CFL learns that adding teams is the easy part

ON THE CFL

January 22, 1995|By KEN MURRAY

When the Canadian Football League conducts its board of governors meeting in Edmonton this week, owners are expected to give rubber-stamp approval to new, moneyed franchises in Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis, Tenn.

Then they will attempt to resolve more contentious problems in Ottawa, Las Vegas and Sacramento.

A year after the CFL waded through the perils of football politics in Baltimore to put a team in Maryland, the league finds itself knee-deep in an expansion quagmire of its own making.

The CFL needs new owners in Ottawa and Las Vegas and a new location for Sacramento's Gold Miners. The latter two are failed U.S. expansion teams. Ottawa is a crisis that unfolded after owner Bernie Glieberman bailed out of Ontario last February for the safe haven of Shreveport, La.

The score card of the CFL's most troubled franchises:

* Ottawa: Rough Riders fans thought Glieberman's brief, stormy reign was bad enough. Then they got Bruce Firestone. The man who brought the NHL Senators to Ottawa quickly antagonized those fans with price gouging. By the time the league removed Firestone, he had put his coaching staff on minimum wage -- $6.70 an hour in Canada -- and reportedly missed playoff and deferred salary payments.

The league issued an ultimatum to Ottawa: buy 15,000 season tickets and deliver $1.5 million in corporate sponsorship or else. As of last week, the long-suffering fans -- Ottawa hasn't had a winning team since 1979 -- had bought 12,200 season tickets and $1.2 million in sponsorships. Team president Phil Kershaw expects to reach his minimums by the Jan. 31 deadline.

Whether he can find a new owner is another problem. "We'll work something out," Kershaw says, optimistically.

No owner, no team in 1995.

* Las Vegas: The Posse has been shopped all over North America with no takers. Phil Johnson, a 40-year-old Los Angeles businessman who hopes to become the first black owner of a pro football team, may be the Posse's last gasp.

He wants to put the team in the L.A. Coliseum and hire a black coach, Ron Mims. Because the team sold stock at the outset, there are sticky points to be ironed out. Unless Johnson has a good iron, the team could fold.

* Sacramento: Fred Anderson said last October he was moving the Gold Miners, and they're still in limbo. Anderson is negotiating with Oakland, where Coliseum officials still believe in Santa Claus and Al Davis. That is to say, they still believe Davis will bring back the Raiders. Anderson has until Feb. 1 to convince them otherwise.

In the meantime, he should know that attendance in Oakland for the USFL Invaders decreased steadily -- from an average of 30,621 in 1983 to 22,877 in 1984 to 17,856 in 1985.

Ultimatums galore

In what appears to be the CFL's new marketing strategy, no less than four of the eight Canadian teams have sold season tickets by ultimatum this winter.

Hamilton had to reach 12,500 season tickets (with $1 million in corporate sponsorships) to keep its team. Calgary's Larry Ryckman said he would move the Stampeders unless fans bought 16,000 season tickets by January (they responded). Ottawa is on track to reach its minimums.

And the newest team to toss out an ultimatum is the Edmonton Eskimos, who want 15,000 season tickets sold by March or else. Only they haven't said what happens if the city comes up short.

Imagine if they'd won

Nearly two months after he was named most outstanding player in the Grey Cup, Baltimore cornerback Karl Anthony still is waiting for the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck that supposedly came with the award.

Now, Anthony is beginning to wonder if there's a truck in the works at all. CFL officials told him recently they couldn't locate that model in the Baltimore area. Anthony finds that hard to believe. "Every [Chrysler] dealership has one on the lot," he said.

Audibles

Baltimore's Don Matthews is a lock to be named Coach of the Year at Thursday night's league banquet in Edmonton. . . . Quarterback Matt Dunigan, who becomes a free agent on Feb. 15, has sold his home in Winnipeg, another sign he's headed elsewhere -- probably to Shreveport. The Blue Bombers have looked at former Washington Redskin Rich Gannon and ex-Florida QB Terry Dean as replacements. . . . With Birmingham and Memphis in the East Division, the Bombers may be moved back to the West. . . . Doug Flutie signed a five-year personal services contract with Ryckman in Calgary -- at $1 million Canadian a year -- that figures to be the last of his career. . . . The Toronto Argonauts will close off their Level 500 seats at SkyDome for 1995, reducing capacity from 52,500 to 30,000. They averaged 16,841 at home last year.

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