Notebook – September 25, 2006

CFL television contracts, twelve questions for Ricky Williams, Ottawa frontrunners, a NFL Toronto franchise rumour rant and more in this edition of the Notebook.

Top 50 Initiative Leads to Contract Speculation

Last week TSN, in partnership with the CFL, announced the TSN Top 50 CFL Players campaign. A panel of media, former players, broadcasters and football executives will pick the top 50 CFL players from a modern era list of 185 nominees. The 50 players will be unveiled during Grey Cup week in November.

Of more interest to me was the article in the Toronto Star which read into the event positioning for the next CFL television contract. As I speculated last year about CBC‘s crumbling Canadian sports empire, TSN may be willing to keep the CFL contract to itself, and place the coveted Grey Cup on the national broadcast CTV network. TSN‘s event was part of the wooing process of the CFL, proving what kind of good partner they are in celebrating the game. They might not have to do much, considering the failings of the CBC with CFL broadcasts. 2008 is still a long time away, but I am hoping we will be watching the Grey Cup with TSN‘s crack team on the CTV network and actually not wishing the sound was off.

Williams’ Return Prompts Befuddled Reporters

Ricky Williams returned to the Toronto Argonaut line-up this week and reporters once again tried to get a peek at the real Ricky. Unfortunately when you ask sports cliché questions to Ricky, you get answers you do not expect.

The more I read interviews with Williams, the more I like him. I can see how he may not be accepted in all locker-room environments however. His type of laid-back style, nonchalant attitude would not mix well with the competitive, win-at-all-costs posture of some players.

I really dislike when reporters summarize Williams’ position in Toronto as “on loan to the Argonauts from the Miami Dolphins”. They might think it is an accurate description of the situation in ten words or less, but to loan something is to do it willingly, and I do not think the NFL or Dolphins were in favour of Williams circumventing his suspension.

Golden Gate Capital Group Are Serious

The Golden Gate Capital group with figurehead Jeff Hunt seem to be very serious about their bid for an Ottawa CFL franchise. On the eve of their sit-down presentation with the CFL Franchise Search committee some have placed their odds of obtaining a franchise at 3-1. I feel they will be the awardees of the franchise to start play in 2008. If they are not, and a franchise fee was the stumbling block, then the CFL blew it again despite all their strides in this process.

AstroTurf Bad, FieldTurf Good

In another stating the obvious article, a Vancouver Province reporter gets B.C. Lions players to start worrying about playing on the deadly Taylor Field. Hopefully losing that edge next year will not eliminate all of the psychological edge Taylor Field has over opponents. Like Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, the more the opposition worry about the playing conditions and how the home team has the advantage, the less they are focussing on preparing for the game.

NFL Aside Gets Toronto Excited

[Ed. – This is a long rant.]

An aside in a Peter King Sports Illustrated article that claimed that a Canadian consortium made a $1 billion feeler offer to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson with the intention of moving the team to Canada (Toronto specifically) has gotten some sports reporters and NFL fans in Toronto excited about the seriousness of the Tanenbaum/Rogers bid for an NFL team.

The topic was a hotly discussed on Monday, September 24’s edition of Prime Time Sports with Bob McCowan on Sportsnet and the Fan radio network. The Peter King article caused Globe and Mail writer Stephen Brunt to change his mind regarding the possibility of Toronto getting an NFL team. Arguing that this proves Toronto people have $1 billion to spend, therefore they will be gunning for the first NFL team on the auction block, likely the Buffalo Bills. Due to precedent with previous owners moving teams, the NFL will have no leverage to prevent the sale and the relocation of the team he argues. The Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts also agreed that if a Toronto group was predatory in nature, they could land a team and the NFL could not stand in their way. This is sounds very cut and dried, but leaves out a very important point. Would Toronto be the only group bidding? If not, would they be able to outbid any American investor or the NFL themselves, who if they really did not want the team to go to Toronto, could purchase the team for $1.5 billion if they wanted and flip it to a preferred owner? This was McCowan’s argument and raises a very good obstacle to any Toronto bid. Can you compete with the many billionaires in the US who are willing to pay anything for a franchise and put it in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Oklahoma City or a number of other places? The US-Canada dollar exchange rate may be in your favour today, but you don’t know for certain when a team may come available, so it may become a hindering factor in trying to compete with other bids.

