For the immediate future only, Asper could clean house in a heart beat.
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Stadium process looks murky
Winnipeg Free Press
Thu 05 Apr 2007
IT'S curious how politics and power, and who controls what, seem to be the essence of so many debates in this town.
Any town, for that matter.
We have the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a team in search of a new, less dingy residence. Almost before it began, the process was caught up with manoeuvring and posturing.
The football club now has two proposals under consideration; one being a $145-million bid by David Asper at Polo Park and another by hotelier Leo Ledohowski, price tag in excess of $200 million, at the former Canada Packers site in St. Boniface.
The CFL club's board must now decide which horse to back, a task that appears easy enough but looks murkier under the surface.
Remember that the fundamental difference between the Asper and Ledohowski proposals is this: Asper wants ownership and control of the team, Ledohowski does not. Which means that without question the possible privatization of the community-owned team will be central to the debate, regardless of any we-just-want-the-best-thing-for-the-football-team spin you'll probably be hearing over the next few months.
Let's deal with that first. There was probably a time when community ownership of the Bombers was not only essential but a source of civic pride. While other CFL teams took turns floundering under private owners, the Bombers, Roughriders and Eskimos remained solid league citizens.
Today, most of the strongest franchises are operated by well-heeled businessmen -- the David Braleys, the Robert Wetenhalls and Bob Youngs -- who aren't shy about spending to make their teams competitive, with varying results.
When the Bombers were $5.4 million in the glue not so long ago, private ownership might have been considered, but only as a last resort. Now that the organization has scraped and clawed its way out of the poor house, suddenly handing the reigns of control over to a private businessmen isn't nearly as appetizing.
The point, however, is that while private ownership has its drawbacks, obviously community ownership isn't a panacea, either. Why private ownership of the Bombers is considered taboo in some quarters is a bit of a head-scratcher. The Goldeyes and Moose are privately owned and both organizations are light years ahead of the Bombers when it comes to marketing and promotion -- and profit, for that matter.
Meanwhile, the Bombers under community ownership, haven't won a Grey Cup since 1990. That's going on two decades, folks, into a period of time referred to as "a generation."
Look, we're not saying that Asper's ambitious bid should be given any more merit then that of Ledohowski. But it shouldn't be penalized because it involves the transfer of power from the board to a private citizen, either. Come to think of it, won't this decision inevitably boil down to the awkward and potential conflict of interest situation where the Bombers board members will essentially be deciding their own fate?
I mean, they have the control now, right? And now they've got to choose between two proposals -- one where they retain power, the other where they don't?
Don't know about you, but that seems to be a situation fraught with questions.
At the same time, the Ledohowski proposal is essentially adopting (or hijacking) an earlier plan that was presented and funded by the football club itself. Seriously, if I'm Asper, I'm not exactly liking my chances if the Bombers are already in bed with the competing bid.
Here's one motto to live by: Don't believe what people say, believe what they do. The Bombers' board members, under president Ken Hildahl, are on record saying they will judge the proposals without bias and make a final decision that's in the best interest of the club. Frankly, their actions are saying something quite different.
You can question some of Asper's antics in the past. You can even question whether the vice-president of CanWest Global can even raise the scratch to pay for his vision. But you can't question his commitment to the Bombers or the sincerity of the bid.
The Bombers board has been saying a lot about fairness and impartiality.
Maybe it's time they actually did something that didn't scream the exact opposite.