community or private?

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If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers decide to go private, the other two community-owned teams wish them well.

But they won't be joining the Bombers any time soon.

The people who operate the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders say selling those franchises to a private owner is an idea that's not even on the radar.

"I don't think so," Eskimos president Rick LeLacheur said. "The only time it would be privatized, that I could see, is if the Eskimos were in trouble financially."

In fact, the Eskimos are one of the wealthiest teams in the CFL, averaging well over 30,000 fans per game at Commonwealth Stadium.

The team also enjoyed a huge windfall ($14 million) in 2004 from the sale of the Edmonton Trappers baseball team. That's right, the Eskimos are so well off they're buying and selling professional teams.

"In our case, community ownership's been around since '48 and it's worked very well," LeLacheur said. "Our board of directors has always been made up of pretty significant business people in the community. Second of all, we've had continuity in the management of the football club, and there's a clear line: the board of directors manage the overall affairs of the club, but they stay away from operating the club. That's been a very successful formula."

The 'Riders have travelled a much more rocky road. But that doesn't mean they're anywhere near turning the franchise keys over to anybody.

"The (community) model has kept the 'Riders part of the CFL," said team president Jim Hopson, like Lyle Bauer of the Bombers, a former player now running his old team. "And we seem to be on a very good footing right now and heading in a good direction. Not saying that someone couldn't approach the club with an offer to buy, but I've never been aware of anybody that's had that interest."

Most people Sun Media spoke to seem to think Saskatchewan is the franchise most grounded in its community, where fans believe they have an ownership in the team.

Like the Bombers, the 'Riders have, during the last decade, discovered exactly what community ownership means, particularly during a crisis.

"It was only 10 years ago we were in pretty dire straits, financially," Hopson said. "It was the fans that said, 'These are our 'Riders and we need to save them.' If we had been privately owned during that time, I don't know if the fans would have stepped up in the same way because of that emotional connection with the team. You wonder."

Politicians stepped up, too, forgiving about $2.8 million in loans, much like in Winnipeg.

The origins of Saskatchewan's stadium, Taylor Field, go back even further than Winnipeg's, but it's undergone several extensive renovations and there are no plans to replace it.

In recent years, the 'Riders and Bombers have emulated the Eskimos, slimming down their boards and hiring CEOs to run the team. The results have been encouraging.

Both LeLacheur and Hopson believe the future of community ownership in the CFL is strong, no matter what happens to the Bombers.

"I think, too, there could be a future for new franchises. I'm thinking particularly about the Maritimes," Hopson said. "The community model could work in the Maritimes... and I know that's been the talk down there. I don't think it's going to be extinct any time soon."

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The man who presided over one of the most successful eras in Bomber history has a warning: don't go private unless you absolutely have to.

"Be very careful," former coach and GM Cal Murphy said. "If you can help it, if you can run the thing financially and keep the thing secure, I would say keep on doing what you're doing."

Murphy, who steered the Bombers to Grey Cup titles in 1984, '88 and '90, says community-owned teams have a unique connection with their fans.

"When it's a private ownership, there's less ownership in the city," he said. "There is a certain amount of pride in having public ownership. I realize the public doesn't really own it. But they do, in a way. They do get a say in the thing. They can get on the (board of) directors."

In his 26-year tenure in the CFL, Murphy worked for publicly and privately owned teams. He's seen more than his share of owners foul up their franchises, a risk any privately-held team always faces.

"Here's the other thing. Sometimes guys get tired of doing it," Murphy said. "And there's less money to be made in the CFL, so you can tire of it a lot sooner. And so they sell it. A guy really has to want it as his own little toy, more or less. And if he tires of it, you don't know who's coming in."

It could be a Lonie Glieberman, who was as interested in dating cheerleaders as he was in running the Ottawa Renegades.

Or a Michael Feterik, whose main goal in Calgary seemed to be finding his quarterback son a team he could actually make.

How about flamboyant stock promoter Murray Pezim, who rode into Vancouver back in '89 with Wife No. 4 in tow. Literally.

Pezim's wife, wearing jersey No. 4, conducted the B.C. Lions ceremonial opening kickoff.

"I'll never forget it," Murphy chuckled.

Three years later, Pezim stopped paying the bills.


Of course, Pezim came along when the Lions were going broke as a community-owned team. Larry Ryckman probably saved Calgary from extinction in '91, too.

"They saved the franchises. There's evidence of that, no question," Murphy said.

Clouding the issue in Winnipeg is the need for a new or improved stadium, and someone willing to help pay for it.

"There's no question that does complicate things," Murphy said.

Bottom line: if the Bombers have no other option, they'd better choose the right person to sell to.

"He'd better be a very reliable person," Murphy said. "And one who can suck it up when things don't go well."

It seems there is a pattern of poor private ownership. But in most cases it was one owner that caused the problem. Today the way to go is with an ownership group. This way if one of that say six owners wants out it is easier to find that one guy to fill in the group. With the Bombers they would be absolutely stupid to turn down Asper who has shown in the past his heart is with the Blue and Gold. With out this guy it is going to be tough on this community ownership to survive. The paddles are out and the oxygen is turned on. Time to pay the doctor. I am sure David Asper is not the kind of guy that will bail on this team. You turn him down and he will probably no longer want to help out. The time is now Bomber fans.

Agreed Red, Asper certainly is not your Gleiberguy, Pezim or Larry Ryckman type.
He is a devoted football and BB guy and his energy got him into hot water a few years back.
On top of which, he is putting down his own money, what one third, to build an awesome stadium.
So to me this scare tactics type article of how the sky is falling is non relevant to David Asper.
Like most of us have been saying, it appears to be a no brainer, a rich caring Canadian that wants to build a new stadium and invest in a CFL team.
Man this is a diamond in the rough and there are not too many around, grab him now and don't make him wait.

Exactly! Do not let this opportunity go away it may not come back. My thinking is if they turn it down Asper may just take his money elsewhere.

ohwell the bombers could have up to 9 options come the end of March as they have the Asper option, the Plan to build their Own Stadium and 7 potential Business plans which are in the works right now with different Developpers.

Thats great but who pays the bombers bills once the GC money runs out?