Mark Goudie wasn’t born on the turf at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, but it soon felt like home.
Goudie’s uncle was Howard Darwin, the beloved, late sports entrepreneur who helped bring the OHL 67’s and Class AAA Ottawa Lynx to the city.
Goudie’s father, Gerry, was the brother of Howard’s wife, Connie, and while Gerry would help ticket manager Joe Fagan in the box office, Mark Goudie, from the age of five, had the run of the place.
Little Mark hung around the 67’s locker room, got on the court with Meadowlark Lemon and the Harlem Globetrotters and got to see Evil Knievel on closed-circuit TV. The Old Civic Centre at Lansdowne, built in 1967, was his personal playground.
"I was the cool kid going to school with a 67’s leather jacket," says Goudie, 53, who has been on the job as CEO of the Ottawa Sports Entertainment Group for nearly a year. OSEG, of course, rebuilt Lansdowne Park and owns the CFL Ottawa Redblacks, the 67’s, and soccer Fury.
Growing up, Goudie wasn’t a huge baseball guy. His passions were hockey and lacrosse. He played AA minor hockey for Ottawa South, a year of Jr. B playing for Brian Kilrea sidekick Bert O’Brien, and competitive lacrosse, as high as senior league with Orangeville.
That didn’t stop Goudie or OSEG from stepping up to the plate when Miles Wolff, the commissioner of the independent Can Am Baseball League, asked for some help with the Ottawa Champions, who play at the nearby RCGT Park. What Wolff, the reluctant owner and operator of the Champions, would really like is for someone or group to buy the ball club, but OSEG is doing the next best thing – helping the Champions with some marketing and ticket sales expertise.
Howard Darwin would approve.
"Miles was looking to sell the team or partner with somebody, so we started looking at that," Goudie says. "But we’ve got our hands full with sports teams.
"There are a lot of things we can bring to them, however, in terms of corporate properties and sponsors … we’re already having conversations with sports peoples and ticket buyers, so it’s easy to leverage that into, what about the Champions? Especially when doing group sales."
Adrian Sciarra, senior VP of sports business operations, was the point man for OSEG in the Champions talks. Goudie oversaw the agreement.
There isn’t much in it for OSEG, other than being good corporate citizens.
"I think we came to a conclusion that having more sports in Ottawa is a good thing, and quite frankly, Miles is a good dude, people liked him and wanted to see if there’s a way we could help him," Goudie says.
Baseball was a massive draw in Ottawa when the Lynx first arrived in 1993, thanks, largely, to the efforts of Darwin and former mayor Jim Durrell. Initially the senior farm team of the Montreal Expos, the Lynx set International League attendance records and won a championship in 1995, but the novelty wore off. Long home stands and lousy spring weather wore down interest in buying season’s tickets. By the fall of 2007, the Lynx were extinct.
David Gourlay, an Expos die-hard, brought back professional baseball to the city by landing the Can Am League Champions in 2014. Working as a volunteer, Gourlay poured his heart into the franchise before stepping aside as president last year.
Unlike the Lynx, the Champions play a short season, and so don’t face the same weather challenges as the former Triple A club. The independent Champions lack the Lynx cache, however, and drew an average of 1,831 fans per game in 2018, middle of the pack in the five-team league. Rockland leads the way at 2,757 per game and Quebec is next at 2,386. Sussex lags in fifth at 1,559.
Goudie has his own numbers challenges. Part of his mandate, since taking over from departing CEO Bernie Ashe, is to get more people to Lansdowne, and not just when the Redblacks, 67’s or Fury are playing.
According OSEG, Lansdowne Park – redeveloped by 2014 into a broad mix of shops, restaurants, condos, green space, a football stadium and hockey arena – draws 3.8 million people per year. OSEG would like to see that number grow to five million.
A marketing survey also determined about one-third of Ottawa area residents have not been to Lansdowne.
"How do we get those people coming here?" Goudie asks, rhetorically. "They’re not into sports, so the programming here is not relevant to them. We have to diversify, have more music and other events."
On the sports front, the Redblacks have been a pleasant surprise, nearly selling out every game in a stadium that has been downsized to a more suitable capacity of 24,000.
The 67’s are finally turning around, thanks to a Memorial Cup-contending team. Attendance has roughly doubled over the past year to about 3,500 per game, still lower than it should be a for a team of such high quality.
"The team is exciting. The characters we have around the team are interesting," Goudie says. "Andre (Tourigny) is a great coach. James (Boyd) is a fantastic general manager, people see the 67’s as relevant again.
"The crowds are coming. It will be interesting to see how they do down the stretch, and in the playoffs."
Expectations are realistic for the soccer Fury. Goudie says they’re happy to get 7,500 per game at TD Place, home to the Fury and Redblacks.
It’s life beyond the games – at the Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticultural building and the "great lawn" the city wanted as part of the redevelopment — that has Goudie’s attention at the moment.
"The jewel here is the site itself, and we need to spend more time (focusing) on the site," Goudie says, "figuring out how we can get more visitors here."