Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue rot reaches right to the top

No fix for Bombers under current structure: experts

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It's been just over a week now since my Free Press colleague Paul Wiecek sat down for a rare one-on-one interview with Wade Miller, the acting CEO of the woeful Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Wiecek prefaced his first question by alluding to the likelihood the team would miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

Then he asked Miller something the Bomber boss should have had an answer to on the day he took the job.

"How did it get to this point?" Wiecek asked.

Miller seemed taken off guard.

"How did it get to this point?" Miller said, repeating the question, the way people tend to when they have to give themselves time to consider an answer.

"We just didn't bring in the right talent," he ultimately responded, "and we're working to get that corrected now."

If Miller, the former Bomber player, really thinks it's the lack of on-field talent that has got our beloved Bombers to this point, he's missing the point and blaming the wrong people.

It's been two weeks since my column about the old boys' club that has been the Winnipeg Blue Bombers board of directors and the urgent need for them to finally make some well-researched upper-management hiring choices instead of simply selecting the convenient next old Bomber boy in line. In the meantime, I found something every board member and the acting CEO should read:

Why Pro Sports Franchises Succeed... and Fail.

The authors of the two-year-old Conference Board of Canada paper, economists Glen Hodgson and Mario Lefebvre, identified three key factors that can make a good franchise great.

They seem obvious enough:

-- Ownership and management strength

-- The availability of adequate playing facilities

-- Fan support for the team

The Bombers have two of the three, big time. But what they've been missing -- also big time -- is ownership and management strength. Ownership, in the Bombers case, being a self-appointed, self-perpetuating and hence unaccountable board of directors with management selection responsibilities they've been fumbling for years. The Conference Board series goes on to say this about the importance of ownership and management:

"Chronically weak franchise management and poor decision-making can over time create a self-perpetuating cycle of mediocrity and steady decline."

And worse.

The paper cites the demise of the once-proud and popular Ottawa Rough Riders franchise as a textbook case of franchise failure. The Rough Riders were a management mess that went through six ownership changes over a decade before folding in 1996.

Which brings us back to the Bombers. The team's current and long-term problems prompted a former City of Winnipeg labour relations manager to conduct his own informal study of what makes a sports franchise succeed and fail.

Sudhir Sandhu, who is now the executive director of corporate and community services in the Fort McMurray region of Alberta, made a list of the coaches and general managers, including some interim, the Bombers have employed since the last time they won the Grey Cup in 1990.

By his calculations, the average tenure of both coaches and general managers has been just over two years. That led him to a painful conclusion:

"No matter how the team is selecting its key personnel, it is abundantly clear that from the board of directors down, there is no continuity of leadership, which in turn dictates a lack of clear strategy that fuels ad hoc and knee-jerk tactical conduct by the organization."

That explains everything, from the losing record to the initial parking chaos.

"I am sure those who serve on the WFC board are well-intended," Sandhu added. "But I would doubt that any of these individuals would ever permit their own business organizations to operate in the manner the operations of the WFC have been conducted."

Sandhu concluded with this message for long-suffering Bomber fans:

"There are no quick fixes. This organization's failure is less a matter of on-field performance and more a matter of leadership failure. For fans, optimism for the future won't be fuelled by roster moves but by how the WFC restructures its leadership core, including replacing the 'old boys network' with a cadre of competent professionals who understand that long-term success requires time, patience, persistence and most of all, inordinately disciplined pursuit of a common purpose."

So now you know how we got to this point. Now we better find a CEO who knows the answer. And realizes it's deeper than a roster depth chart.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 B1

History

Updated on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 7:44 PM CDT: Corrects typo.

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