Ottawa’s history with baseball has been checkered, to say the very least.
Many people have realized the potential in the market, as numerous teams have been born since the Ottawa Lynx departed in 2007, but none of them have had any kind of long-term success. When the Ottawa Titans were born, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height, and things were complicated for them right off the bat. Now, back on the field for the 2022 Frontier League season, Regan Katz, who is the Titans’ vice president and COO, is thrilled to get things rolling on Ottawa’s newest baseball franchise.
“It was overwhelmingly satisfying,” Katz said. “It was a long road with the false start in 2021 where we were trying to put together a team, and then for a short time worrying that we were going to be a travel team and trying to make all of those plans. But the rug was suddenly swept out from underneath us and we had to put it all off by a year.”
“Admittedly, the extra time to prepare probably wasn’t all that bad,” he continued. “But to finally see them out of the field playing this season has been really exciting and rewarding and well worth the wait.”
During the pandemic, there were already some questions about the viability of the team by some fans. In the front office, however, the team hitting the field as soon as possible was never in doubt.
“I don’t think there was a fear that it wouldn’t happen, but there was certainly a fear of how long it was going to take,” said Katz. “I’m a patient person, and I have been in this game for a long time. I’ve seen the highs and lows, and baseball is all about showing commitment, and as long as you have that, everything works out.”
The extra year to prepare was beneficial to Katz and the rest of the team, but there were still things that needed to be done as the season started. Fans came to Ottawa Stadium and noticed seats that had yet to be bolted to the stands, signage still emboldened with the logo of the Ottawa Champions, and lines for concessions that lasted a lifetime.
“No matter how much you prepare, there are going to be surprises at every corner,” Katz said. “The venue was certainly in rougher shape than we believed, and our priorities on what needed to be ready and prepared were perhaps a little different than some of the maintenance things that needed to be done.”
“Building up a staff to try and operate and get things going,” Katz continued, noting one of the biggest challenges so far. “It has been a tough go for previous teams, not just with making things work and their relationships with the city, and doing things right on the field, but we are dependant on fan support. For us to take this on, we had to believe we could get people to come out and support. Ottawa deserves baseball, but we still need people to come and want to be part of it.”
Week after week, things have improved for the Titans, and the game-day experience is now quite different from what it was at the preseason game earlier this year. The blueprint for baseball in Ottawa hasn’t often shown you what to do to make things work, but has rather outlined what not to do, and Katz says that looking at what has sunk previous teams played a big part in building the blueprint for what would make the Titans work.
“If you’re not smart enough to learn from others’ mistakes, it’s going to be a painful road,” Katz said. “We did a lot of research on what had been there in the past.”
The slow start thanks to the pandemic isn’t just responsible for delaying the Titans’ start, Katz also believes that it has kept some fans home. At the gate, they aren’t quite where they want to be, but so far, they aren’t concerned about their numbers.
“I think we have been a little slow getting to where we expect to be,” Katz said. “We’re still climbing, and our summer is really just getting started now that school has finished. I still think we will see what we are targeting. Of course, no one really knew what we would see post-COVID-19. I definitely think we are on the right path.”
“We had the disadvantage of starting during COVID,” Katz said. “Typically your events for this would be anniversaries, group bookings, corporate outings, and when we started our selling season, everybody was closed. It has been a little bit of chasing our tails, and we’re a little bit behind, but we’re quickly starting to see better numbers.”
“Do you question your decisions? Always, but do you create doubt? Absolutely not,” he continued. “If any of the members of ownership had doubts that this wouldn’t work, I don’t think we would have taken the chance. This wasn’t really a roll of the dice thing, it was putting in the effort, proving it’s the right mix and the right fit. There is enough support in Ottawa, it’s just a matter of getting them interested in the team.”
Ottawa Stadium has also become a point of contention for ownership. It took a little longer than anticipated to get it ready, and although it’s ready for baseball now, there are still issues with the venue that are, for the time being, out of anyone’s control.
“The venue is oversized, we don’t need to have 10,000 seats,” Katz said. “That will never be the case with this team, and that’s not what we need to survive.”
“We have many renovation plans for this venue,” he continued. “We have signed a 10-year lease, and we have a 10-year plan. You have to do things in stages, and we have picked our targets for each year, and as long as we can come close to those, we will make improvements in pieces. Hopefully, in a five to six-year period, things will look a lot different than they do today.”
Making the Titans’ a successful franchise is about more than just the baseball team on the field. The stadium is a piece to the puzzle, and excluding playoffs, the Titans are only on the field at home 48 times each year. What is going on in the other 317 days of the year matters, and for the ownership, getting something there whenever possible is something being looked at.
“The venue itself is what we are working with, not just the baseball team,” said Katz. “So getting extra events into the facility, and making it accessible to the community is part of our vision and our plan. I don’t see a moment where we say enough is enough. We’re going to throw some good stuff at this and keep making adjustments.”
There are plans in place to bring more fans out to the games, including more theme nights, but kids being out of school should play a big part in more fans coming to the park every night. Still, Katz and the rest of the team are still searching for different avenues to attract new fans.
“Right now, the biggest challenge is appealing to people,” Katz said. “The traditional forms aren’t getting to everybody, and I think people are still working from home and cooped up in their houses. The baseball is exceptional, and we put a lot of effort into fielding the best team we possibly can. We’re going to keep putting everything we can into it and make sure we get to the postseason and make Ottawa proud.”
“Whether you like baseball or not, give us a shot,” Katz pleaded. “The entertainment is great, it’s a fun time, and you’re going to leave with a smile on your face. You’re going to be anxious to come back, win or lose.”
Despite all of the different struggles, setbacks, and surprising difficulties, Katz made one thing very clear, this won’t be a one-and-done. The Titans are here to stay.
“No,” Katz said with a laugh when asked if there’s doubt about a second season. “That’s a bad investment. We’re definitely in this to make it work and put everything into it to make it what it can be.”
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