Creative solution

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

So much for the idea the Winnipeg Blue Bomber board doesn't want to go near privatization with a 10-foot pole.

There's this theory out there that most board members would rather swallow a handful of artificial turf than sell off a team that's been community-owned for 76 years.

If that's the case, they've got a funny way of showing it.

Yesterday, the volunteers around that board table -- the same ones who invited private proposals in the first place -- pulled a trick out of the play book and passed the ball in the direction of David Asper's new stadium plan.

Asper's vision includes his taking over the team, lock, stock and jock strap.

So why Asper over Leo Ledohowski, whose plan for a domed stadium in St. Boniface would keep the team publicly owned?

Because, on the whole, it makes more sense, and is probably less risky for the football club.

Personally, I'm not surprised the board called Asper's number.

The guy has pockets you could lose your arms in, impressive political connections and a pretty spectacular vision of an open-air stadium at the site of the current one.

Board chair Ken Hildahl has said all along they'd do whatever is best for the long-term stability of the team, and yesterday they proved they meant it.

"The board took a step back," Hildahl said. "Our role was to set aside all personal preferences, personal ambitions, and do what truly is in the best interest of the football club." Having Asper as an ally can't hurt.

The fact they ruffled the feathers of a major corporate partner in Ledohowski -- he's not impressed he had to hear the news through the media -- suggests they are taking the long-term view.

Now comes the interesting part.

Asper yesterday reiterated his demand to own the team, and it didn't sound like a negotiable point.

But the Bombers are going to present a compromise that would see some kind of public/private partnership.

"We've got a clear vision," Hildahl said, calling it a hybrid of traditional community and private ownership.

He wouldn't go into detail, because those very points will be on the negotiating table over the next few weeks. You don't try to work a business deal by first revealing your hand.

But Hildahl did say the ownership model he has in mind is pretty much an invention from scratch. There's nothing like it out there.

And it's something that provides "safeguards for the fans" in the event of Asper or any future owner wanting out.

Presumably, Hildahl and Co. have learned a thing or two from watching recent owners bail out on teams in Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto.

Of course, after being appointed to oversee this team when it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in 2000, they've also learned there's no appetite for future public bailouts.

"I haven't changed my love of community-owned football," the chairman said. "But is that feasible, moving forward?" Probably not in its present form, particularly when there's a stadium to build.

So, a unique combination of public and private ownership, working together in a gorgeous new facility centrally located at Polo Park -- sounds like a creative, made-in-Winnipeg solution.

Also sounds a bit too good to be true.

Who'd call the shots? And whose cheque would cover that inevitable money-losing season?

The team's off-season survey of season-ticket holders shows a real split over the issue, with older fans generally favouring the status quo. No doubt some are dead-set against going private.

For the record, I'm not one of them.

I just think you need to examine every option before you gamble.

The Bombers, to their credit, are deep into the play book on this one.


Videos

Photos