Free Press Exclusive: A new Blue super structure
Asper prepared to contribute $40 million toward $120-M stadium
Sun Jan 14 2007
By Ed Tait | Winnipeg Free Press
BUSINESS mogul David Asper will huddle up with the Winnipeg Blue Bomber board of directors Sunday afternoon to pitch his plan to take the club private and help fund a new stadium.
The Free Press has obtained a copy of Asper's confidential proposal, including the architectural drawings and a 2 1/2-minute promotional DVD that will be shown to the Bomber board.
And while all the details will be released later Sunday after his meeting with the club's executives, The Free Press has also learned the plan calls for an injection of $40 million of Asper's money toward a new $120-million facility.
It would also include $40 million from both the federal and provincial governments and the donation of the land from the city -- Asper is said to have had informal discussions with all three political representatives from all three levels -- and would be built on the current site at Polo Park.
If his proposal is agreed on by the Bomber directors, construction on the facility would begin this fall, replace the existing 54-year-old Canad Inns Stadium and be completed in time for the 2008 Canadian Football League season.
A private corporation would then run the football club and the on-site retail/commercial aspect of the plan, scheduled to begin in 2008. It would also mean the end of the Bombers' 76-plus years of community ownership. The team has been run by a non-profit organization managed by a board of directors since its inception in 1930.
* Local business mogul David Asper would gain complete control of the football club in exchange for his $40 million contribution toward a new $120-million facility and on-site retail/commercial component which would begin development in 2008.
* Details of how the public can view the plan will be released Sunday. But Asper's proposal would also call for the Bomber board to reach a decision in an expedited manner rather than have the process dragged out by weeks or months of public consultation so the team can be playing in the new facility by 2008. If accepted, construction on the new facility would begin immediately afterward.
WHAT WOULD CHANGE?
* Asper's proposal would bring to an end 76 years of community ownership and the Bombers -- in addition to the retail/commercial operation -- would then be run by a private corporation.
Currently the Bombers are run by a nine-person board of volunteer directors, which oversees the day-to-day operations handled by president and CEO Lyle Bauer.
THE POTENTIAL UPSIDE
* Football fans would watch Bomber games in a state-of-the-art facility with many of the bells and whistles baseball and hockey supporters already enjoy with CanWest Global Park and MTS Centre.
Canad Inns Stadium, the current home of the team, was built 54 years ago and needs millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades. Many fans also complain of the cramped spaces between seats in the East and West grandstands.
* The Bombers posted an operating loss of $480,094 in 2005 -- their first loss in five years. The club entered the 2006 season with an accumulated debt of $697,882, down significantly from the $5.4 million in 2000 that drove the franchise to the brink of bankruptcy. The debt is expected to be wiped clean when the team completes its '06 financial statement, including a $2 million to $3 million windfall from playing host to the 2006 Grey Cup.
The retail and commercial development would help provide the team with the outside revenue sources it has been seeking for years and make it less gate-dependent.
* Details are scarce here, but it's believed the plan would see the establishment of a 'Touchdown Foundation' to benefit amateur football in Manitoba as well as a permanent Blue Bomber hall of fame.
THE POSSIBLE DOWNSIDE
* Private ownership, as many CFL fans across the country are painfully aware, has hardly been a panacea for other franchises. Both Ottawa and Montreal have gone long stretches without CFL teams after private owners left those franchises bankrupt.
* The CFL has implemented a new salary management system for this season in a move to level the competitive playing field between private and publicly owned teams. All teams must now adhere to a $4.05 million salary cap or face fines. If it works, that would narrow the gap between public and private. Three of the eight CFL teams -- Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Edmonton -- are community owned, the other five are private operations.
Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, it's worth noting, are also suffering through the longest championship droughts in the CFL. The Roughriders' last Grey Cup title came in 1989, the Bombers' last title came a year later.
-- Ed Tait
Asper would not comment on any aspect of his plan when reached at his Winnipeg home Saturday night, choosing instead "to respect the process.
"I'm disappointed that information continues to come out in bits and pieces," said Asper. "I look forward to presenting the entire proposal from top to bottom to the board (Sunday)."
The glitzy promotional DVD clearly outlines Asper's vision for the future of the football team, the centrepiece of which would be a "world-class stadium" that would serve as a "rallying point" a "sense of community spirit" and a "place of national pride."
