TORONTO - David Braley is now the owner of two CFL franchises.
The Toronto Argonauts announced Tuesday night that co-owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski had reached an agreement to sell their club to Braley, who also owns the B.C. Lions. The move wasn't a surprise as it had been rumoured for weeks.
Braley is a Hamilton businessman who owns Orlick Industries Ltd., a leading auto parts manufacturer. A former owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he took over ownership of B.C. in 1997.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon dismissed concerns regarding the optics of having one man own two teams, or 25 per cent of the league.
"We'd rather have one guy with considerable means who loves the game sit atop two franchises than having a stop-gap measure and not get the right people into one of our most important franchises," Cohon said. "What I want to make sure of is that the league is in a stronger position moving forward and I think under David's helm it will be.
"Clearly David has a love for this league and he wants to make sure that southern Ontario, and in particular the GTA, is strong. We're not putting any timeline on (Braley owning two teams) because we want the fans in both cities to know that he's committed to both franchises."
Braley wasn't available for comment Tuesday and is expected to speak with the media Wednesday. But in a statement he addressed his first order of business - the status of GM Adam Rita and president Bob Nicholson, stating both men will remain with the organization.
"I believe strongly in the Argonauts brand and will work to turn the Double Blue into a winning team on the field and a leading franchise within the Canadian Football League," Braley said. "It will take time and effort, but I am extremely confident that with the right people and plan in place, we will succeed on behalf of Argos fans."
Braley, a former interim CFL commissioner, didn't rule out selling the Argos someday but stressed that his most pressing need now is improving the team and franchise.
And there's plenty of work to do. Braley takes over an Argos club that posted a league-worst 3-15 record last season and has missed the CFL playoffs the last two years. Earlier on Tuesday, the Argos hired Jim Barker as their new coach, replacing Bart Andrus, who was fired in December after just one season.
Surprisingly, there's nothing in the CFL's constitution preventing one person from owning two different teams. There's also plenty of support within the board of governors for Braley having two separate franchises.
However, recent constitutional amendments mean Cohon must be informed of any financial transactions made between owners, thus creating transparency. And Cohon made it clear his mandate is to do what's in the best interests of the CFL as a whole.
"Any transactions between the football clubs I have to approve and I have the power to veto them if I don't deem them as fair market value," he said. "We'll work forward in the future to make sure we don't schedule Argos and Lions games late into the season.
"There's a number of steps we can take to make sure the integrity of the game is there."
Cynamon and Sokolowski have spent much of the off-season kicking around the idea of selling the franchise they rescued, or securing additional business partners to help offset their mounting losses.
"I'm very sad," Cynamon told The Canadian Press. "This is not a day that I actually envisioned happening when I bought the team."
A CFL source requesting anonymity said at least one group inquired about purchasing the Argos and had a representative met with Cynamon and Sokolowski. However, the meeting ended quickly when the asking price for the franchise was unveiled at between $12 and $15 million.
Cohon said there was a lot of interest in the Argos, which extended the process.
When Cynamon and Sokolowski assumed control of the team seven years ago, it was believed the franchise was only generating around $150,000.
Cynamon and Sokolowski, with help from the CFL, had also attempted to land a new partner this off-season - reportedly approaching both TSN as well as Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz.
According to a published report, Katz was interested, but backed away, leaving Braley as the only viable alternative.
Last June, it was revealed Braley fronted Sokolowski and Cynamon half the $2-million franchise fee to purchase the Argos and continued to lend the team money.
Cynamon and Sokolowski joined forces to rescue the Argos from bankruptcy seven years ago. The team had been abandoned on the league's doorstep by Sherwood Schwarz, the New York insurance magnate who had grown weary of suffering multi-million-dollar losses.
"We saved it from non-existence," he said. "We don't buy this team, it doesn't exist. There was nobody else even kicking the tires. We think we've brought the brand up to respectability on the street - and that's proven in the corporate sponsorship and ticket sales, which are in the triple-digit percentage growth increase."
The duo won the Grey Cup in their first full season in charge, beating the B.C. Lions in 2004, and almost seemed destined to kick-starting a renaissance of Canadian football in the league's most stubborn market. There was talk of a new stadium, and the promise of a stable franchise.
Some of the edges had already begun to fray. Plans for a new stadium on the University of Toronto's downtown campus were opposed by some members of the school's faculty, as well as students and local residents. The venue was envisioned to seat 25,000 and follow in the model of Molson Stadium, which had helped make tickets for the Alouettes a hot commodity in Montreal.
"One of our concerns is the impact on us - and that's noise, it's traffic, it's crowds, it's all that stuff everyone was mentioning," Margaret MacMillan, then provost of Trinity College, told a reporter at the time. "We agree the U of T needs a stadium. But ... is this the right way for it to go about designing and building the stadium it needs? Whose interests really are being met here?"
The Argos were forced to move on, and after a similar plan dissolved at York University north of the downtown core, they settled back into Rogers Centre, signing a long-term lease in the venue they had been trying to escape. Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Leafs and Raptors, had out-flanked the Argos to win a seat at what is now BMO Field - home of the popular Toronto FC soccer team.
Cynamon said he and Sokolowski exhausted all other avenues before committing to a sale, listing the failure to land the Argos their own, smaller venue as the major problem. Without that stadium, he said he felt he and Sokolowski had taken the Argos as far as they could.
"It's a business day, but it's a very sad one," Cynamon said. "I think there's a lot more emotion that goes into a public entity and a sports franchise than a typical business. Even though this is a relatively small transaction for Howard and I - somewhat immaterial in financial terms - it's the most material in emotional terms."
TORONTO - David Braley is now the owner of two CFL franchises.
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