Deja vu in any language: Speros, Montreal at odds As in Baltimore, owner battles city over money

August 09, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

It may be a new area code for Jim Speros, but the owner of the Montreal Alouettes finds himself in a familiar controversy this week.

Upset that he hasn't received a $1.375 million loan promised when he moved the Baltimore Stallions to Montreal this season, Speros threatened to pull his Canadian Football League team out of the city with more than half the season remaining.

Last night, however, he admitted the ultimatum he issued was a ploy to force the hand of the political leaders who had agreed last March to give him a three-year, no-interest loan.

"I basically told them, 'You guys could possibly see the last game here unless you give me the money,' " Speros said.

"I had to get an answer. I'm not depending on them now. When I needed the money this week, they didn't step up. I had no choice but to basically pressure them."

Speros, a native of Potomac, Md., spent much of his first season in Baltimore seeking a loan package from Maryland's political leaders as well. When he left last spring for Canada, he was still attempting to settle several lawsuits over non-payment of bills.

Those legal problems helped contribute to Montreal's reluctance embrace him, Speros said.

"The repercussions from Baltimore have never gone away," he said. "There's still a cloud over my head. Today I still don't have an agreement with the city of Baltimore [over an unpaid loan]."

Alouettes general manager Jim Popp underscored the severity of the situation. "They've told us we're getting the loan, but the problem is when," Popp said. "The money we're operating on is tapped out. We've waited long enough. We can't wait any longer, because there's no more money."

Popp said the team needed $1.35 million to finish the season, but that it has not missed any payments so far.

Popp said the Alouettes will travel to Regina, Saskatchewan, tomorrow for Sunday's game against the Roughriders. Despite the financial crunch, he does not expect the team to fold.

"I think a lot would have to go wrong for the season not to be completed," Popp said. "I think everybody would have to turn their back on the team for it not to happen. When I say that, I'm talking about major sponsors, the league and other owners."

The Montreal crisis is the third this season in the financially strapped CFL, whose owners already have had to bail out the Ottawa Rough Riders and the British Columbia Lions. Ottawa received $1 million to continue operations.

Retreating from a failed expansion to the United States, the league returned to Montreal this season after a nine-year absence. Its previous team folded on the eve of the 1987 season. Since the mid-1980s, the league has waged a dogged battle to remain solvent.

"Half the teams are doing well," Popp said, "but the three teams that aren't doing well are in major cities."

The Alouettes are due to receive $1.5 million from the Molson O'Keefe Brewery in a three-year sponsorship agreement.

Although the team got off to an 0-3 start, it has drawn reasonably well in Montreal, averaging 24,897 for four home dates. One of those home games was a 62-22 loss to the Calgary Stampeders.

The Alouettes drew a season high of 30,364 for a game against Winnipeg, and 25,210 fans watched a 29-22 win over Hamilton on Wednesday night. That victory lifted the Alouettes' record to 3-4.

The Alouettes have just 12 players and one coach, head coach Bob Price, remaining from the team that won the Grey Cup championship last season for Baltimore.

"I think the people in the city want football," Popp said. "We're already seeing that from winning a game and coming home to losing a game and coming home means $100,000 at the gate. So winning is very important. Everybody said that when we came; if we got a winning team, we would draw."

Speros said unequivocally the Alouettes would finish the year in Montreal.

"Next year I have a full year to market the club properly," he said. "The league can't afford for Montreal not to make it. Every time we show up for a game, it's the other team's biggest crowd because Montreal hasn't been in the league for a while."

Empty seats

Montreal Alouettes home attendance this season:

Game ..... Crowd

Toronto ..... 24,653

Calgary ..... 19,362

Winnipeg .... 30,364

Hamilton .... 25,210

Total ....... 99,589

Average ..... 24,897

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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