The first home event of the Ottawa 67 will be the first major sporting event in Ottawa after the Ontario government lifted capacity restrictions where proof of vaccination is required.
The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team will be able to officially fill the 8,000-seat arena at TD Place for Sunday afternoon’s game, though less than half that number is expected.
The OHL canceled last year’s season as the province battled the third wave of the pandemic, and some 67-year-old fans are excited for the team’s return.
“It’s amazing,” said Louis Bouliet, a fan of the 67. “It’s a really fun experience to have a great crowd. It’s so nice to have a lot of people cheering with you.”
Bouliet said making sure spectators are vaccinated and masked makes him feel “pretty safe” when attending the event.
But Renfrew County Acting Health Physician Dr. Robert Cushman urged people to remain cautious, despite the new rules.
He said Ontario’s relatively low case count and high vaccination rate could help explain why the government decided to lift the restrictions, especially since some of the target industries were hit the hardest during the pandemic.
“You can see where it comes from,” he said. “But like everyone else, I’m not sure I can see where it is going. So frankly, I was a bit surprised, although I understand why. [the decision]. “
‘All hands in the deck’
Seat sales represent the main source of revenue for Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), owner of Ottawa 67’s and Redblacks.
The group cut 40 percent of its staff at TD Place in September 2020, citing a decline in revenue due to the pandemic.
OSEG President and CEO Mark Goudie said the group has since hired roughly 30 employees, about half of whom previously worked with the organization.
But with the capacity restrictions removed, OSEG’s current challenge lies in hiring staff on game day.
The Redblacks typically operate with around 800 part-time employees at each game, but Goudie said OSEG is currently drawing from a pool half that size.
“What that means for vaccination verification, is that our office staff (myself, my people, their families, their friends) are out checking passports or vaccination certificates at the games right now,” he said. “It’s all down to business.”
67 is not alone
The Ottawa Senators announced a capacity of 18,562 for their first home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, and the Redblacks will now be able to sell tickets up to the stadium’s 24,000-seat capacity.
Bouliet bought tickets to Sunday’s ’67 game and said he hopes everyone in attendance will join him. But Goudie emphasized that there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the sale of group tickets, which are often bought by schools or companies.
“It remains confusing in terms of what organizations can and cannot do,” he said. “I hope we see something on the order of 3,000 people in the game of 67.”