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Braley has no plans to sell Lions after buying Argos

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The Canadian Press
2/10/2010 5:57:54 PM
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TORONTO -- B.C. Lions owner David Braley isn't apologizing for buying the Toronto Argonauts, saying he's simply doing what's in the best interests of the CFL.

"I love the CFL game and I love the league," the Hamilton businessman said Wednesday. "The Toronto market is far too important.

"If Toronto strengthens, Hamilton strengthens, southern Ontario strengthens and the CFL office strengthens because it can get more sponsorships."

On Tuesday night, the Argos announced co-owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski had reached an agreement to sell their club to Braley in a move that had been rumoured for weeks.

"Howard and David worked very hard and they had passion," Braley said. "They increased the season-ticket base and they increased the corporate sponsorship.

"They did an awful lot for this franchise."

Still, Braley, 68, takes over an Argos club that's hit hard times. It posted a league-worst 3-15 record last year and has won just seven total games in missing the CFL playoffs the last two seasons.

Earlier on Tuesday, the club hired Jim Barker as its new head coach, two months after Bart Andrus was fired after just one season. The Argos remain behind other CFL clubs at this time of the year because of the delays caused while the ownership issue was resolved.

"We realize we're a little bit behind the curve, given the number of things that have been up in the air," president Bob Nicholson said during Barker's introductory news conference."

Braley said he has no plans of selling either of his CFL franchises any time soon -- he expects to own one or both teams until at least age 75, health permitting -- and is committed to strengthening the Argos on and off the field.

"We're going to restart the rebuilding process," he said. "You never know when somebody will come along and say, 'I have a real interest in acquiring that.'

"At that time, then you talk to them. But until we get it stronger it's too soon to discuss that."

And Braley feels the Argos are in better shape than the Lions were when he bought that franchise.

"This is a year or two ahead," Braley said. "In other words they have a little bit higher season-ticket base and they have a high corporate sponsorship base. It's not like Year 1, it's like Year 3.

"But I think it (Argos) is a challenge. I believe the same thing we did in B.C. can be done here in Toronto in terms of rebuilding the franchise ... I would say we're a dominant franchise in Vancouver, it's a very strong franchise."

B.C. has especially excelled since the arrival of head coach/GM Wally Buono in 2003. The CFL's winningest head coach led the Lions to four straight first-place finishes in the West Division (2004-'07) and two Grey Cup appearances (winning in '06). The club finished fourth in 2009 with an 8-10 record, but beat Hamilton in the East Division semifinals before losing to the eventual Grey Cup-champion Montreal Alouettes in the Eastern final.

But the optics of one person owning 25 per cent of the league aren't great from a public relations standpoint, given the obvious conflict of interest situation that exists. However there's nothing in the CFL's constitution that prevents someone from owning two teams and there was plenty of support within the league's board of governors for Braley having two separate franchises.

The CFL did recently amend its constitution so commissioner Mark Cohon must be informed of any financial transactions made between owners, thus creating transparency. And Cohon made it clear Tuesday night his mandate is to do what's in the best interests of the CFL as a whole.

Braley, too, said the two organizations will work independent of each other. Maintaining the integrity of the game remains paramount, he added.

"Without question, the commissioner and I have discussed that," Braley said. "We've spent the past month or so making sure of the optics with the commissioner approving all transactions and the operations being completely separate of one another."

There is certainly a precedent in pro sports for one owner to have multiple teams in a league. Braley said at one time in Major League Soccer three families controlled 11 teams and presently there are two owners who control two clubs apiece.

While Cynamon and Sokolowski were intent on a new stadium for their club, Braley is very content having the team remain at Rogers Centre.

"It's a good venue to watch a game in, the boxes are excellent and on a nice day you have the roof open and on a bad day when it's pouring rain you have the roof closed," he said.

"The Rogers Centre is excellent and without question, I'm very comfortable with it."

David Braley (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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