Confusion over a potential professional basketball franchise in St. John's is growing, as St. John's Sports and Entertainment says it made a deal with an ownership group — but not the one the league approved.
A lease agreement for Mile One Centre was struck with local businessman Tony Kenny, says city councillor Sandy Hickman. But the league made its own deal with an unknown group.
"The National Basketball League of Canada seems to have a deal with a different proponent than we have a deal with. Which is disappointing, and kind of mysterious really."
In conversations with the league throughout the summer, Hickman said the city was told there was a deadline of June 15 to approve an expansion team, with a preference for local ownership.
The league has now set a new deadline, he said, for the end of July.
"We find [the league is] not giving us the full information," he said. "And certainly, the group they have a deal with has not come to us and sat down, face to face."
So... who is it?
Three prospective ownership groups were known to CBC.
One, led by Glenn Stanford, fell through when a lease agreement could not be reached with the city.
Another was headed by Kenny, who has been linked to past efforts to bring a major junior hockey franchise to St. John's.
The third is fronted by John Graham, a Toronto-based promoter best known for trying to bring a National Hockey League team to Saskatoon in 2016.
Graham agreed to an interview with CBC News last week, but has not responded to further calls and emails.
'We would want a fair deal with any operating entity.' - Coun. Sandy Hickman
The NBL Canada declined an interview with CBC on Monday, saying it would have more information about the owner later in the week.
With so much uncertainty, Hickman said St. John's Sports and Entertainment is hesitant to bank on professional basketball for next season.
"I really don't want to make any commitment at this point in time until we see what it is this team is talking about doing and how much they're willing to pay."
Looking for a fair shake
When asked about the agreement with Kenny, Hickman said the city had a mutually beneficial deal with the businessman.
It differed from the city's deal with the St. John's IceCaps, he said, in that it involved very little or no subsidy.
The city, through St. John's Sports and Entertainment, would make the facility available to the owners and keep advertising revenue and money from box-level sales. The team would keep its ticket sales and revenue from its own marketing. The two sides would split concession revenue.
SJSE expects anyone to "pay their way" to rent Mile One, Hickman said.
"We would want a fair deal with any other operating entity."