Jeff Hunt Is The Local Man Behind Atletico Madrid’s CPL Venture
When rumours began springing up about a Canadian Premier League expansion bid in Ottawa backed by Atletico Madrid being fast-tracked for the 2020 Canadian Premier League season, excited fans had a lot of questions: did the league have an eight-team schedule ready? Was OSEG involved? Who was the local businessman rumoured to a key figure in the project?
That man, as it turns out, is local businessman Jeff Hunt, and he’s someone that is almost certainly going to be familiar to the sports-loving residents of Ottawa.
Hunt became a local icon for purchasing the Ottawa 67’s and instigating a marketing overhaul that led the OHL team to a drastic rise in attendance. He was also the frontman behind the bid to bring Ottawa a CFL team in the Ottawa Redblacks. The former OSEG President stepped into a more 67’s and Redblacks-oriented role in 2018, distancing himself from the group which opted to close down the Ottawa Fury.
It would appear he’s back in the limelight now, and with great aplomb.
The 55-year-old businessman broke his silence regarding the rumoured expansion club yesterday to state that he’s been quite busy working to bring professional soccer back to Ottawa over the last few months, brokering a deal between the league and a European investor that he didn’t want to identify at this time.
Rumours indicate that this investor is none other than Atletico Madrid, a story which has now been backed by Spanish press, too.
Here’s what Hunt had to say to Le Droit about the expansion bid:
I can’t reveal the identity of my partners. It’s not my place to make this announcement, but I can assure you that soccer will be back in Ottawa in 2020 and the franchise will be led by a club with a rich history. When the Fury closed down, the CPL approached me to help bring a club to the nation’s capital. They felt it was important to have eight clubs by 2020. Her schedule has not yet been released because they have always wanted Ottawa to be included in the 2020 season. This city already had a successful soccer club. All it needed was a partner with strong backbone. We found it.Jeff Hunt
With fans having largely accepted that the country’s professional domestic soccer league wouldn’t see expansion until the 2021 at a minimum, the rumours that Atletico Madrid is backing a CPL expansion bid came as quite a shock. Given that the La Liga giant has already invested in North American football by doing the same thing with a club in Mexico named Atletico San Luis, it would appear that the investors are building upon the same idea that the likes of City Football Group and Red Bull have done in terms of global football expansion.
Rumours have indicated that the Atletico branding will remain for the prospective Ottawa expansion club, with some prominent members in the Canadian football scene indicating that the league and the bid’s foreign investors must come to terms by January 31, 2020 if the side is take part in the upcoming season.
Should the deal come to fruition, what role Jeff Hunt would play on a more permanent basis is still unknown. He’s indicated that his role in Ottawa’s return to professional soccer may grow over time.
Right now, I am advising this group, but in the right circumstances, my role will grow. For me, it would be an opportunity to complete my hockey/football/soccer trifecta. The Fury was John Pugh’s project. I’ll take it from here. I haven’t lost my passion for the sport.Jeff Hunt
The Newfoundland-born businessman also mentioned that the league had refrained from releasing a schedule in the event that an eighth team could be added ahead of the second season, though to be fair the inaugural season’s schedule hadn’t come out until late February, either.
As for how the Canadian Premier League team could quickly build up its 23-man roster in time for the 2020 season, Hunt said the European investor has the resources to furnish a lineup – though it must be CPL salary cap compliant – and had already identified players who would be able to play in Ottawa, both local and otherwise. According to Le Droit, Maxim Tissot told the french publication that he’s still a free agent and would be interested in an opportunity to remain in the nation’s capital.
It’s worth noting that the Canadian Premier League operates under a different set of salary cap and international roster rules than the USL, so if the new club forms they can’t simply begin snapping up as many former Fury players as they can. Canada’s domestic league operates under an as-yet-unknown salary cap estimated to be less than a million, with clubs allowed 23 roster spots of which only seven can be foreign players. Each team needs to have three U-21 domestic products who must accumulate 1,000 minutes of action on the pitch, which is a rule that ought to immediately make Ottawa sports fans think of 16-year-old Antoine Coupland, who made his debut for the Fury last year.
If Hunt is correct, the deal is already in its closing stages and will see the Canadian Premier League expansion club call TD Place home. OSEG isn’t involved with the project, but they’re the landlords of the stadium which once called itself home to the Ottawa Fury.
All we have to do is build on what the Fury has done by adding an international flavour. Fans have also shown a deep attachment to the CPL. Great things await this club. All that remains is to finalize a few details.Jeff Hunt
It’ll be interesting to see what the rest of the month holds for the Canadian Premier League: with commissioner David Clanachan stating that the CPL absolutely needs to be in Ottawa, one has to think that Atletico Madrid purchasing an expansion club in Ottawa is more of a when than an if at this point.
With the season due to kick off in a matter of months, that won’t leave the new ownership group a lot of time to market the club or build its identity: it needs a crest, it needs kits, it needs front office and technical staff. It needs a roster capable of enduring a season filled with lots of travelling, though having an eighth team would reduce the amount of mid-week games required in a season.
It would be easy to see Julian De Guzman stay on with such a side, given how the former Ottawa Fury General Manager had helped build upon a club identity which saw Canadians get plenty of playing time on the pitch. For now, questions surrounding potential staffing will need to wait for the club itself to get the green light first.
With Hunt stating that work had been in progress for months, it’s not clear how much has already been done. Ultimately, there’s still a lot left to do. Whatever happens, having Jeff Hunt step out as a leadership figure in the deal is great news for Canadian soccer: if anyone could help grow a sports team in Ottawa, it’s probably going to be him. After all, he’s done it before.
Source: Le Droit