By Stephanie Myles
Those working on keeping the Expos in Montreal have pretty much kept the entire operation under a cone of silence lately. And it seemed fairly obvious there was really nothing concrete or positive to announce - or chairman Jacques Menard and company would have capitalized on the momentum created by the team's good play in front of a large, excited crowd when Pedro Martinez returned to Montreal nearly two weeks ago.
But a meeting in New York Thursday with baseball's poobahs might be a step toward the pre-all- star-break announcement Menard promised a month ago. Whether it's good news or bad is still up in the air. The participants in the meeting included baseball's principal legal counsel, Robert DuPuy, and both experts engaged by the commissioner to study the Expos' financial plan and downtown stadium proposal. It also included Menard and Jeffrey Loria, the potential main investor in the new group. And it reportedly also included Stephen Bronfman, son of former owner Charles Bronfman, and Bronfman's financial advisor.
Bronfman's name has circulated about the ownership group for weeks, but only in terms of a minor investment in the team, perhaps in the order of $5 million. His participation in this high-level powwow can only be good news.
Bronfman, 33, worked in the team's communications department when his father owned the team. He held a 22.5-per-cent stake in the group that purchased the broadcasting assets of Labatt Communications for $605 million in 1995, only to re-sell them last February for $875 million, although that sale is still not finalized.
This small ray of light comes along as Quebecor, which owns the Quatre-Saisons network and who had been open to a possible investment in the "new" ownership group as recently as last month, decided against investing. The corporation's board of directors voted no on Friday.
"It is not Quebecor's role to involve itself in professional sport, notably with the Expos," said chairman of the board Jean Neveu.
Meanwhile, many loose ends remain. There's a possibility that French-language Radio-Canada might end its association with the team - even if it stays in Montreal. Already, and partly because of the Pan-American Games this summer, the network will broadcast only 16 Expos games this year. Radio-Canada sports director Daniel Asselin told the Journal de Montreal that the network is re-thinking its involvement.
"The problem isn't the CRTC, but more the lack of public interest in baseball right now, especially since we don't know what's going on because no one with the Expos is keeping us up to date," Asselin said.
Already, Quatre-Saisons pulled its broadcast of weekday Expos games this season.