‘Instant credibility’: Atlético Ottawa’s Jeff Hunt relishes off-field challenge, targets sell-out

OTTAWA – It’s Day 1 for Atlético Ottawa, but it’s far from the beginning for Jeff Hunt.

The club’s “first employee” help put a name and crest to the new Ottawa soccer entry Tuesday, alongside Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan and Club Atlético de Madrid CEO Miguel Ángel Gil Marín, as the CanPL made its arrival in the nation’s capital official at its new home in TD Place.

With a crest, colours, a name, and a coach – former Atlético striker Mista – chalked off the list, the club’s strategic partner is now focused on everything off the pitch towards its home opener, which officials said would come in early May.

“Off the pitch, the good thing is we can divide and conquer, as I say,” Hunt told media Tuesday. “I’m focused on selling out our home opener. That’s gonna take a lot of work, and it won’t be easy, and maybe it won’t happen, but I also want to win the first game. Who would get into anything without that expectation?”

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Conquering the Ottawa professional sports marketplace is something Hunt has done before with Ottawa Fury FC – which ceased operations in November – the Ottawa Redblacks of the CFL, and the Ottawa 67’s previous to that.

There’s something different, though, about this new upstart club, which rapidly heads towards an April 2020 launch.

“There’s instant credibility,” Hunt said. “When you start a new expansion franchise in any league you’re trying to create a brand from scratch. I could think about the Redblacks or the Fury, you’re really starting from ground zero. To be catapulted immediately to the top of soccer brands in the world, it took them a hundred-and-something years to get to that point.

“I’m not saying that that instantaneously makes people in Ottawa feel the same way about Atlético Madrid as people in Madrid do, but I think we’re leveraging that enormous credibility that they have. Yes, soccer’s growing in Canada but it’s still considered a non-traditional market for soccer.”

Hunt says Atlético Ottawa is also poised to offer something different to the Ottawa sporting culture – including the ‘Rideau Canal Blue’ sported in its crest, switching up the red, white, and black colour schemes of other Ottawa franchises – it comes with a name.

“It may attract some people who were maybe not ready to jump on the bandwagon of professional soccer, this relationship might make them think about it again,” Hunt said of his latest venture.

“I’m hoping that this might be a little more of a temptation for Ottawa fans who have not dipped their toe in the water of professional soccer to come out and say, what’s all the fuss about? Let’s check this out.”

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Still, Tuesday’s announcement couldn’t help but emit nervous energy, with a snow-covered TD Place in the background: Can you put together a professional club in two-odd months?

Hunt’s response is two-fold: “why not now?” and, well, I’ve done this before.

“I really felt like the pulse of professional soccer in Ottawa was still beating. I didn’t want a year, and neither did Atlético; to let a year go by and really just completely vanish any side, it’s almost like you’d be starting all over again after the Fury.

“I bought the 67’s on July 1, 1998, and we played our first game two months later to a sellout. Things can happen when you put your mind to it. It’s unexpected and it means that we have to do things quicker, but sometimes you’ll work to a deadline. If you have nine months to do something, you’ll take nine months.

“If it takes two months, you do it in two months.”