Watters' eyes have opened

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

What seemed like a good idea at the time turned out to be nothing more than economic turmoil.

The kind of sales pitch credible enough to find its way to late-night informercials.

Brad Watters and partners -- we won't say friends because many of them aren't anymore -- never saw this coming. Not completely, anyhow.

They were going to be heroes, and not necessarily rich heroes. They were putting a football team back in Ottawa, back where the Canadian Football League should never have left. It was all supposed to be good news.

UNWORKABLE

They were about sport and they said they knew franchises -- what they didn't know was how unworkable the CFL is, then, now, seemingly forever.

Just three short seasons ago, they paid in the neighbourhood of $4 million to $6 million if you count what they paid the league for the right to hold the Grey Cup last season -- for an expansion franchise that today has no value at all. In a short time, depending on whose numbers you believe, the Renegades lost between $8 million and $10 million.

They were promised from the beginning that you could operate a CFL team on $5 million to $7 million a year. But the truth is, they spent $10 million in each of their seasons, including $1 million that went to Revenue Canada for non-disclosure of salaries.

They found out the player salary cap in the CFL is no cap at all.

They found out -- too late for their own good -- that no matter what they did, no matter how they did it, they couldn't come close to breaking even.

They thought that being host of the Grey Cup would be their economic salvation, but all it did was help them service debt.

"The league numbers," Watters, son of Bill, said, "were just erroneous."

Others have called the operation worse names than even that.

The Ottawa experience, if anything, should provide a cautionary tale for anyone else looking at an expansion franchise. Unless this a rich boy's writeoff or toy -- something with no expectation of financial return -- there is no way to make a CFL franchise viable. Not in Halifax. Not in Quebec City or London. Not anywhere.

The Ottawa market was supposed to be slam-dunk. After all, the city never really turned its back on the league. The local team had became such an embarrassment that the team turned off the city.

This was going to be a rebirth, just like in Montreal. Only they spent too much on operations, generated too little in revenue and soon the outgoing owners will sue the league for what they claim are false promises.

CAN'T-WIN SITUATION

For now, a desperate CFL turns back to the Glieberman family of Michigan and Shreveport fame, along with the fossil Forrest Gregg -- as if that's not a recipe for disaster -- because frankly, who else, would step in to this can't-win situation?

There is even some talk about bringing back Eric Tillman, the fired GM, who otherwise is on his way back to television.

None of which addresses the sad situation that this football franchise -- and many like it -- can't even break even.

One insider indicated yesterday that across the league, in what is considered the best of times, team profits amounted to $1.5 million, while team losses were upwards of $14 million.

The junior hockey franchise in Ottawa has a value of about $4 million. The professional football team is closer to four cents.

Sadly, the first time anyone mentioned the idea of going after a CFL team to Watters, his response was telling. "It's the CFL," he told me five years ago. "You can't make money on the CFL."

His instincts were correct. His actions were financially grim.

"I'm disappointed. We worked very hard at this," said Watters, who won't say much about the Ottawa situation and won't say how much money he lost, because he remains a part-owner of the Renegades and because down the road there may be lawsuits involved.

"I'm not negative about the CFL. I just understand it now. I know what you can and can't do.

"I still love the CFL and what it means to Canada. I always will."


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