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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Canadian Football League is back in the nation's capital of Ottawa! After a tumultuous history with the CFL, the 2014 season has finally produced the latest incarnation of Ottawa football, and with it comes a totally refurbished stadium.
The Ottawa Rough Riders, not to be confused with the Roughriders of Saskatchewan, were established in 1876 and lasted on a bit of a roller coaster existence until 1996. The Rough Riders, riddled with poor ownership and poor fan support filed for bankruptcy and later closed the doors. An attempt was made to bring back football to Ottawa and the Ottawa Renegades took up residence at Frank Clair Stadium from 2002 until 2005, when again they folded.
This incarnation of football in Ottawa is believed to be the final attempt, but it is backed by the most support that the City of Ottawa has ever given a football team, and the best ownership group in decades. The newest franchise is owned by a group led by Jeff Hunt, who also owns the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League. After having their claim to the name Rough Riders challenged by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the team went with a semi-bilingual name that was chosen with the help of the name the team contest. Thus, the Ottawa RedBlacks or Ottawa Rouge et Noir were born. In a bit of a funny move, the ownership group has pushed for the team to be referred to as the Ottawa REDBLACKS, in all-caps, however, the media and fans haven't jumped on board the all-caps movement.
In this go-round, the City of Ottawa has shown some backing for the Ottawa RedBlacks by participating in a HUGE renovation of the city-owned Frank Clair Stadium. The original stadium has been around since 1908 and no stadium in the entire CFL was more in need of a full-blown refurbishing. With the naming rights sold to TD Bank, the newly minted TD Place Stadium opened up on July 18, 2014 with the RedBlacks getting their first ever win, over the Toronto Argonauts.
This is clearly the final shot for football in Ottawa and they are off to a great start.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food selection at TD Place is pretty impressive and it is clear that concessions were part of the plan when putting the stadium together. The north side stands are directly above the newly minted TD Place Arena, home of the Ottawa 67's. The concourses for the arena are open for concessions as well, which also bodes well for the 67's return to Lansdowne Park in the fall of 2014. The prices for concessions are pretty decent and there are affordable options if you want them (hot dogs $4; pizza $5; beer $8.50; soda $2.75). The newer of the two separate stands is the south side, which offers concessions situated in a fashion so that they face the field and do not require patrons to walk around the outside and behind the stands.
The selection is very good and all should be able to find what they are looking for. At Chez Poutine you will find the Canadian staple poutine or Garlic Fries. The Kiwi Kraze offers self-serve frozen yogurt. The Gabriel Pizza stands offer pizza, which is viewed by many locals as some of the best in town. You can also find ribs, pulled pork, pastrami on rye and various types of burgers and hot dogs. The TV screen menus switch often to provide patrons with either the English or French versions of the available items.
TD Place Stadium is a significant improvement to Frank Clair Stadium. It is located at Lansdowne Park, just north of the Rideau Canal. The old style of Frank Clair Stadium remains with two grandstands, a north and south. Under the north grand stand is the newly minted TD Place Arena which will once again be home to the Ottawa 67's of the OHL. The south side has been completely rebuilt from scratch, while a major renovation was the end result for the north.
The standard plastic stadium seats can be found on both sides and both grandstands provide great sight lines. The west side of the stadium features a brand new, crystal clear video board, and there are ribbon boards on both the north and south sides to provide fans with information and advertisements.
The east side of the stadium features a nod to some of the rich Ottawa Rough Rider history. Banners from the Grey Cup winning teams from 1925, 1926, 1940, 1951, 1960, 1968, 1969, 1973, and 1976 are displayed on a fence in the east end zone. On the other end of the same fence are the retired numbers for great Ottawa Rough Riders from the past including Ron Stewart, Whit Tucker, Bruno Bitsowski, Jim Coode, Moe Racine, Bobby Simpson, Gerry Organ, Tony Golab, Tony Gabriel, and possibly the greatest CFL legend, Russ Jackson.
Lansdowne Park was not entirely finished at the time of the review visit, but the new park has replaced much of the former parking with green space, which was part of the deal with the city when negotiating for a new stadium. The pregame tailgate party takes place inside the Aberdeen Pavilion and the surrounding plaza. The party features numerous food trucks and live music. The RedBlacks have successfully made a football game in Ottawa an event, which will help to keep the fans coming back, and keep the team in Ottawa for good.
