Stephen Bronfman to make crucial decision in bid to keep Expos alive

Saturday, June 17th, 2000
MONTREAL (CP) -- The fate of the Montreal Expos is expected to determined by Monday and it rests squarely on the shoulders of minority owner Stephen Bronfman, a published report says.

The son of Expos founder Charles Bronfman has been asked by the team's other local shareholders to offer to buy out lead owner Jeffrey Loria, Montreal La Presse says, citing numerous unnamed sources.

If he refuses, the Canadian owners will likely sell their shares to the New York art dealer, spelling the end of a bitter debt-sharing crisis -- and most likely the end of major-league baseball in Montreal, the newspaper reported Saturday.

"We're aware that Stephen won't sign a blank cheque," one source is quoted as saying. "Whatever happens, the fate of the Expos will be made public in 10 days."

Only a small minority of the local shareholders believe Bronfman, also the team's co-president, will make the offer, La Presse reported.

Loria's purchase last December from Claude Brochu was greeted with optimism from long-suffering Expos personnel and fans -- including Bronfman.

Bronfman sat near Loria at a news conference to announce the sale, beaming that his father's passion would be preserved for another generation of baseball fans.

Loria immediately doubled the team's payroll, to roughly $30 million, bucking a trend set after a decade of fire sales of the franchise's top players.

As a result, the Expos seem poised to contend for a wild-card berth and are drawing substantially better crowds than they were in 1999.

However, things aren't going so smoothly off the field. Loria and his stepson, David Samson, failed to secure broadcast rights for television and English radio, and the downtown stadium project -- a key to the organization's resurgence -- is at a standstill.

Loria recently issued a cash call for $70 million to cover projected losses while the Expos play at Olympic Stadium over the next two years.

Loria, who owns 24 per cent of the National League club, said he needs new funds to pay bills and operate a winning team.

But the local partners, who hold 76 per cent of the club, have said they don't want to inject any new money into the Expos.

The local owners also are said to be upset Loria can control the Expos, despite having so far injected just $18 million of his own cash into the franchise.

"If I'd known last December that we'd still be waiting for a francophone (marketing executive) to be hired, that there'd be no publicity or contracts on English radio or on television, I'd never have believed it," said one local shareholder.

Other sources were somewhat more optimistic that Bronfman -- a heir to the Seagram empire -- will save the Expos from being sold to Loria and moved to the United States.

"I'm confident Stephen will pull this one out at the last minute," said former Quebec Nordiques president Marcel Aubut, who spoke to Bronfman when the two met Saturday at the qualifying session for the Formula One Grand Prix.

"He has the means to do it -- and there's a familial tradition at work here," Aubut said in a television interview, refusing to discuss specific details of their conversation.

"He's not pleased with what the American has done and he won't let it end like this."

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