While stressing the need for a new facility, the video also makes reference to the number of community benefits and the overwhelming success of the MTS Centre -- the home of the Manitoba Moose -- and how it was built through a private-public community partnership.
It also includes some of the new features of the stadium and how it could be constructed without interrupting use of the current facility through the 2007 season.
A key component of the Asper plan is the retail/commercial development that would spring up on-site along Empress Street. Revenue from those sources could be a lifeblood for the franchise, which has been seeking out new income streams for years to make it less dependent on ticket revenue from its 10 home dates per season.
Ironically, the Asper proposal comes at a time when the franchise is in its healthiest position in decades. As recently as 2000, the franchise was $5.4 million in debt and teetering on bankruptcy. But the Bombers expect to make roughly $2.5 million from playing host to the Grey Cup last November, a figure which would wipe out its debt -- $697,882 heading into the 2006 season.
The Bomber board is said to be ready to put out a call for proposals for commercial development and solicit interest from other potential private investors, but Asper is the only party to step forward to date.
Fans could stroll down a Blue Bomber Hall of Fame Walk.
The Asper plan does call for the Bomber board to make an expedited decision within the next few months so that, if accepted, the deal can be closed and construction on the new stadium can begin this year.
A source who will be involved in Sunday's meeting said the Bomber board will listen intently to the Asper plan. In fact, the source said it could be met positively by the Bomber board, some of whom are concerned that without a private partner stepping forward a new facility will never be built.
Asper's promotional DVD concludes with this message:
"It's all here and it's all doable -- together. The new Blue and a new state-of-the-art stadium fresh for kickoff in 2008. A chance to construct a landmark and grow a winning dynasty. It's time to show our true blue colours and make sure it happens today. A new stadium, retail development and a team, stronger than ever.
"It's the only way to ensure a stable future for the Bombers and a winning reputation for Winnipeg."
Grey Cup Championship first down markers would be on display.
Location: Essentially the same as the current facility, Canad Inns Stadium, although the West side grandstand would now adjunct St. James Avenue with parking and the retail/commercial development on the East side, facing Empress Street.
Seating: 30,000-40,000; partially covered.
Amenities: 24 private suites; 13 concession areas; 'Bomber Fan Fare' transit terminal; main entrance would face north on St. Matthews Avenue; Blue Bomber Hall of Fame Walk to honour players and builders; Blue Bomber interactive sculptures to honour the franchise and its great players; 'True Blue' fan interactive sculptures celebrating the team's diehard supporters; virtual advertising ring outside the stadium; JumboTrons at both north and south ends.
Parking: Plans call for a 2,100-space, two-floor parkade on-site as well as ground-level spaces on the East side between the stadium and proposed retail development.
Traffic flow: The designs call for the construction of an overhead exit ramp that would take traffic over St. James Street west toward Ness Avenue via an extension of St. Matthews Avenue.
The timeline: Phase 1: Construction would begin on the new West side immediately, without interruption to the current facility during 2007 CFL season.
Phase 2: After the '07 season, the existing East side and playing surface would be demolished to make way for the new grandstand. Stadium would then be ready for the opening of the 2008 CFL season.
Phase 3: Commercial and retail development to begin on East side facing Empress Street in 2008.
-- Ed Tait
COMMUNITY VERSUS PRIVATE
Background: The community-owned Winnipeg Football Club began operation in 1930 following the amalgamation of the teams in the Manitoba Rugby Union. It has been community-owned in the 76 years since.
HOW THE BOMBERS MAKE MONEY NOW
In the team's last financial statement (for the year 2005), the Bombers spent $6.6 million on football operations (player/coach salaries, scouting etc.), $2.56 million on marketing and administration and $1.03 million on stadium occupancy.
Those expenses were offset by $3.7 million in ticket revenue; $1.1 million from the Canadian Football League; $4.23 million in revenue generated from corporate sponsorships and $385,436 from stadium management. The team also generated $290,312 from community support and fundraising.
Bottom line: a loss of $480,094.
HOW THE BOMBERS WOULD MAKE MONEY UNDER ASPER'S PLAN
The revenue from game-day would likely increase from the interest in a new facility; CFL revenues are to boost with increase corporate sponsorship and a new TV deal; other revenue -- corporate sponsorship, merchandising, etc. -- would expected to be at least the same.
The commercial/real estate component could be worth a ton given the traffic that flows through the Polo Park area, but is difficult to put a value on not knowing lease agreements and who the tenants are may be.