Who is Jeff Hunt? A primer on Atlético Ottawa’s new strategic partner

The Canadian Premier League’s new club in Ottawa has some major footballing clout behind it, with the illustrious Club Atlético de Madrid revealed as the ownership group in late January.

Closer to home, though, Atlético Ottawa will have the support of a titan of the Ottawa sporting scene in Jeff Hunt, recently announced as a strategic partner in the La Liga giant’s Canadian venture.

The name will be familiar to many who have followed local teams in the capital for a while. Hunt is part-owner of both the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s and the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Redblacks, as a partner in Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. Hunt was also involved with the Ottawa Fury, particularly in the early days of the team, prior to the club’s folding in late 2019.

Asked to elaborate on his role as strategic partner with Atlético Ottawa, Hunt explained that he’ll be mostly focused on the business side of the operation.

“Helping with building the business, I guess you could say acting as a version of president, or what have you,” he said at the club’s unveiling in Ottawa this week. “Just doing the things that I’ve done with the Redblacks and I’ve done with the 67’s the last 22 years.

“Anything to do with the soccer side of this business will always be Atlético’s. They’re the majority partner on top of that, so even if I had a different opinion I would just put it in the suggestion box. But they will make all the soccer decisions, naturally.”

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Hunt, a native Newfoundlander who found a new home in Ottawa in the 1980s, worked his way up as an entrepreneur by founding Canway, a carpet cleaning service. Less than 20 years later, he’d already made his way into sports by purchasing the 67’s.

It seems that Hunt has a penchant for stepping in to help rescue a sporting scene in Ottawa, too. When he bought the 67’s in 1998, they were near the bottom of the OHL in attendance, with the team’s future in Ottawa perhaps in doubt. A year later, they were Memorial Cup champions on home ice; nowadays, they’re among the best-supported teams in the league.

With the Redblacks, Hunt managed to bring pro football back to a city that had been without since the Renegades folded in 2006. That was a longer process, with several years between the CFL awarding Hunt a franchise in 2008 and the Redblacks beginning play in 2014. Still, they didn’t wait long for on-field success either, winning the Grey Cup in 2016. Just as he saved junior hockey in Ottawa, so too did Hunt save football.

With the Redblacks also came TD Place Stadium, the 24,000-seat venue that the Ottawa CPL club will call home. Hunt, along with several partners, was instrumental in redeveloping the historic Lansdowne Park site, renovating it into a top-notch stadium for both the CFL and, eventually, the Ottawa Fury.

Atlético Ottawa strategic partner Jeff Hunt talks about local soccer fans and the return of the sport to the nation’s capital in the aftermath of the Ottawa Fury ceasing operations.

Although Hunt, as an OSEG partner, stepped away from the Fury several years before they ceased operations, he’s no stranger to the beautiful game.

While it’s not yet been announced just how exactly Hunt fits into the structure of this new Ottawa club as a strategic partner, with Club Atlético de Madrid the primary owners and investors, his involvement will likely be geared toward helping the new team hit the ground running.

Hunt told CBC recently that the new club’s ownership group was keen on having a local voice, like his, in the fold, since he knows better than most how to get a sports team in the air in Ottawa. His experience with sports in the city, and his connection to TD Place Stadium and the city’s soccer community specifically, should help make the transition smoother for an ownership group making its first foray into the Canadian market.

Step one for Hunt with Atlético Ottawa?

“I’m focused on selling out our home opener,” he said. “I think this brand is going to change the way people think about professional soccer in Ottawa.”