Will it Take a Return of the Gliebermans to Get to 10 CFL Teams?

Tobi WritesAnalyst IDecember 13, 2009

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 25:  Jerome Haywood #99 of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers takes a breather during the fourth quarter of the 95th Grey Cup against the Saskatchewan Rough Riders on November 25, 2007 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The Rough Riders won 23-19.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

I stumbled across an article recently that might have huge implications for CFL fans who want to see the league expand to a more stable number like 10 or ideally 12 teams.

The City of Pontiac has been bleeding $1.5M a year to keep up the now abandoned Pontiac Silverdome.  To stop the bleeding, they recently put it up on public auction and the Silverdome was purchased by an unnamed Toronto family with a background in real estate .

Yep, rich Canadians.  You heard right.  It gets even better.

The family has the idea of using it to host MLS and women's pro soccer teams.

Now the Silverdome used to seat 80K, but has been largely gutted over the years in various attempts to make something useful out of it since the NFL Lions left. 

MLS tries for stadiums that seat 15-30K.  That suggests the Silverdome interior will likely be transformed into a 30K or so pro soccer facility.  It seems like a window of opportunity is there.

The situation screams CFL.

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What are the hurdles?

Would the new Silverdome owners be allowed to buy into the CFL?  Do they have any interest in buying into the CFL?

I am guessing the answer to both is no.

I think if the answer to the second one was yes, the new owners would have leaked that information along with their MLS dreams to the locals.

CFL fans constantly complain that the rich do not want to buy into the CFL.  I think that is an overstated argument.  Some do—there were plenty of potential buyers for the Renegades,  Jeff Hunt's group bought the expansion Ottawa franchise, and there are apparently two groups who were willing to buy into a Quebec City team. 

There are plenty of rich folks willing to buy in...Just not most rich folks.  And when you do get someone who wants to buy in, the Board of Govenors often kills the deal.

The facts are the CFL BOG is very selective about who they let in.  They have their reasons.  I don't agree with the reasons most of the time, but there are reasons and usually you don't have to think about them long to see the underlying thought process.

Even if the new Canadian owners of the Silverdome wanted into the CFL, they would have to deal with any BOG baggage that would keep them out.

Lonnie Glieberman and his family have long stated they have a claim on the Windsor/Detroit territory with the CFL BOG.  (They actually investigated the Pontiac Silverdome back in 2005 ).

Now perhaps this claim no longer exists after the Renegades flame out.  Perhaps it never did. 

And maybe it still does.  The Gliebermans did twice bail out the BOG in Ottawa...

If there was a claim and it still exists, the only owners who could own a Michigan/Western Ontario area franchise would be the Gliebermans.  In that instance, it is a Glieberman owned team or no team in the Detroit/Windsor area...So let's talk about a Glieberman owned expansion team in Pontiac.

This Silverdome situation seems to be the perfect opportunity for them to exercise their claim and create a Michigan/Western Ontario franchise.

The Gliebermans are clearly bitten with the CFL bug.  In spite of Bernard Glieberman's recent real estate troubles, they will still probably be rich enough to buy in in a year or so if they chose and they probably still have the assets and bank connections to acquire additional funding if they wish. 

They have money (or access to it) and aren't afraid to spend it on something they love.

There seems to be pretty good evidence they are CFL junkies.  They are hooked enough to buy into what history suggests is a bad investment (the CFL) twice already. 
Why not a third time?

Why not let them start a Michigan/Western Ontario team?

If the terms were set properly, the CFL could let them in and still structure things to keep the league out of crushing potential financial liability.  (If the team did happen to need new owners after a few years, it would be a US team, and potential owners are a lot easier to find on this side of the border.)

The new Silverdome owners can almost certainly land a pro female soccer team, but landing a MLS team might prove a protracted effort.  Having a CFL team owned by the Gliebermans helping generate stadium maintence revenue could be a win-win situation.

I am a Windsor site advocate, but even I have to admit there is a lot of sense in a Pontiac site.  The odds are CFL football in Pontiac would be a success.

Consider the fact that the Lions fairly regularly drew 80K to Pontiac.  Certainly a portion of those fans aren't interested in driving to Detroit.

Residents in Central and Northern Michigan may not be all too excited about driving into Detroit, but may be OK with a trip to Pontiac. In addition, all of that area borders Canada so the football fans would likely be more likely to shift their fandom to a CFL team than fans of other struggling NFL teams. 

Pontiac area residents may actually resent the Lions and be perfectly willing to support a CFL team instead. 

The Lions have struggled for years and likely will struggle most years.  Having a long struggling dominant team always helps competitors.  It certainly helped the USFL's Michigan Panthers and Tampa Bay Bandits.

Consider how many Canadians live in Detroit and it's suburbs. (Quite a lot).  To them, the CFL is just a different flavor of pro football, not just some substandard one.

Consider the Canadian communities on the border. People from Windsor and Sarnia would drive to Pontiac from time to time to see a game.  Pontiac is a little over 1 hour from Sarnia and 35 minutes from Windsor. 

