If you're an NFL fan gearing up for the preseason, there's a small chance that you'll be watching Friday's contest between the Toronto Argonauts and B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League. If you're the owner of a professional sports team, and you're looking to own another professional sports team at the same time, your interest may run a bit higher.
That's because the Argos and Lions are owned by the same person: Senator David Braley. Braley, who also owned the Hamilton (Ontario) Tiger-Cats from 1989 through 1992, bought the British Columbia team in 1997, and became owner of the Toronto franchise early this year.
He has a great deal of pull in the league — he's been known as the CFL's "unseen benefactor" over a number of decades, and he served as interim commissioner of the league in 2003. It is said that nothing happens in the CFL without his knowledge.
And when his two teams face each other for the first time this week, Braley says that he won't be conflicted. "I'm looking to see great football, I want to see great plays," Braley recently told the Canadian media. "We'll have the president of the Lions in one box and the president of the Argos in the other and I'll move between them and shake hands with all the people we have invited. I'm playing it right down the middle. I'm going to wear a neutral colour; maybe I'll wear white."
Braley will also be rooting for the money he'll make as the host of the next two Grey Cups after this one — the 2011 CFL Championship will be held at B.C. Place Stadium, and the 2012 game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
This should be of interest to American sports owners inasmuch as there have been different owners interested in owning two different teams, and inasmuch as the practice is generally frowned upon. Recently, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban expressed interest in purchasing the Texas Rangers in conjunction with a group led by Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg. Cuban also tried to buy the Chicago Cubs before the team was sold to Tom Ricketts. Cuban is a polarizing figure, and that may be the only thing that Major League Baseball has to stand on if it wants to refuse his bid for ownership — after all, Jerry Reinsdorf owns the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls.
But in the larger and more complicated sense, the Braley dual ownership may open up an interesting precedent for an owner who wants his hands on two teams in the same sport. This has been verboten in all sports to date, due to obvious conflict of interest issues and the possibility of one person using one team as a farm system for another and gaining increased control of a league through dual ownership. A league would have the right to point to its bylaws in refusing the attempt of such a suitor, but could that suitor now turn around and sue for the right to bid, based on Braley's franchise polygamy? Would this give a Jerry Jones the hypothetical right and the opportunity to, say, retain ownership of the Dallas Cowboys and also bid on an L.A. expansion team (or a current underfunded NFL team that might move to L.A.)? In Major League Soccer (MLS), there is another dual ownership situation, with AEG Worldwide owning the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo. Is it too farfetched to imagine this in one of the "major" American sports?
It's a long shot, but it's also a dangerous first step.
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