Team owner says his priority is to have basketball franchise operating out of Mile One, but says alternatives exist elsewhere
Last week, the National Basketball League of Canada announced that two teams in the Maritimes — the Cape Breton Highlanders and Saint John Riptide — had been granted one-year sabbaticals to allow the franchises to stabilize financially.
The majority owner of the NBLC's St. John’s Edge says he is focused on getting a new lease deal at Mile One Centre for the team, but suggests those vacancies provide him with options should he be unable to get the agreement he says he desperately wants.
“My priority is to stay in St. John’s. I’d love to work out a lease, a long-term arrangement with the city. It’s my objective to get to that lease,” said Irwin Simon.
“We’ve had a great two years. We led the league in attendance, but we still lose money.
“With the product we put on, Cape Breton would love me to come there. Saint John, N.B., doesn’t have a team now. They’d love me to come there. There are other places.
“But we want to stay in St. John’s. It is every bit of my intention to stay there and work something out.”
"My priority is to stay in St. John’s. I’d love to work out a lease, a long-term arrangement with the city. It’s my objective to get to that lease." — Irwin Simon
Simon’s comments came after Dean MacDonald, primary owner of the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers, the other professional sports tenant at Mile One, blasted the City of St. John’s and St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, which runs the facility on behalf of the city, for what he says is a lease offer that calls for a 65 per cent increase in what the two sports teams would pay SJSE next season.
The city responded saying the terms of the proposal were similar to those of the agreements in place last season and urged the teams to return to negotiations, but MacDonald said he is convinced SJSE would prefer not to have the teams there.
When asked if that was the sense that he had gained during the most recent talks, Simon answered “I’m going to be diplomatic here. But if we don’t get a lease, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll have a different opinion.
"Go back to when there were no team and it was dark nights (at Mile One,” he added. “When the lights aren’t on, are they really saving money? And ask the George Street business people and downtown businesses about what it means there is a game at Mile One, about how important that we are there.
“Having anchor teams is very, very important. It’s no different than a mall needing anchor tenants.”
“Every night, you know you’re going to get anywhere from 3,000 to 3,800 at our games, sometimes more. It’s got to be important they can count on attendance like that.”
Just a few months ago, the expectation was that the Edge and Growlers would take over management of Mile One, a plan outlined in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city/SJSE and the teams. But the city announced earlier this summer that it would be no longer pursuing that option.
“I think there is some confusion that if there is no MOU, where do we go?’ suggested Simon.
“But I think it’s clear that not having these sports teams there wouldn’t be a good thing.”
Simon said he expects the 2019-20 NBL Canada season to begin late November or early December and he agreed the Edge, who have not yet signed any players or hired a permanent coach, “had a lot of work to do,” to ready themselves for a new campaign. However, he made it clear that he was less inclined to engage in such preparatory work without the lease agreement guaranteeing him that he would have a place to play in St. John’s.
Whatever happens, he says he is determined to remain part of the NBL Canada, which he says can be successful despite its recent woes.
“The league is going to come back solid,” he said. “There is demand for a Montreal team and Ottawa team.
“If it is not St. John’s, there are absolutely other options for us,” added Simon, a Glace Bay, N.S., native who is also owner of the Cape Breton Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“It would be very easy for me to pick up and go to Cape Breton and use one infrastructure (for both the Eagles and basketball team). And I’d be welcomed with open arms.
“But I’ll say it one more time. That’s not what I’m trying to do. That’s not what I want to do. What I want is to stay in St. John’s.”