Bauer's goal: Success for franchise

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Lyle Bauer just wants the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to be a viable and successful CFL franchise well into the future.

If that includes private ownership, so be it.

The team's president and CEO was responding to a report yesterday that local businessman David Asper, a former Winnipeg Football Club chairman, has proposed to the Manitoba government and City of Winnipeg to buy a stake in the team and operate it as a public-private venture.

The Bombers are one of three community-owned teams in the CFL and have been that way since their inception in 1930.

FINANCIAL RENAISSANCE

Bauer, who was made aware of the proposal earlier this year but hasn't seen it, said Asper isn't the only one interested in partnering with the franchise, which has enjoyed a financial renaissance over the last five years.

"Regardless, the task at hand here for us, with what we know today, is to stabilize the club and continue to work toward the future," Bauer said. "And that's what we've been doing.

"Now, if somebody else decides along the way that that's going to change, then so be it. But that's not for me to decide.

"... Those decisions, those discussions, will be held with the board of directors and with others."

The specific details of Asper's proposal aren't known, and the CanWest Global executive vice-president wasn't willing to discuss the issue yesterday.

"It's obviously disappointing that there has been some public discussion of a matter that was agreed to be kept private," Asper said from Toronto.

"I'm not going to be influenced by what others say and do and I am going to continue to respect the agreement that was made among myself, the province, the city and the football club to not discuss this publicly until after the Grey Cup -- or even privately."

Coincidentally, Asper is co-chairman of the 2006 Grey Cup, which will be played at Canad Inns Stadium on Nov. 19.

Asper has always been a big Bomber supporter, even though he resigned from the club's board of directors last September after a post-game incident in which he berated Bauer, former head coach Jim Daley and a player as they were walking off the field.

"David's a big fan and he's a friend, in spite of the incident that happened last year," Bauer said.

As for the public-private part of the proposal, however, Bauer isn't sure how that would work.

"Somebody is going to want to have control," he said.

Regardless, Bauer is happy that someone is interested in the team, because no one would touch it with a 10-foot pole five years ago, when it was on its death bed.

"The good thing is the football club has gone from zero franchise value to probably, I don't know, a $7- to $10-million franchise," Bauer said. "We've gone from five-and-a-half-million dollar debt to hopefully this year, after a successful Grey Cup, to having a couple million in the bank. People have taken notice of that.

" ... The club is at a completely different stage of its life than it was five or six years ago. It hasn't been this financially healthy in decades, but we still have to move forward. This isn't the end of it. This is just the start of it.

"So I think the board will look at a whole variety of things after this season's over, after we have a great Grey Cup. The future is very wide open."

Manitobans would likely have a say on the Blue Bombers' future if the team is ever put on the market, the chairman of the Winnipeg Football Club said yesterday.

A sale or partnership would require approval from the CFL team's board of directors but not before fans had a chance to speak, Ken Hildahl said.

"We would probably hold some public forums to discuss this issue because we've got a long, storied history as a publicly owned team that people take a lot of pride in," Hildahl said. "Our role as board members is to represent the interests of the broad community."

Hildahl said the board wouldn't need the city or province's seal of approval if the team or a stake of it was sold.

Where would the money go if that were to happen? That's a question that hasn't been explored, Hildahl said.

"That would be part of a community consultation," he said.


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