If it is true that a solid group of individuals has come up with $1 billion needed to buy an NFL team, does that include Ted Rogers. Since the story first came out I was under the assumption Rogers was willing to put his own personal wealth at stake. However later media reports of that press conference interpreted Rogers’ comments as he was not willing to be an investor, but to be a corporate partner (sponsorships, etc.). If this is true, this leaves a major hole in the $1 billion necessary for a group. This is not to say that there is no group who has pooled the necessary funds, but I find it hard to believe there are these individuals willing to put up their private fortunes to this risk. It may seem that the NFL is a license to print money, but things could be a lot different in Canada.

Still, there are some Torontonion reporters that do not think it will happen, despite the efforts of a few individuals with a lot of cash. While Stephen Brunt believes the Buffalo Bills are a sitting duck, waiting for the passing of owner Ralph Wilson for the team’s days in Buffalo to be over. It may not be so cut and dried. I would not discount the NFL’s influence to find someone to bid on the team to keep it in Buffalo or to purchase it themselves in order to prevent the loss of the Bills history.

Certainly, the NFL has always opposed franchise relocation, and a move to Toronto only puts that as a double possibility. First the move into Toronto, then a move back to the US if the economic viability of a Toronto franchise does not work in the long term. The NFL is very aware of the situation in Canada, and plans by a consortium to plan a new stadium to be constructed in order to survive will not be looked upon favourably. The NFL likes stadiums with lots of public money, and it is very unlikely, even with governments friendly to the owners, that a new football only stadium would get any public money when the just over 15-year old SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) financial bath is still fresh in taxpayers minds. However, they need a larger stadium and they know it. So if no or little government money is available, will there be enough private money to build a $500 million 75,000-seat stadium? It would have to be enclosed because the NFL season runs September through January and Torontonians will not expect to be exposed to the Canadian weather conditions with their $1,000 tickets. Perhaps it would cost $1 billion then. I don’t know. This stadium will likely only be used 10 dates a year. Without a revenue stream it would be very hard to convince any bank to give you a loan to build such a stadium.

The NFL has a multitude of other reasons to oppose Toronto getting a franchise. First, it adds no value to the league, in its television deals (in fact in may subtract from their television deals in that they don’t grow as much as they could have at the next renewal) and in its franchise values. It does not open them up to a new, untapped market. They already have the Canadian market. They are interested in growth, and to do that they need to go somewhere besides Canada. Economic and political issues come into play. Would Toronto receive the same share of league TV revenues when they do not add anything to the value of the contract? Many owners may have a beef with that. Fielding a competitive team may also be a concern based on the experience of the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors. The exchange rate and budgets come into play, even with a hard salary cap, and players not wanting to play in Canada. Finally, the NFL has at least a civil working arrangement with the CFL. With no monetary benefit to the NFL or other franchise owners, would they want to allow a move into Canada that would possibly destroy the CFL and have the bad feelings across Canada that would come with such a move?

The NFL certainly likes the Toronto market, but there is too much risk for little to no gain to allow a franchise in Toronto before Los Angeles is satisfied and other American suitors get their chance. Therefore, they will likely use their monetary power to put a franchise where they would like to see it. I do not doubt the sincerity and seriousness of those wanting to purchase a franchise. They very well may succeed by preying on a team for sale. Once they have it secured however, I see many problems in guaranteeing its success long term.

Blue Jays Not Even Close Again

The Toronto Blue Jays will finish once again well out of any playoff position. Every year is going to be the year they will challenge. They stay within striking distance until the last two months of the year when they tank it. Does anyone even care? I do not really think so. If they were to make the playoffs, I do not think they would create as much excitement as their first two championships. They should however, because winning now would be as an underdog, not with the bought and paid for teams that won back-to-back World Series in the early ’90’s.

Search For a CFL Commissioner

Back in July when CFL Commissioner Tom Wright announced he was stepping down, Montreal owner Bob Wetenhal and Hamilton owner Bob Young were interviewed and their answers raised my eyebrow as to whether the inmates are still running the asylum. With Wetenhal frank about his feelings over Tom Wright, considering the salary cap not necessary for financial stability, and foreseeing expansion into the northern US you have to wonder where this league is headed if Wetenhal hand-picks the next commissioner.

