Tough sell ahead

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

David Asper has quite a sell job on his hands, and it begins tomorrow.

The executive vice-president of CanWest Global Communications will meet tomorrow with the full board of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to present his vision for the future of the club, the Sun has learned.

It's a vision that includes Asper taking over part, or all, of the CFL franchise, which has been community-owned for 76 years.

A former Bomber board chairman himself, Asper's proposal is expected to include an offer to contribute toward the construction of a new, partially covered stadium at the Polo Park site.

This will be the 11-person board's first look at the proposal, which Asper initially floated last May.

The stadium plan will be enticing. Asper will propose a 28,000- to 30,000-seat facility, complete with private luxury suites, indoor washrooms and concessions and covered seating areas, but a field open to the elements.

The estimated cost of the stadium: $100-$120 million, some of which would likely be public funds.

The Bombers desperately need the new facility to increase revenue.

But Asper faces a tough sell in convincing board members to privatize the team.

"At this point, the board is still committed to public ownership," chairman Ken Hildahl told the Sun in a recent interview. "But we've got to keep an open mind."

At this point, Asper's proposal is the only one on the table.

But the Bombers are preparing to put out a formal call for others, including proposals for commercial development on the existing stadium site, which the team controls.

Hildahl has previously said the ownership of the team may not even be on the table when all is said and done.

He also made it clear where he stands, personally, on the issue.

"I'm a die-hard Winnipeg Football Club fan who loves the tradition of public ownership," he said. "I also want to make sure whatever we decide on, there's football for my kids and grandkids.

"My preference, no question, is public ownership. But there may be a different model here that benefits the team."

Reached yesterday, Hildahl says Asper's proposal will be taken "under advisement." Previously, he's said he'd like a decision on the issue within six to 10 months.

He also promised, in an interview last week, not to make a back-room deal without input from the team's fan base.

"There's been a lot of volunteer effort put in over the years," Hildahl said. "We'll hold a fairly extensive consultation with the public and football fans. Just to get their input."

The final decision, though, will come from the board, made up of community leaders and business people, including former player Joe Poplawski and Red River Exhibition boss Paul Robson, a former player and GM.

Asper has long been a supporter of the franchise, through his family-owned media conglomerate. He was Bomber chairman during the club's restructuring six years ago, when it got on the road to financial recovery.

His stint as a board member, though, wasn't without controversy.

CONFRONTATION

During the 2005 season, Asper got into a heated confrontation with then-head coach Jim Daley after a loss to Saskatchewan that effectively ended the team's playoff hopes.

The incident led to Asper's resignation from the board.

This past season, he served as co-chairman of the Grey Cup committee, throwing a media party at his Wellington Crescent mansion to kick off the week.

There's little question Asper has deep enough pockets to run a team in the CFL.

What kind of owner would he make?

Bomber board members will begin mulling that over tomorrow.


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