So the CFL is hoping to have a new owner for the Ottawa Renegades signed, sealed and delivered by mid-April at the latest. If not, the franchise dies or operations are suspended for 2006 while the league continues to look for someone to take over in time for the 2007 season.
Well, forget the former. That's not going to happen unless the league stumbles on some rich guy desperately looking to find something for his playboy son to do and willing to pay dearly for it. Considering the millions the Renegades are forecast to lose should they play in 2006, legitimate suitors would want to do more than kick the flat tires on this rickshaw.
Bet on the the second part of the latter scenario. The CFL closes shop for a season in Ottawa with the hope of reopening in 2007.
Not an attractive proposition considering the bad publicity of late and then a year-long shutdown during which bigger pieces will crumble from the corroded fan base.
Could it get worse? Sure it can. The CFL may not find anyone in time for 2007, either, and that would certainly force the league to wheel out the guillotine, as it did in 1996 for the Ottawa Rough Riders and bring a humiliating end to the franchise. By that time, that would be the right thing to do for the sake of this city's image.
Wait, though, there is hope, and it still looks pretty good if you're even a little bit of a conspiracy theorist.
Here's what I think: The CFL is betting it's not going to find someone to take over the team by the middle of April, has already shifted focus to 2007 and realizes it may still end up counting on the man who many believed last week was a prospective buyer until he told us he wasn't interested.
True, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk might not even blink while the CFL shops the franchise around in the coming year, and maybe a strong owner or ownership group will surface, taking Melnyk out of the picture. Then again, if no one rises to the occasion to take over the franchise -- and that's a very good possibility given its pathetic state -- Melnyk, under the right circumstances, could be convinced to lend a hand. Especially if city politicians are still open to the idea of allowing Melnyk's entertainment company, Capital Tickets, to take over management of Frank Clair Stadium and the Civic Centre. In fact, if there is real desperation in saving the team, Melnyk may be able to get an even sweeter deal in taking over the stadium and arena, particularly after voters cast their ballots in November's municipal elections.
Melnyk certainly knew the time was right in 2003 when he swooped down and grabbed the Senators, already a great team, and their home rink, built at a cost of $220 million, for $130 million.
Remember, Melnyk's guys had approached the city with the plan a year ago as part of a package to take over the Renegades, who were already having ownership problems over money. Capital Tickets would have had control over booking events and revenues from ticket sales, concessions and parking. Under such a scheme, losses the Renegades incurred while the franchise was rebuilding to make itself financially viable would have been rolled into profits from the revenues brought in by other events held in the arena and stadium.
It's not clear what happened, whether city staff balked at the proposal or Capital Tickets decided to can the idea of expanding.
Undoubtedly, the Renegades are the furthest thing from Melnyk's mind now, and in hindsight, those like myself who thought last week he might accept the challenge in time for the 2006 season, that franchise should be a stratosphere or two from his thoughts. He and his management staff who help run the Senators have the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs to worry about. The last thing they would need right now would be the worry of making the Renegades operational in time for June training camp, no small feat considering the club is even short on players' equipment.
Melnyk and his second most senior Senators executive, Cyril Leeder, are also involved in the Ottawa committee bidding for the 2009 world junior hockey championship. A decision on the host city is about two months away.
However, once that's over with, the playoffs are out of the way and a few of Melnyk's race horses have done a few loops around the track, the CFL may want to approach the pharmaceutical billionaire with cup in hand.
The CFL has already decided that a 2007 rebirth of the Renegades would have to produce a competitive team in order to help the new owner sell more tickets. The league would have a player-transfer agreement in place that would be very favourable to a new Renegades team. Without pro football in Ottawa in 2006, players now under contract would be made available to the CFL's eight other teams through a dispersal draft.
Being promised a competitive club is a pretty good drawing card for any prospective owner looking at buying what really should only be an expansion team. That and control of the arena and stadium isn't a bad package.
Melnyk and his management team would also bring instant credibility to the Renegades, something which the franchise has never really had in its four seasons, and that would make the club more attractive to corporate sponsors and football fans. Melnyk's involvement in the CFL would also help the league with its bush image, which could be another reason that he didn't join the circus last week.
The CFL knows that, too, which might explain why league commissioner Tom Wright was so complimentary about Melnyk following his announcement on Thursday. Wright came about a inch short of calling Melnyk a great Canadian.
"Given Mr. Melnyk's overwhelming contribution to sports in this country and the manner in which he has operated the Ottawa Senators, it is no surprise that CFL fans across Canada would call on him to consider a stake in our country's other game."
Has Wright given up on Melnyk?
Why would he?