Pontiac is actually very well situated to host a CFL team.

But the Gliebermans cannot run a team!!!  They were an absolute trainwreck in the CFL!!!

Certainly one can't argue that the Gliebermans have made some big mistakes that certainly look like trainwrecks through the lense of history, but to say without question that they cannot run a team? That may be too strong.

They certainly have made a number of bad decisions in the past especially dealign with the on the field product, but Lonnie at least admits to making many of the bigger ones . (The first step to recovery?)  Bernard Glieberman even talked about wishing he had hired better coaches in Ottawa in a roundabout way in a recent interview.  There are signs they see some of their failings for what they were.

In addition, there is a compelling argument that Ottawa is a difficult place to run a sports business. It is not like the Renegades or the Rough Riders were a raging success before the Gliebermans. 

The Rough Riders had not had a winning season since 1979 and were a million dollars in debt when the Gliebermans took over in 1991.  The Renegades had 3 straight losing season and were in debt when the Gliebermans came back. 

Ottawa Rough Riders before Gliebermans

1980 7-9
1981 5-11
1982 5-11
1983 8-8
1984 4-12
1985 7-9
1986 3-14-1
1987 3-15
1988 2-16
1989 4-14
1990 7-11


1991 7-11
1992 9-9
1993 4-14

Ottawa Renegades before Gliebermans

2002 4-14
2003 7-11
2004 5-13


2005 7-11

It is not like these Ottawa teams were healthy teams that the Gliebermans drove into the ground.  

They were failing franchises on their deathbeds. 

A more accurate way to view it is that the Gliebermans bought distressed assets and found they lacked enough of a golden touch (or an understanding of the business of running of a pro team early on) to turn things around.  In spite of their mistakes (some of which might even be called dumb mistakes) in player moves, coaching, and front office personnel,  the best seasons both incarnations had since 1980 were under the Gliebermans... 

As much as it makes a good story to blame the Gliebermans for destroying football in Ottawa, it isn't all on them.  It may be pushing it to even put most of the blame on them.  These were teams with issues before they arrived and with a somewhat unsupportive city government making matter much worse.

If the city government had fixed the issues at Lansdowne in 1992, it is entirely likely that fan attendance would not have been the problem it has been since then.  If the city government had cut the rent a bit maybe Bernard Glieberman actually would have had the money to spend on better coaches.  Or maybe a few better players may have been signed.

Certainly one would think if these things had been done, the Gliebermans would not have felt as much of a pressing need to get out of Ottawa.  Maybe they wouldn't have chased cheap rent south of the border.  If they don't go, there is not reason to force a splitting of a 4-14 Rough Riders team's talent to form the basis of an expansion team.

Look at how hard it is even to get the city of Ottawa to agree to even having work done on Lansdowne. My point is not to excuse the Gliebermans from blame.  The point is that Ottawa is a tough place to run a CFL team.

The story of the Gliebermans's site selection process for Shreveport is admittedly crazy and ill-concieved, but they didn't do a horrible job in business terms in a very small and poor market once there.

20,000 is generally considered to be a break even point at the CFL level.

The facts are that even though the Shreveport Pirates ended up being a fiasco, they drew 17,871 fans to see a 3-15 team and 14,359 fans to see a 5-13 team in an area that didn't have nearly the advantages Pointiac would have.  Those really aren't bad numbers for something of an expansion franchise in those conditions and by all reports Lonnie played a big role in that.

The team's record was even somewhat explainable as the core of the roster was made up of a portion of a 4-14 Ottawa Rough Riders' roster! 

(The Gliebermans would have probably been much better off to start the team as a true expansion team.  And obviously that would have helped the league and the Rough Riders as well.  Bad decision on their part. They certainly aren't the only CFL owners to make bad decisions at some point during their runs).

This Pontiac situation lays nicely out to help the Gliebermans if they should want to take a third swing at the CFL.  I hesitate to use the word "foolproof" as that amounts to throwing red meat out to Ottawa fans, but the scenario does suit them well and limits the potential for mistakes.

They are from Michigan.  Everywhere else they have owned a CFL team has been a place outside of their home turf.  They have been perceived as outsiders and incompetent ones at that. That certainly never helps in building a fan base.

They have learned a lot about the business of pro football in their stumbles.

Expansion now with one or two expansion teams at most would be quite different than it was during the CFL USA days.  One would think that CFL has learned the importance of giving expansion teams favorable enough expansion terms that allow them to compete in a timely fashion.

They may never win a title, but if they hired a good coach and the league gave them good expansion terms, they actually could do alright.  Their team could survive.

Plus one other bonus—you know their games at Ottawa would sell well—helping an expansion Ottawa team's bottom line in the early days when they really need it.

The Gliebermans are known quantities and if the idea that they own the rights to the Windsor/Detroit region is in fact true, they are already effectively approved.

If CFL fans want to see a 10th team sometime soon, they may need to back any approved owner, even one they may not like.

Perhaps it is time to start writing the Gliebermans and asking them to buy in again.


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