Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Selinger tackles football club

Prepared to overhaul governance

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Sources say Premier Greg Selinger would like to see the fans elect the club’s board of directors.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Sources say Premier Greg Selinger would like to see the fans elect the club’s board of directors. Photo Store

Premier Greg Selinger is prepared to overhaul the governance structure of the Winnipeg Football Club if the team can't meet its financial obligations to the province, the Free Press has learned.

While the province has no say in how the Blue Bombers are run, the loan agreement that financed the team's new stadium gives Selinger options if the team defaults.

Sources have told the Free Press Selinger is interested in a new operational model that would not only allow for greater transparency, but also the opportunity for fans to elect its board of directors. In the case of the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders and the NFL's Green Bay Packers, the fan-elected boards hire a chief executive officer and then step back to play a role in the team's governance.

Selinger has already told Bombers CEO Wade Miller and a select group of the club's board of directors they must live up to their loan obligation.

"Blue Bomber fans have always stuck with their team through good times and bad. The premier believes it only makes sense for the Bombers to consider options that would provide the best fans in the league with a direct say in the future of their team," Selinger's spokesman Matt Williamson said in a statement released Wednesday night. "There are examples in the CFL and NFL where fans have the opportunity to vote on board appointments."

'The premier believes it only makes sense for the Bombers to consider options that would provide the best fans in the league with a direct say in the future of their team'

-- statement released Wednesday night by Premier Greg Selinger's spokesman, Matt Williamson

Miller, along with board members Brock Bulbuck, David Asper and Bill Watchorn, met with Selinger on Sept. 16 to discuss the city's bid to host the Grey Cup.

During the meeting, the topic of the team's repayment of its stadium loan came up and Selinger was extremely pointed when it came to his bottom-line concerns.

"The premier told them they had to make their payments," said a government source.

The Bombers were supposed to begin payments of $4 million a year in 2014 but they talked the province into accepting just $1 million a year for the next three years so they could satisfy the loans they undertook for last-minute stadium upgrades above and beyond their original stadium debt to the province.

The club is now scheduled to make payments of $3.5 million on bank loans as well as $1 million to the province in 2014.

The Bombers are a community-sponsored, not-for-profit organization run by a self-appointed board. They answer only to themselves, and that lack of accountability is what Selinger wants to see end.

In a season that has not only seen the team's on-field performance suffer, but also generated no shortage of off-field drama, there have been plenty of fingers pointed at the team's board for the Bomber woes. There have been concerns raised over the construction of the new stadium as well as the fact board members have been calling the shots in the hiring and firing of key personnel such as Joe Mack, who was roundly criticized as general manager.

Bulbuck said on the day the board fired CEO Garth Buchko his group would retreat from operations.

"We have to change it by demonstrating it. We're looking forward to standing behind Wade (Miller) and allowing him to make the moves necessary to put this club on the right path again," said Bulbuck. "Quite honestly, the board doesn't even want to be heard from, mentioned, acknowledged... We want to be in the background."

Just over a month later, however, board members are immersed in Grey Cup planning and negotiations. Asper is also involved in a deal to help the club enclose its outdoor press box.

The stadium, despite millions in extra costs labelled stadium upgrades, is still incomplete.

The club infamously erected a state-of-the-art stadium with an outdoor press box.

The CFL has told the club it would not be allowed to host a Grey Cup and reap the millions of dollars in revenue our national championship brings until the press box is enclosed.

Enter Asper, whom the club to this point has only identified as a corporate sponsor. Asper and the Bombers have entered into an arrangement in which he'll stroke a cheque for $350,000 to complete the press box.

In return, Asper and his real estate company, Creswin, would receive corporate brand recognition for a hotel project that is still in the early stages of development.

If the hotel isn't a go, Asper won't be charged for his personal luxury suite until that amount is exhausted. A request for comment from Miller was not met by the Bombers on Wednesday.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Is it time the fans had a say in the operations of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2013 A3

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Updated on Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 6:42 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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