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A Team in Crisis, but Will the Owner Help Solve It?
A desperate supporter's plea for help? Or a stubborn owner who can't let go of his baby? It's hard to tell what's happening in Calgary, but it's definitely the kind of publicity the National Lacrosse League doesn't need heading into its All-Star weekend.
On Tuesday evening, Calgary Roughnecks' owner Brad Banister sent a press release to local media, stating that his team is on the brink of collapse and might not make it through the season. According to one report, he demanded that all recipients of the release publish it in full; those who didn't wouldn't be allowed to ask questions at the next day's press conference. The release, in asking for public support, called out all the Roughnecks' charitable and community programs, and included an ominous threat:
"All this will end if the club has to close its doors."
Through the release and subsequent press conference, Banister revealed that his players weren't being paid, and he couldn't guarantee the team's survival beyond the next game on March 5th.
Since then, conflicting reports have emerged about what might happen next. While Banister told the press conference that he needed a $500,000 cash infusion to finish the season, a report in the Calgary Sun claims the NHL's Calgary Flames have twice tried to buy the Roughnecks - and been rebuffed both times. Banister denies that the Flames have made any formal offers.
Why would such offers be rejected? According to the Calgary Sun, the reason may be that the Flames insisted that Banister leave the organization as part of any deal. Banister is a notorious hands-on owner; he's not quite at Jerry Jones' level, but he serves as the team's general manager as well, and is ever-present in the team's dressing room and at road games. Even if he sells the team, Banister seems to hope to find a way to stay involved.
"I would love to stay on," he told the Sun.
"This is where my heart and soul has been for 10 years."
The sentiment is confusing, since Banister announced in January that he wanted to sell the team anyway, saying it was "time to get a real job."
Further complicating matters, Banister has attacked the Flames' organization in the past, blaming them for everything from a lack of support to bad scheduling for Roughnecks' playoff dates. Last spring, Banister had to put out a press release publicly acknowledging the Flames' help, a week after calling the Flames' owners "self-proclaimed billionaires" who held too much control over arena dates (the Roughnecks were forced to play a 1 pm Saturday playoff game because of hockey and concert conflicts).
"The Flames should build their own arena," Banister said in a news release at the time.
"I am disgusted. I grew up in this city. I went to school here, I have businesses here, and I'm the lowest person on the totem pole as far as the Flames are concerned."
The Flames aren't the only people on Banister's hit list. He also lashed out at the city of Calgary for not helping him out, though the people at City Hall say Banister never asked.
"Although I have not yet received any detailed information on the situation, I am very happy to meet with the team's administration to discuss their needs," Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said in a release.
Banister said Wednesday that the team will show up for its next game on March 5 in Philadelphia, but he won't be paying the bills. What happens after that, he says, is up to the Calgary business community, the league, the city, and everyone else Banister says the Roughnecks have helped throughout their 10-year run in Calgary.
Among his statements to the media this week:
-"I helped Vancouver when they needed help. The Calgary Roughnecks need help now." - Calgary Herald, Thursday, February 24
"We need an energy sponsor, a bank sponsor, a food chain, a car dealership … anybody to step up …the city of Calgary has to step up. The CDLA (Calgary District Lacrosse Association) has to step up. Alberta Lacrosse has to step up." - Herald
"I don't think the City of Calgary has a pair of season tickets. I don't think the mayor has even been to a lacrosse game. That's the kind of support we need." - MetroNews - February 24, 2011
"A lot of corporations have benefited from having the Roughnecks in the city. How many pops and beers have been consumed over the last ten years? How many people have taken the LRT or even cabs to and from our games? The Stampede Board has done well on parking as well as the airlines, hotels, bars etc. You get the idea the list goes on and on." - Roughnecks press release, Tuesday, February 22
"When I look around the city and witness that every professional team or performing arts group of Calgary has a building or facility to use that some what gives them a chance for survival it saddens me." - Feb. 22 release
The city of Calgary has been down this road before; in 2008, Banister publicly visited sports facilities in Texas, before committing To Calgary again for two years. At the time, he told the Herald:
"We need some business sponsorship, season tickets out of these oil companies and service companies, media, lacrosse people … really, we just need everybody helping."
While Banister, the city and the Flames negotiate, a mini-Roughnecks rally has erupted on Twitter. Using the hashtag #savetheroughnecks, fans are tweeting the phone number to the Roughnecks' ticket office, and sending messages to Calgary's business leaders asking for help.