Renegades CEO John Lisowski ended 15 months of silence yesterday when he opened the team's financial books for the Sun, revealing what he says are harsh and ugly truths that help explain why pro football isn't working in Ottawa.
Included is a bottom line that he says shows the franchise has dropped $10 million in its three years of existence.
"People want to know how we could lose money drawing 22,000 (to home games)? We're not drawing 22,000," Lisowski said in his first and only business-discussing interview with the media since he took over the day-to-day operations of the club Feb. 2, 2004. "I'm tired of the lies."
The biggest misconception of all involves season ticket numbers that were portrayed to be in the 12,500 neighbourhood last year. He said the actual number was 8,700, up from 8,300 in 2003.
With training camp just four weeks away, Lisowski said the Renegades have about 4,300 season tickets sold for 2005.
"We need the support of the fans," he said.
Clearly, it hasn't been strong enough to date.
In figures released by the team last season, an average of 23,160 fans attended games at Frank Clair Stadium. Lisowski, however, said that actual paid attendance was 16,300 -- which was up from 15,800 the year before.
"All the rest were comps," he said. "We papered the house because we couldn't get people to buy tickets."
According to Lisowski, the Renegades lost $2 million in 2004 (which doesn't include more than $2 million made by the franchise in hosting the Grey Cup) as well as $4.4 million in 2003 and $3.6 million in 2002. But Lisowski still thinks there's hope.
"If we could get 18,000-18,500, we could break even," he said.
Yesterday, Renegades owners Randy Gillies and Bill Smith (through his representative) met with CFL commissioner Tom Wright, who is being urged by league governors to fix the problem in Ottawa. While it's believed some progress was made in reaching a settlement that would see Gillies step away, Wright emerged from the meeting tight lipped, as did Gillies.
"We're trying to do everything we can to make the whole thing work," said Gillies, who expects discussions will continue today. "It's a difficult thing, a complicated thing."
If Gillies releases his shares, Smith will partner with Detroit millionaire Bernie Glieberman, who will become a 51% owner of the team.
Asked if he thought the Renegades could succeed with Glieberman climbing aboard, Lisowski responded "absolutely." Asked what would happen if Glieberman does not wind up buying into the team, Lisowski was succinct in his assessment.
"It will not succeed," he said.
"The Gliebermans told the truth when they were here," continued Lisowski, referring to a two-year period (1992-1993) during which Bernie and his son Lonie owned the Rough Riders. "They lost a ton of money, but they got the fans to come out and made the tickets less expensive. The Gliebermans, I believe, will be our partners. If not the Gliebermans, the league (will have to take over)."
Before any transaction is completed, it's believed a new stadium lease has to first be in place with the city. The last lease expired in 2004, and Lisowski is currently negotiating a new five-year deal.
The Gliebermans are still criticized today for lease disagreements they had in the '90s, which is why they'd likely back away if a new deal isn't soon signed.
"They got a bad rap when they were here," said Lisowski. "Everybody thinks they ran out on the team, but very few remember there were two subsequent owners (Bruce Firestone, Horn Chen) that drove it into the ground. The Gliebermans were the most successful owners we had here."
Lisowski said no others groups or individuals have interest in buying into the team.
A spokesman for Senators owner Eugene Melnyk shot down rumours the Biovail billionaire could step in.
"Yes, Eugene is aware of the current uncertainty surrounding the future of the Renegades, but he has no interest in acquiring the team," Ken Villazor said in a statement. "He fully appreciates how significant the CFL and the Renegades are to the Ottawa fans ... he remains hopeful the league and the current owners can resolve their differences."
BY THE NUMBERS
The following financial numbers were provided to the Sun by Renegades CEO John Lisowski:
2002 season tickets -- 9,300; Average game day -- 8,500; Average attendance -- 17,800.
2003 season tickets -- 8,300; Average game day -- 7,500 Average attendance -- 15,800.
2004 season tickets -- 8,700; Average game day -- 7,600; Average attendance -- 16,300
THE BOTTOM LINE
2002 -- The Renegades lost $3.6 million.
2003 -- The Renegades lost $4.4 million.
2004 -- The Renegades lost $2 million.
EXPENDITURES ON FOOTBALL
2002 -- $5.8 million
2003 -- $6 million
2004 -- $6.3 million
(rental, game-day operations, etc.)
2002 -- $800,000
2003 -- $800,000
2004 -- $650,000
Expenditures on Marketing and Administration
2002 -- $4.7 million
2003 -- $5 million
2004 -- $3.4 million