While very little has been said about the search for a new commissioner, recently some media reports are hinting there may be a push amongst the board of governors to ask Tom Wright back. It may be too late for that, with Wright having had enough with that group. If true, it does give hope that the board is capable of a reality-check, even if it is after they have followed two rogue owners in pushing Wright out.

3 Responses to “Notebook – September 25, 2006”

  1. Bill Says:

    That WAS a long rant!
    Maybe you need to start having executive summaries in front of some of the posts :)
    If the NFL does come to Canada and we get the Toronto Canadian Bills or something, how does this hurt or kill the CFL? Sure I see the Argos getting the boot then but so what? It’s Toronto’s own fault for trying to get an NFL team. If we get Maritimes (Moncton, Halifax, wherever) and say Quebec City, then things will settle, right? Move the Argos to Moncton or wherever out there (Argos – sea, boats, sailors – it’ll fit fin in the maritimes).
    How does the NFL in Toronto affect the rest of the league? Is it just the whole centric thing about Toronto being the centre of the universe and that Toronto advertising money and TSN, CBC, etc will forget that the CFL exists?
    I don’t plan to become a No Fun League fan anytime soon!
    If Toronto does get an NFL team, maybe I’ll up my NFL viewing from 0 games a year to 1 or something to see the Toronto home-opener.
    What I know about the NFL, I learned from EA sports :)

    “wishing the sound was off” – some days I think people were thankful for the CBC strike when CFL on CBC was on :)
    If I hear one more person talk about “Damon Allen Day” I will hurt them! They were talking about it this last week on CBC and it was ages ago!

    Looks like it’s pretty hard to get the answer you want out of Ricky Williams :)
    Good luck trying to incite fights or something for another team to quote and help get fired up for a game.

    As for the turf, what a bunch of wussies! It sounds like it’s the worst thing in the world. At least we have turf. They could be playing on that old green cement we had before the astro-turf :) Have the rich BCs and Edmontons spread some of their wealth to help the other teams upgrade their facilities if they’re so put off by it.

    Wright seems like a real nice guy and has done well to put up with the “crap” I suspect he and other people have had to deal with. When the 66 Grey Cup players were at the museum for autographs, he was doing a great job talking to everyone in the long, long, LONG lines that waited to get in. When myself and others talked to him, he had some great things to say about the fans in Saskatchewan. I think those were some real heart-felt words from him. He’s got my vote!

    Pretty sneaky sticking a baseball story amongst all the football. But I saw it in time and managed to avoid it ;)

  2. Jon Says:

    Bill, your glasses are more rose-coloured than mine. The CFL certainly wouldn’t cease to exist with a Toronto NFL franchise announcement, but it wouldn’t be the best news. I believe the CFL could survive much more today than ten years ago. My fear is the media saturation will make watching any sports unpleasant for me as our Toronto-centric media shove it down our throats. Not gonna happen though.

    As for Ricky Williams, he was on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCowan tonight. Same answers to every question. The question is flawed because he doesn’t compare leagues, he doesn’t make judgements, he won’t simply answer whether he is having fun, etc., etc. McCowan and Stephen Brunt discussed this once is lifetime personality in an athlete. He does not compromise his beliefs by giving the trite responses used by atheletes a million times a year. Williams really is on a different plane. He doesn’t care about money. He doesn’t really care about winning like what you expect. He wants to win, but football is more like a astro physics problem to Stephen Hawking. Simply trying is the fun part, and everything else in his life getting the attention it needs.

    As for Wright, I may make Overtime Central the official Bring Back Wright site, if he would consider returning. The CFL hasn’t had such a good commissioner, and CFL passionate, qualified candidates are not exactly lining up at the door.

  3. Bill Says:

    I can be pretty optimistic – I am a rider fan after all :)
    I gotcha – Toronto Sports Network and all that :)

    Ricky does seem to be out there when compared to other athletes. If people try to compare/judge him based on that, they’ll never get him to fit in the square hole :)

    As for making this the right Wright site (I’m a rhyming machine :) – go for it!

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