Lansdowne Park is located in a neighbourhood in Ottawa known as The Glebe. It is located just south of downtown Ottawa proper, where Bank Street crosses the Rideau. There are a few options for pre and post game meals in the immediate area. You may wish to try Irene's Pub, The Arrow and Loon, 107 Fourth Ave Wine Bar, Corner Bar & Grill, or the Barley Mow. Construction continues on the new retail areas surrounding Lansdowne Park, and more options are expected in the future. Parking in the Glebe is a huge issue and may curtail your interest in arriving early, or staying late. That being said, downtown Ottawa is not far and offers terrific tourist attractions and restaurants.
Grading Ottawa RedBlack fans is difficult. Through their inaugural season, the fans have come out and basically sold out every game. Their average attendance of 24,000 ranks 6th in the CFL, and is just below the league average. Ottawa does play in one of the smallest facilities in the league, but the intimate atmosphere keeps the feeling that fans are attending an event, regardless of the score. However, history shows that Ottawa has lost a CFL franchise on two separate occasions. It is clear that this is Ottawa's final chance at CFL football and there are no excuses. Ottawa fans are off to a great start, and a couple of years of continued strong support will quickly bump their grade up. Ottawa fans are quickly developing their own traditions and local flavours to their game which enhances the experience.
There is almost no parking available at Lansdowne Park. There have also been changes to the by-laws in the Glebe which all but prohibit street parking and banning the practice of selling one's driveway to a fan with a car. As a result, the RedBlacks have put a huge push on using public transit and setting up an intricate set of shuttle locations. The RedBlacks do a pretty good job of keeping order throughout the shuttle process. However the Glebe is not Manhattan, and to have no parking options is not a plus in this society. If you are a traveller, or new to Ottawa, make sure you do your research before heading to the stadium expecting to find a home for your automobile. The shuttle system requires a lot of man-power, and must be expensive to operate.
The bridge that crosses behind the east end zone from the south side to the north side bottlenecks and causes delays when heading to the shuttles at the end of the game. The washrooms at the south side are pretty good, but the old ramps that take fans to the upper levels of the north side are lined with portable toilets. It is not known whether this is a temporary measure during the final parts of construction, or they will be permanent parts of the north side.
RedBlacks tickets can cost as much as $150 down to $25. There are many great seats in the $30 range which provide a good fan experience and return on your investment. The prices for concessions are reasonable and parking with the shuttle is free. This is a good value for your dollar, especially on a nice summer day. The return on the investment for the fans will be even better once the RedBlacks get past the woes of being an expansion team.
An extra mark for the most unique rivalry in all of sports. The North side and South side fans have a rivalry between each other, which includes chanting at each other and competing against each other during promotions on field. This mini-documentary produced by TSN takes a look at the "friendly feud" that one will find in Ottawa at a RedBlacks game.
An extra mark for the TSN Kraft Celebration tour which was in attendance with TSN hosts Darren Dutchyshen and Kate Bierness.
An extra mark for the bilingual-ness of the game. When there is a flag on the play, the PA announcer informs you of a "Mouchoir sur la terrain!"
All of Canada seems to be behind the future success of the Ottawa RedBlacks and hope that they will remain in the nation's capital for good. It really is the last chance for football in Ottawa and any traveller will have a good time checking out the Rouge et Noir and their action. However, don't feel bad if you just can't bring yourself to refer to them in ALL CAPS.
Follow all of Dave's sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9
Member Review by 25grapes on Aug 07, 2014
What an amazing place. It really does have a park feel with all the green space, the river running behind the south stands and the grass end zones. Crowds have been electric and the new stands along with the massive HD screen and condo towers give TD Place a very intimate and loud feel. Food is outstanding focusing 14 hour smoked meats and a variety of different poutines! Can't wait for the restaurants beside it to open up. I highly recommend visiting TD Place for a Redblacks game!!
99 Fifth Ave
Ottawa, ON K1S 2M3
107 Fourth Ave
Ottawa, ON K1S 2L1
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