New stadium key to saving ownership

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers don't get a new stadium, the team may have to be privatized, ending a 75-year tradition of community ownership.

Chairman Gene Dunn says the club won't be able to compete in the CFL without a new facility, or, at least, a dramatically altered Winnipeg Stadium.

"In the absence of additional revenue streams, what is the answer? A white knight to come along and say, 'I'll buy it,' " Dunn said. "That always is an option, always has been and always will be."

It should be pointed out Dunn doesn't prefer that option.

FIRM BELIEVER

In fact, he's a firm believer in the community ownership that's seen the Bombers through so many crises over the years.

New stadium or not, we can't help but wonder: Can the Bombers become another Edmonton, a wealthy, community-owned team that's always in the playoffs?

Or are they destined to wallow with Saskatchewan, constantly pinching pennies and competing only occasionally?

"As we get out of the hole we're in, we'll be able to compete with anybody," president/CEO Lyle Bauer vowed.

The answer lies in the team's rainy day fund.

Despite a 2004 season in which attendance sagged, the club will add some $500,000 to what Bauer calls its "war chest," boosting the fund to around $1 million.

Hosting the 2006 Grey Cup could easily triple that amount, cushioning the team from future losses -- and precluding the need for a private owner.

"Either that fund is big enough that the club can withstand the ups and downs, or there has to be somebody who will write a cheque," board member David Asper said.

Asper was ready to do just that five years ago, figuring buying the team, paralyzed by a $5 million-plus debt, was the only way to save it.

But a restructured management, some creative fundraising and debt forgiveness have it on the verge of being in the black.

"At one point I was convinced it needed private ownership," Asper said. "I'm not so sure anymore."

As for Bauer, he's a believer in community-ownership, pointing out Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatchewan have bailed out private owners over the years.

"Private ownership, it's maybe too easy to lay that off on the guy with the big wallet, until he walks away," Bauer said. "Hopefully, if there's a change in that direction it won't be predicated on finances."

I get the feeling the community would revolt if this team were privatized.

So the people who run it had better try everything else, first.


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