So, they have a great sense of pride when we’re doing well and they have frustration when we’re not. Their focus is on winning and doing anything they can to support us to help us get there.”

Q: Can we get into numbers? How is the team doing financially?

A: “I won’t talk specific financials. Obviously, the team does better financially when the stadium is full. We were there for the first five or six years, we haven’t been there for the last few. Last year’s average attendance was more than 19,000, we’ve got a big fan base that is still supporting the team. But we know to fill those last 5,000 seats, wins will be the best way to do it.”

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Q: There are 5,000 or 6,000 people not coming to the games now. You know there is a thirst for football and, yet, there are empty seats. How disappointing is that?

A: “We have a great fan base, a lot of passionate football fans. We have some that are frustrated and we understand that. I’ve spoken to many fans, some have said, ‘When, you’re winning again, I’ll come back.’ I have a ton of confidence in (general manager Shawn Burke), the staff and the players. I’m optimistic about all the changes we made in the off-season. We’ll do what we can to get those wins and we know the fans will come back.”

Q: What about the initiatives you will have at your home games this season, a lot of them geared toward the team’s 10th anniversary?

A: “It’s a short history, it’s only 10 years. It’s kind of flown by. We have a lot to celebrate from those 10 years. Of course winning the Grey Cup in 2016 would be at the top of that list. And, there have been some great games, great moments and great players who have come through. We want to celebrate all of that. But we also want to look forward. we want to be be back to where we were with those full stadiums and competing for championships every year.”

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Q: Henry Burris will be at the season-opener, who are some of the former Redblacks who will be returning for the fans to see?

A: “It starts with Henry. He was the first phone call we made, kicking off the 10th anniversary season. It wouldn’t have felt right if he wasn’t part of that. He’ll be very busy doing lots of things, before, throughout and after the game. We’ve got a season-seat member event that will happen and he’ll be on the field for Fans on the Field at the end of the game. Fans will be able to come down, get a picture, get an autograph. Throughout the season, we will be celebrating all sorts of moments and plays. At our All-Decade game (Aug. 24), we’ll have many of our players from from that All-Decade team and other alumni back. We’re not calling it a reunion game, but that’s when you’ll see a bunch of (former Redblacks).”

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Q: You’ve got some other big plans, including Big Wreck playing here June 30. What else excites you?

A: “We’re really excited about our Canada Day game. This will be the third version of it. We did it a couple of years ago with a great fireworks show after the game. We wondered how we could take that to to another level and we added a concert. We’re really excited to have Big Wreck. They’re going to play a half-hour pre-game set and then another halftime set. You’ve got Big Wreck before the game, football, Big Wreck at halftime, more football, then a great fireworks show to end the night. It’s going to be special. We’ll also take our (Family Day) game (Sept. 7 vs. Toronto) to another level.”

Q: Anything different going on this year with the pre-game party?

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A: “We’re going to mix it up a little, we’ll have bands and we’ll also have DJs. We’re going to have fun with it. A DJ brings a different kind of energy and different genres of music that can be melded together. It’ll be done throughout the game.”

Q: Anything else different?

A: “We’re always trying to figure out ways to make it unique. We’ve got a couple of new partnerships this year. Shawarma Palace is a new partner and has taken over a couple of concession stands. Maverick’s Donuts is a new partner, so you’ve got that in the stadium. We’re doing a 10th anniversary beer with our partners at Labatt and Goose Island, it’s called the Blitz Brew. It has Redblacks branding on the can and will launch at the home opener.”

Q: What can you say about the new uniforms which were launched last week?

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A: “We’ll wear them for the first time at the home opener, we’ll wear them six times this year. I’m proud of the team that designed and launched them. The discussion was we wanted to recognize and link back to the history and tradition of the Rough Riders, while also being contemporary and forward looking. I love it. I was really happy to see the fan reaction was very good when we launched it.”

Q: How did the team manage to keep the jersey design a secret for so long?

A: “The jersey had been worn in different pre-season marketing events. Many of the players had seen the jersey and worn it. So we were a little concerned that that there would be a leak, we were thrilled there wasn’t.”

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Q: How do you remain an optimist when the team has been through such tough times?

A: “It sounds cliche, but you can’t keep dwelling on the past. You just look forward. You look at all the things day by day you can do to improve. I talk to Burkie every day. When we talk about new players or players getting healthy, it makes me excited. At this time of year, I’m sure every CFL team feels excited, as they should. Until the games are played, you don’t know exactly where you stand. We’ll find out real soon. We were so close last year, so many times. It felt like there was a gap, but it wasn’t huge. And we’re better now than we were then. So, I’m optimistic.”

Q: You’re the president of the team, is there pressure that goes with that?

A: “For sure, but that’s what we sign up for. We know that going in and we deal with it. We’re in a business where you’re measured on wins and losses and business performance, in my case.”

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