Gliebermans setting sights on Windsor

Lonie Glieberman and his father Bernie are looking to expand the CFL into the Windsor-Detroit area....

Lonie Glieberman and his father Bernie are looking to expand the CFL into the Windsor-Detroit area. (Ottawa Sun File Photo)

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

Not ready to give up on attempts to get back in the CFL, the Gliebermans have started knocking on another door.

This one is even close to their house.

Former Rough Riders owners Bernie and Lonie Glieberman have had "preliminary" discussions with city officials in Windsor about pursuing an expansion franchise, probably for the 2007 or 2008 season. The Gliebermans, who were negotiating to buy the Renegades, possess CFL ownership rights in and around their home town of Detroit.

"We have interest in the Detroit-Windsor area, it's a great market with a lot of potential," Lonie Glieberman confirmed from his ski resort in upper Michigan yesterday. "But (talk) is still in the early stages."

Conversations have consisted of one face-to-face meeting and four conference calls thus far, Windsor city officials acknowledged. CFL headquarters has yet to be informed of the interest, but commissioner Tom Wright has an expressed desire to add a 10th franchise. Halifax and Quebec City are also considered potential sites.

STADIUM UPGRADE

Loading up with a fourth Ontario team would seem a feasible option. Windsor could draw from a population of 5.5 million within a 65-km radius. The University of Windsor is finishing a new $7.5 million stadium for the 2005 Pan American Junior Championships this summer. Upgraded to an 18,000-22,000-seat stadium, the facility could become an interim home to a CFL club.

The Gliebermans have also held discussions with authorities at the 80,000-seat Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, where they would sign a lease except for the fact the structure's very existence has been in doubt since the Detroit Lions left, according to one insider.

Another source said that setting up in Windsor would allow the CFL to "stick a toe in the waters" of a U.S. marketplace -- as opposed to diving in recklessly as was the case with American expansion in the early 1990s.

For his part, Lonie Glieberman still thinks the CFL could thrive in his homeland. He says the failed experiment of 10 years ago can be put directly on the fact the Baltimore Stallions and Memphis Mad Dogs lost concessions and signage when pushed out of their markets by the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans.

"We were still drawing 17,000 in Shreveport, it's not like there was no interest," said Glieberman, who owned the Pirates after leaving Ottawa. "The CFL still did okay.

"I think a lot of Americans follow and care about the CFL. Things like that just take some time."

While they would fully support another move south, it's not the Gliebermans' sole intention to bring the Canadian game across the border. They would, in fact, be quite happy to purchase and operate the Renegades should they go up for sale on the open market the way Brad Watters' house did.

"We think the CFL is on an upswing, as evidenced by attendance and TV ratings," Lonie said. "We think the CFL brand has lots of opportunities."

Lonie says negotiations to buy into the Ottawa franchise as co-owner Bill Smith's partner stopped for reasons they did not fully comprehend. ("Business deals don't always go to completion, and I guess this is an example of that," he said.) And not, as is continuously reported elsewhere, because Joe Paopao was rehired as coach and GM.

"It was nothing to do with Joe, it was the way it was handled," he said. "If they wanted to keep him, and (GM) Eric (Tillman) we would have had no problem with it ... but it was never communicated to us.

"We were not in the position to say Joe was the right guy or not .... but no one ever told us they were going to rehire him and we were negotiating to buy into the team."

Glieberman takes issue with comments attributed to Randy Gillies, who is Smith's equal partner. Gillies has apparently suggested rumours of the Gliebermans' return has hurt season-ticket sales -- which is interesting given the fact ownership has repeatedly said ticket sales are going well.

TAKES BLAME FOR PAST

"I'll take responsibility for things we did wrong when we were there .... Dexter Manley and anything else," said Glieberman, whose attendance numbers here were better than anything ever produced by the Renegades. "But for them to blame me for slow renewals ... I think those folks should look at themselves before putting the blame on owners who were there 11 years ago."


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