Canadian owners, like their American brethren, consider stadium building as strictly a civic enterprise. Besides going to games, what else are taxpayers for? And the mayor, for once, has had some problems of his own. Man and His World, a permanent, reconstituted version of the fantastically successful Expo '67, is an outstanding exhibition, but it is losing money. The mayor did come up with a marvelously fey device called a "voluntary tax"—purists would call it a good old-fashioned lottery—and while it is bringing in $1 million a month, no one expects it to outlast the first court test. It is no time to be asking for a $35 million stadium even if it actually turned out to cost $35 million.
The mayor has tried to placate the owners, assuring them that he is only waiting for a ripe future moment to introduce the stadium bill, but the owners, all sage businessmen, are no longer prepared to proceed on faith. Since the mayor will not talk there is really no way of knowing, but it is not above conjecture to imagine that he may be delaying until he can fill an inside straight. If Montreal is awarded the '76 Olympics and if it can get some guarantee of an NFL franchise, a stadium could then be more easily rationalized. Drapeau is already at work on the 1976 Olympics, even though they fall in the year of the 200th anniversary of the United States, a large republic of gun slingers and credit-card holders that lies directly south of the Dominion.
Gerry Snyder, vice-chairman of the city executive committee, the highest-ranking English-speaking Montreal official and the man who was almost solely responsible for the effort that won the baseball team, says matter-of-factly: "It's unfortunate for Americans and I know it's unfair, but I know the people who vote, and they'll just never give the Olympics to the States." Snyder entertains even less doubt that Montreal will obtain an NFL team as soon as the stadium becomes a reality. But the baseball owners will not play a waiting game.
"I don't want to criticize the city," says Bronfman, who is a great admirer of Drapeau. "The city does have a problem. It has the stadium on the one hand, and, on the other, it must try to provide some kind of protection for investors. After all, we are prepared to assume legitimate business risks—and we have examined this situation carefully—and a franchise, frankly, at best offers only marginal return."
It is, then, essentially a case where honorable, responsible men on both sides made blithe commitments that were never seriously thought out. The city—Snyder, anyway—may have had at least a hunch that it would win the franchise, but none of the owners ever even imagined that they might actually have a team to own. As a result, almost from the first there were rumors, eventually substantiated, that some of the sponsors wanted out.
This led to a remarkable public confessional that was issued to the league at the Houston Ail-Star Game meetings, when all seven of the original equal partners signed a statement to the effect that they would not desert the enterprise. The league, which has been either terribly indulgent or simply naive all along, was so taken by this that it cooed some more and said the domed stadium would not have to be ready until 1972.
And vengeance rent the Texas air. "The vultures from Milwaukee, Buffalo and Dallas were here," the Montreal team lawyer, Jonathon Robinson, said. "They left disappointed. When the season opens next April, Montreal will be in there."
Back from Houston, however, the malaise only set in deeper as the owners waited for the mayor to fulfill his promise. Additional but futile pressure was also applied to have the Autostade covered as well; the most fetching scheme suggested that it be made to resemble a modernistic tent, like the popular Expo German pavilion. Then, only two weeks after the Houston declaration, the two French-Canadian owners pulled out. One was Levesque, who demanded written assurances from the city on such subjects as the stadium, concession revenues and a tax deal. When none came within the 48-hour limit he set, he quit.
Bronfman, who then moved up to head the team, followed with a private letter of his own to the mayor. The letter was necessary, Bronfman said, to place his own account on the record, and among other things, "to protect myself" from any charges of ethnic bias or strife. Eighty-two percent of Montreal is French-speaking, and the team would enjoy no chance for success if the dominant French-Canadian element was alienated. There is, however, absolutely no evidence of French-English conflict. The French press and community have remained more cordial, in fact, to the operation than have the English-speaking. "Jean Louis Levesque left because he just doesn't like politicians," one of his associates explained. He also, apparently, did not like the chances for his money.
Last week Bronfman made assurances that substitute owners had been found and that one was French. He also said that "understandings" had been reached with eight potential employees, including a general manager who is presumed to be John McHale, Commissioner Eckert's aide. But all signings and operations continue to await the stadium commitment.