Nobody panic!

CFL Commissioner Tom Wright poses for a photo at the Westin hotel in downtown Edmonton in this file...

CFL Commissioner Tom Wright poses for a photo at the Westin hotel in downtown Edmonton in this file photo. (Edmonton Sun/Walter Tychnowicz)

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:34 PM ET

Just when it seemed everything had been going smoothly for the Canadian Football League, a funny thing happened.

The off-season came and all heck broke loose, particularly within the past two weeks.

First, the Argos abandoned plans to build a stadium at York University, choosing to stay at the Rogers Centre, while claiming it made practical business sense and had the fans' best interests in mind.

Some people looked at it differently, attacking the integrity of the owners as if they were politicians who flip-flopped on a campaign promise.

That was followed by revelations that the year-long mess in Ottawa with the Renegades' shaky ownership had reached a state of crisis, notwithstanding the presence of suitors Bernie and Lonie Glieberman, the controversial father-and-son combination poised to take a second turn at running the franchise.

Lonie Glieberman spiced things up with an interview with The Ottawa Sun in which he talked about his life, including when he lost his virginity and the relationship he regretted not having in later years with an Ottawa Rough Riders cheerleader who had put her hands in his pockets.

Add to that the uncertain fate of commissioner Tom Wright, whose contract runs out at the end of this season. He is seeking a renewal, amid stories the board of governors either like him, love him or loathe him, depending on whom you ask.

So, has the recent negative press that has hit the league with the force of a bone-jarring tackle ruined what had been portrayed as a positive upswing in the CFL, what with big numbers in attendance, television ratings and sponsorships and talk of expansion to the Maritimes? Or, is this to be expected from a league that historically has problems yet somehow seems to overcome them.

Longtime Hamilton-based fan Mike Fraumeni indicated in an e-mail to The Toronto Sun that he has become almost indifferent to the negative news stories.

"In fact, the more negative press I read, the more this triggers me wanting to spend my entertainment dollar on the CFL," he wrote. "Of course, I am a huge football fan ... and believe that football, American and Canadian, is the best sport in existence for a variety of reasons."

Another fan, Mike Paternostro who is based in West Virginia, e-mailed The Sun during the daily stories about Wright's future and asked: What the hell is the problem with the league and its commissioners?

"From afar, it looks like the 'boys club' doesn't like a person with the ability of independent thought. It looks as though some of these owners don't have the league's best interests at heart.

"I grew up in Western New York and I bleed (Buffalo) Bills red, white and blue, but I don't like the NFL. I think the CFL has a better game, a more exciting game and I would rather watch it. But that ongoing soap opera ... it makes one wonder if they really want to be successful."

In the midst of this, Wright has talked about the importance of maintaining the momentum built up from last season.

"The business has moved forward very well, regardless of the distractions that have happened with the situation in Ottawa and the distractions regarding my renewal," Wright said. "Take a look at our initiatives to grow our broadcast business in the U.S. We're now in close to 70 million homes in the U.S.

"Take a look at our chief sponsors and the programs and initiatives they're building on. Reebok is the best example and you saw that with the introduction of our new uniforms across the league. Our Internet presence and our web strategy has been completely relaunched. There are some exciting programs we're putting in place that will allow us to (expand) that part of our business."

He talked about the pre-season game June 11 in Halifax between Toronto and Hamilton. It has been billed as Touchdown Atlantic and will be shown live on TSN, which normally doesn't televise pre-season game.

"A lot of people ask: 'Are you just doing that to test the waters for expansion?' " Wright said. "People talk about it as franchise expansion and we talk about it as market expansion. We've done our research and the one area of our country that is underdeveloped is Atlantic Canada.

"We've put together a long-term strategic plan and we have a have a strong business plan and my responsibility will be to go out and implement it and I plan to."

Bob Stellick, who runs Stellick Marketing and is familiar with challenges in running a sports business, having worked for the Maple Leafs during the Harold Ballard era, said the Wright issue indicates the CFL still has a long way to go. He thinks that's something the board of governors has to realize.

"Because the players don't make a lot of money, I think the media want the CFL to do well," Stellick said. "Even more so than the NHL in Canada, the CFL often gets a very fair shake in the media. I think it's very unfortunate when the (board) takes that and manipulates it. Sports is a difficult business ... The CFL very much relies on the average Joe to pay his or her money. That's part of the fragility of the league."

B.C. Lions owner David Braley, who acted as the interim chairman of the league before the hiring of Wright more than two seasons ago, said the stories of the past two weeks shouldn't have an adverse effect.

"I think the CFL has a very, very good long-term future," he said. "It's like the stock market. Over 100 years, there are going to be ups and downs but, on the overall, it's going to slant upward.

"I think since 1996 when we had those three bankruptcies in B.C., Montreal and Ottawa and we had to close Ottawa down ... we (were on the upswing) through '99. We faded off a bit in 2000, 2001, then we started to crawl up again."

So, don't fret. It's just the CFL. Everything is really good. The Argos are back home. The Renegades will play this season, whether they have new owners that include the Gliebermensches or the league takes over the team. And commander, er, commissioner Tom Wright is generally excited about talks to renew his contract and believes he'll be around for more than just the last year of his contract.

Hey, it's all good.

And, if you're not checking your calendar, CFL training camps open in two weeks.


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