Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers board listening?

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The beleaguered owners of the Blue Bombers on Thursday assured fans and taxpayers the club will make good on its debt repayments to the province, so all this talk about ownership restructuring is for nought. Premier Greg Selinger is said to be contemplating a new governance structure to give fans a say on the Winnipeg Football Club. Mr. Selinger is worried the club might miss its commitments to repay $85 million the province spent to build the new stadium.

The premier should stay with that thought, despite Wade Miller's assurances everyone will get paid.

The fans' interest in the team is beyond financial stewardship, which has been at the core of controversies enveloping the club. The owners went out for additional loans -- it initially got $85 million from the province -- for last-minute upgrades to the now $200-million facility, including portals to allow concert-goers access to the field and protecting the media box from the weather, a must-have for the club to vie for hosting the Grey Cup.

The new loans triggered renegotiating its $4.5-million payments to the province in the first three years to $1 million. As the team struggles to post wins, worries about its financial status have raised concerns about repayment. Mr. Selinger's spokesman said the premier would consider changing the ownership structure, as permitted in the loan agreement, should the team default.

The team has been in upheaval, with changes to star players and its executive bench. Fans are disgruntled; ticket sales have suffered and anger has focused on the board, which meets privately and answers only to itself.

Mr. Selinger's first interest is in securing repayment of public funds, but clearly he has been listening to rumblings of discontent and talk about making the team truly community-led, as other professional clubs have done. Giving fans a chance to choose the board that pushes for more openness on finances and management decisions would promote transparency and accountability and perhaps curry a real sense of ownership. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are amongst the most loved teams in the league; fans can pay for voting rights at general meetings, including to elect their team's directors.

Winnipeggers have shown they can love a losing team, can brave the elements in November to cheer on, sometimes against formidable odds, their Bombers. But they need, now, to see a little love shown in return. Mr. Selinger has grasped the nut of a potential renewal. He should continue to chat up the need for new club governance and maybe the directors will start listening.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2013 A12

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