May 15, 2007
OTTAWA -- The Canadian Football League's efforts at returning to Ottawa for the 2008 season are dead, according to league sources.
The CFL has spent the past several months negotiating with former CFL player Bill Palmer, who represents one of three groups that expressed interest in an Ottawa franchise last summer.
But those efforts have fallen short largely because the two sides couldn't make the economics of operating a franchise work.
Palmer is expected to officially inform the league of his group's decision to withdraw this week. He confirmed last month that his group had an agreement in principle with the CFL, contingent on a suitable arrangement with the city of Ottawa regarding Frank Clair Stadium. However, his group is unwilling to meet a deadline next week to move forward.
The CFL's bid to return three-down professional football to Ottawa was launched last summer, roughly three months after the four-year-old Renegades franchise was folded under the ownership of Bernie and Lonie Glieberman.
The commissioner at the time, Tom Wright, insisted the CFL hoped to be back in time for the 2007 season. One expression of interest was rejected, while another withdrew in October because of an illness to its primary backer. That left the league negotiating with Palmer and his U.S.-based partners, who had no interest in the 2007 season.
From the outset, however, there were challenges to making Ottawa expansion viable.
For one, no one has been able to make a dime on CFL football in Ottawa since the mid-1970s. And second, the league's existing clubs were not eager to split the revenue from their new, five-year, $80-million television deal nine ways instead of eight. Adding a ninth franchise would mean $233,000 less in yearly television revenue for each of the existing eight clubs.
To compensate for that, the league was seeking a significant franchise fee, which has been reported to be in the range of $6-million.
Palmer's group sought to recoup some of that by proposing to refurbish and then take over management of Frank Clair Stadium, a strategy that would potentially cut costs and raise revenue.
The group decided, however, that it could not be assured of being able to support the costs of running a CFL team.
The end of Palmer's bid will raise the question whether the CFL will try to go to Ottawa once more. Some league governors would like to see the league expand by two teams, although no other city in Canada has a stadium suitable for CFL games.
"It's important we seriously consider bringing a team back to Ottawa," new commissioner Mark Cohon said when he was hired last month. "We are thinking of creating a strong league, eventually, coast-to-coast."
Also open to speculation is the football future of Palmer's son, Jesse, a former National Football League backup who is under contract to the Montreal Alouettes.
Palmer recently informed the Als he would not report to training camp if he was slated to be a backup. It was widely believed he would have been the quarterback of the Ottawa franchise in 2008.