Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers' board flawed, dangerous

Winnipeg should copy Riders' structure

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Lyle BAUER held a lot of sway during his time atop the Winnipeg Blue Bombers organization.

When he left, the club's board of directors conducted their very own little palace coup and made sure a czar like Bauer would never rise again.

It also guaranteed the club will never step into the elite with the Montreals and Edmontons and Saskatchewans of the CFL.

The Bombers -- from their organizational structure on down -- are behind the times.

Eleven volunteer citizens having the final say on who will coach the team and who will pick the players is a ridiculous notion. Until it's corrected, the Bombers will flounder.

Did Bauer always make the right calls? Of course not. Firing Doug Berry and hiring Mike Kelly was a bad decision followed by a terrible decision.

Letting Bauer leave was one thing, but the board members determining they were qualified to make football decisions, was another altogether.

Under the new structure, the club has no CEO and president Jim Bell reports directly to the board on business matters while GM Joe Mack answers only to the board on football decisions. This is flawed and dangerous.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders dumped the organizational chart now being used by the Bombers in 2005 and hired CEO Jim Hopson. Since then the Riders have been the league's most successful franchise off the field and one of its leaders on the field.

"I'm the board's only employee. We have a governance board and they're involved in the big picture and the vision but the day-to-day management -- they leave that to me," said Hopson. He has overseen the Riders' resurgence on the field -- three Grey Cup appearances in the last four years -- and the club now boasts a season ticket base in excess of 25,000.

"For many, many years we were run by a management committee and the management committee was very hands on, volunteers who loved the Riders and would get very involved in everything from ticketing to football ops. A few years ago they said, 'this is not a good model for a successful business,' and they hired me in 2005."

Hopson says a board is meant to oversee and offer leadership, not make decisions and conduct job searches such as the Bombers board did last winter in hiring Bell, Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice.

"We have a board that is focused on big picture, long-term success and risk management -- the things a board should be concerned about, not about what happens in the ticket office or the locker-room," said Hopson, who was mixing with players and reporters at the Riders media breakfast on Thursday at the Grey Cup in Edmonton.

"That's been key to having a board that functions well with vision and leadership. They hold me accountable. I have to have the right people in place in the organization and I've been fortunate to have Kenny Miller, Brendan Taman and Steve Mazurak on the business side. Our model is what you would see in other successful businesses."

Hopson says the Riders can point to the restructuring of their org chart as the catalyst to their success.

"We were starting to get better on the field and the gates started to improve... but we were always having telethons and always having our hand out," said Hopson.

"We looked at our whole operation including marketing and merchandising and started to turn things around. In 2006 we weren't making money but we weren't losing money. Then in 2007 we hit the motherlode and won the Grey Cup. The excitement drove revenue to the point where last year we declared a $3-million profit. It's become a successful enterprise. We've become a $30-million business."

Meanwhile in Winnipeg, the Bombers have gone in the exact opposite direction.

Is something wrong with this picture?

You bet your Blue Bombers jersey there is.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2010 C4

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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