Com­mu­nity- owned? BOMBERS NEEDS TO BE RUN LIKE A BUSI­NESS, not a club Punt­that

SundayXtra - - THIS CITY - BART­LEY KIVES bart­ley. kives@ freep­ress. mb. ca

THERE are peo­ple who be­lieve in all sorts of fan­ci­ful things in Man­i­toba that un­for­tu­nately do not ex­ist. You know, like Sasquatch, Ma­ni­pogo, bal­anced provin­cial bud­gets and a com­mu­nity- owned Cana­dian Football League fran­chise.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers are not a com­mu­nity- owned football club. What’s of­fi­cially known as the Win­nipeg Football Club is a non- profit or­ga­ni­za­tion with­out any form of pub­lic own­er­ship what­so­ever.

Yet the myth per­sists that the Blue & Gold are some­how com­mu­nity- owned. The main cul­prit is the club it­self, which glee­fully per­pet­u­ates the fic­tion.

“As a com­mu­nity- owned team, we are re­spon­si­ble to our long­time and sup­port­ive fans,” reads a mis­lead­ing pas­sage in the oth­er­wise ex­cel­lent his­tory sec­tion of the of­fi­cial fran­chise web­site, www. blue­bombers. com.

This sim­ply isn’t true. No pub­lic en­tity owns the club. The City of Win­nipeg doesn’t own the team. Nei­ther does the prov­ince, Ot­tawa, a Crown cor­po­ra­tion or any of the mul­ti­tudes of quasi- non- gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies — “quan­gos,” as the Bri­tish glee­fully call them — that con­duct the af­fairs of govern­ment with­out be­ing sub­ject to pesky gov­ern­men­tal rules.

While the city and prov­ince did plunk down $ 190 mil­lion of the $ 200 mil­lion re­quired to build In­vestors Group Field — and only ex­pect to re­coup $ 160 mil­lion, plus in­ter­est, over sev­eral decades — Main Street and Broad­way don’t own so much as the chin­strap on Max Hall’s hel­met.

Sim­i­larly, Bombers fans have noth­ing re­motely re­sem­bling own­er­ship of the Win­nipeg Football Club. Yes, ticket buy­ers pay for the bulk of the club’s ex­penses, but that doesn’t trans­late into own­er­ship. Be­ing a cus­tomer does not make you an owner: No mat­ter how many times you buy a Big Mac, you still don’t own a piece of McDon­ald’s.

So what is the Win­nipeg Football Club? As gov­er­nance ex­pert An­drew Moreau pointed out in th­ese pages a week ago, the club is a cor­po­ra­tion with­out share cap­i­tal. What that means is no in­di­vid­ual owns any piece of the team, which is run by a board of di­rec­tors.

In this way, the Win­nipeg Football Club is no dif­fer­ent than hun­dreds if not thou­sands of other non- profit or­ga­ni­za­tions in Man­i­toba. Bombers fans have no more of an own­er­ship stake in the football club than, say, Win­nipeg Folk Fes­ti­val pa­trons have in the an­nual sum­mer shindig or Folk­lo­rama at­ten­dees have in the Win­nipeg Folk Arts Coun­cil: Which is to say, no stake what­so­ever.

There is such a thing as a com­mu­nity- owned football team. The NFL’s Green Bay Pack­ers, which op­er­ates in the small­est mar­ket in North Amer­i­can ma­jor pro­fes­sional sport, has sold stock to the pub­lic five times over the past 80 years.

No in­di­vid­ual can own more than 200 Green Bay shares, which don’t ac­tu­ally al­low their hold­ers to have any di­rect say in the way the Pack­ers op­er­ates. But those share­hold­ers do elect a board of di­rec­tors, which in turn ap­points an ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee that ac­tu­ally runs the NFL club.

You would think Win­nipeg would be ea­ger to model it­self af­ter Green Bay, con­sid­er­ing how this city wound up with its name. Win­nipeg is named af­ter Lake Win­nipeg, which was accidentally handed the same name the French gave to an al­gae- cov­ered sec­tion of Lake Su­pe­rior: Green Bay, which the Je­suits called “Baye des Puans.” That trans­lates into “Bay of Stinkards” in English and sim­ply “Ouinipeg” in Al­go­nquin. But I di­gress.

In­stead, Regina would copy the Pack­ers’ model. The Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers, which play in the CFL’s small­est mar­ket, re­tooled their own­er­ship model a decade ago to re­sem­ble that of the Green Bay NFL fran­chise. The Rid­ers have sold shares three times since 2004, set a limit of 20 shares per per­son and are gov­erned by an 11- mem­ber board of di­rec­tors.

The Win­nipeg Football Club has no share­hold­ers. But the club has made a to­ken ef­fort to ap­point one mem­ber of the pub­lic to the board. Af­ter ac­cept­ing nom­i­na­tions from the pub­lic, the Bombers board will se­lect a sin­gle per­son to sit within its midst. As Moreau pointed out, this isn’t quite the same as ac­tu­ally al­low­ing fans to elect some­one.

Given the hor­rific re­cent per­for­mance of the Win­nipeg Football Club, both on and off the field, fans can be jus­ti­fied in won­der­ing whether it makes sense to run a pro­fes­sional sports fran­chise with an un­ac­count­able board. It’s also fair to con­sider whether the club would be bet­ter off with no board what­so­ever.

Five years ago, this sort of talk was con­tro­ver­sial. In 2008, many fans freaked out when lawyer- phi­lan­thropist- en­tre­pre­neur David Asper — now vice- chair­man of the Bombers board — sought to pur­chase the club.

At the time, some fans were con­cerned about the spec­tre of pri­va­ti­za­tion, not real­iz­ing the club is al­ready a pri­vate en­tity, even if it does not ex­ist to max­i­mize a profit for any owner.

To­day, many of those same fans might wel­come a pri­vate owner. But there are few busi­ness­peo­ple in­sane enough to ac­quire a football club that’s cur­rently in the midst of pay­ing off $ 95 mil­lion worth of sta­di­um­con­struc­tion debt. A deal to hand the Bombers over to a pri­vate owner would re­sem­ble the NHL’s sale of the Phoenix Coy­otes, which ef­fec­tively in­volved pay­ing an owner to buy the hockey team. But un­like in Glen­dale, Ariz., there is no sucker of a mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Man­i­toba to bankroll such a crazy plan.

In other words, don’t ex­pect True North Sports & En­ter­tain­ment to sud­denly skate into the Bombers pic­ture, as much as many Win­nipeg sports fans wish that would hap­pen.

The best fans can and should de­mand: A) the elim­i­na­tion of the Bombers board’s power to ap­point its own mem­bers; B) a tran­si­tion to a trans­par­ent ap­point­ment process; and C) the trans­fer of power over all op­er­a­tions to an ex­ec­u­tive man­age­ment group that will suc­ceed the cri­sis- man­age­ment ef­forts of in­terim CEO Wade Miller.

As my col­league Gary Law­less wrote on Satur­day, any­thing less than whole­sale change will re­sult in fans giv­ing up on the Bombers. Fans can ac­cept los­ing — heck, they’ve got used to it over the past 23 years — but they must be given hope.

Start with the lit­tle stuff. Stop pre­tend­ing a pro sports fran­chise is a “com­mu­nity- owned football club” and start run­ning it like a busi­ness, not a club.

Clock­wise from top Brock Bul­buck will su

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