For the first time in a long time, Ottawa Renegades fans have reason for hope.
As many as three groups have met with Canadian Football League officials to discuss purchasing the beleaguered club, and at least one party is requesting detailed information to determine whether the team can kick off in 2006.
League governors and commissioner Tom Wright will hold a conference call April 5 to determine the future of the Renegades. At that time, a decision will be made either to negotiate with an interested party and try to salvage the season, or to suspend the team's operations for 2006.
"I have not been involved, but I'll do anything possible to facilitate somebody stepping up for this season," said Renegades majority owner Bernie Glieberman, who has already provided money to fund the team until mid-April.
Yesterday, a CFL official and a lawyer representing one of the interested parties were supposed to visit Frank Clair Stadium and take inventory of the team's equipment and assets. It is believed the lawyer represents a group that has not given up on assuming control before the scheduled start of training camp next month. The tour was postponed, however, for "logistical" reasons, CFL spokeswoman Alexis Redmond said.
Of the interested parties, two groups are Ontario-based. The other is from Florida, but is not real-estate developer Glenn Straub, who previously showed interest. The CFL is comfortable that these groups are sufficiently capitalized, but might still be willing to provide financial assistance this year if it feels the right ownership group can be put in place.
Wright and B.C. Lions owner David Braley, who is chairing a three-member search committee, met with two groups this week, and at least one has advanced knowledge of the Renegades' books. Former team president Lonie Glieberman said he had the team's financial records forwarded to the CFL office more than one week ago and that the club had not received requests for additional information.
One group, based in southern Ontario, has what business people consider "synergies" with pro athletics and business interests in Ottawa-Gatineau.
It is believed the leader of this group spends his time between residences in Ontario and the U.S., and that he has spoken with at least one candidate for a front-office position. It is further believed he currently holds no sports properties, but that his core business features consumer goods that would be familiar to the public.
The CFL met with Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli last week, hoping to broker some relief from the team's lease at Frank Clair Stadium. The Renegades pay the city roughly $650,000 for 10 home games, and it is generally regarded as the most punitive lease in the CFL.
A Chiarelli assistant did not return a telephone message left by The Citizen yesterday. Previously, Chiarelli had said he would be open to changes so long as the lease still provided "cost recovery" for taxpayers.
Yesterday, league power brokers held their second conference call in as many days. If the Renegades fold or have their 2006 operations suspended, the league will carry on with an eight-team schedule after a dispersal draft of Ottawa players.
The Renegades were put up for sale last week after the league rejected an offer from Bernie Glieberman to partially fund the team. The club stands to lose between $4 million and $6 million this year, and Glieberman and minority partner Bill Smith have let it be known they are not prepared to foot the entire bill.
Meanwhile, reports yesterday that Renegades head coach John Jenkins and his staff had been terminated were denied.
"It is absolutely not true," added Jenkins, who reported to work and even submitted his monthly expense report to team accountants. "We have not been told anything. I'm not disputing that it could happen because given the state of things, that is an option."
Rumours about the Ottawa staff have swirled in CFL coaching ranks since last weekend, when the league held an evaluation of draft-eligible players in Toronto. Somebody from the Renegades told a colleague on another team that Ottawa staff members had been told they would not coach in 2006, either because a new owner would fire them or because the team would be mothballed.
It would cost a new owner roughly $2 million to buy out the contracts of general manager Forrest Gregg, Jenkins and his assistants and to hire a new football operations team.
It is believed that the prospective buyers are aware of this extra cost.