Privatize team or not?

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

To privatize or not to privatize the Winnipeg Blue Bombers -- that is the $9 million question.

I say $9 million because that's probably what a CFL team in this market is worth, give or take a million.

As you've heard by now, the people who run our community-owned football team are considering what once would have been unthinkable: selling off part or all of the organization to private interests.

They're not considering this drastic action on a whim. It's more a matter of long-term survival.

The No. 1 reason this is even on the table is the need for a new stadium, one that would provide more comforts for the fan and more revenue for the team.

Without it, the Bombers are a year-to-year, hand-to-mouth operation, too dependent on league revenue, good weather for home games and a good product on the field. If two of those three go, the team's immediately bleeding cash.

Local media mogul David Asper has a proposal that would see him pick up part of the tab (he hasn't said how much) for a 30,000-seat, $100-million, partially-covered facility in exchange for an ownership stake in the team.

Asper first tabled his idea last spring. He'll likely present it to the full Bomber board of directors within two weeks.

The directors -- business and community leaders, including former Bomber player Joe Poplawski and former GM Paul Robson -- will then be faced with the most critical decision in the 76-year history of the Winnipeg Football Club.

To their credit, they're not taking it lightly.

And it appears they're going to do their homework.

It would be easy to grab the first deal that comes along. Take Asper's money and run.

But the board is first going to call for other proposals to see if there are any different ideas out there. We're not just talking stadium proposals, either.

Since the Bombers have full control of the existing stadium and surrounding property, they're looking into commercial partnerships, too.

"At the end of the day, the ownership (of the team) may not even be an issue," board chairman Ken Hildahl told the Sun yesterday.

"It might just be a private partnership on the development side."

Hildahl says the board will listen to all proposals.

Most importantly, though, it should then be listening to us.

We, the community, have invested millions of dollars into this team over the years.

Every ticket, hat or jersey we've ever bought, every fundraising dinner or social we've attended and every dollar that's ever been given to the Bombers through government grants or bailouts represents our investment. To say nothing of the emotional investment of fans.

You don't just kiss that off and hand it over to anybody without checking with us first.

Hildahl promises they'll do that.

"Even though, legally, the board has the right to make that decision, citizens have to have some input," he said. "We don't want it to be a boardroom deal where, all of a sudden, people are asking what went on. We owe it to the community to do an open and transparent process."

That'll mean public forums where you can have your say.

Private ownership has its benefits, mainly financial.

It also has its risks.

What's to stop your team from being sold to an American owner 10, 20 years down the road? And what if he runs it into the ground?

Ask fans in Ottawa what that's like. Or Montreal (remember the old Alouettes and the Concordes?).

Privately owned teams in Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton have gone bankrupt over the last few years. When's the last time a community-owned team went under?

Consider all this when the Blue Bombers come looking for your input, probably in six to eight months.

Hold the team accountable for what it does.

It is, after all, your team.

For now.


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