The Edmonton Eskimos are in the money, but out of the baseball business and that's another ominous sign for Canada's last Triple-A ball club, the Ottawa Lynx.
Although the Edmonton Trappers won the Pacific Coast League championship in 2002 and averaged slightly better than 5,400 fans a game this season, the Eskimos announced yesterday they have sold the baseball team they bought for $8-million (Canadian) in 1999.
Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and his Round Rock Baseball Inc. purchased the Trappers for $10.5-million (U.S.) and will move the team to central Texas in time for the 2005 PCL season.
That means the Trappers will play at Edmonton's Telus Field next summer before departing in the same manner as the Triple-A Vancouver Canadians and the Calgary Cannons. Over the past few years, Canadian fans have also seen baseball teams leave St. Catharines, Ont., and Medicine Hat, Alta., while the Canadian Baseball League folded at the midway point of its inaugural season.
None of that is welcome news for the Ottawa Lynx, whose attendance has been in decline since 1996. This past International League season, the Lynx averaged 2,750 fans a game in a stadium that seats 10,332.
"We're still in a situation where attendance is just not where it needs to be," general manager Kyle Bostwick said. "It's not working financially.
"The International League is looking for different options because right now this one isn't viable. We're here for next season, and as long as we're here, it's another opportunity."
Ryan's Round Rock group was the PCL's best opportunity to rid itself of its lone Canadian and most northerly franchise. The Eskimos' president and chief executive officer, Hugh Campbell, said that selling the baseball team became a necessity when the rival Cannons left Calgary in 2002 to become the Albuquerque Isotopes.
"[That]was the major factor that triggered the push by the PCL members for the Eskimos to sell the Trapper franchise," Campbell said. "Scheduling, air and cross-border travel and the Canadian dollar were also factors in the PCL being desirous of not having a Canadian team in the league."
The Canadian Football League club will use the $10.5-million to replenish its stability fund and pay off the Trappers' debt. The baseball team's indebtedness will be calculated and announced at the Eskimos' annual general meeting in four months.
There will also be discussions with the city of Edmonton concerning the future of Telus Field once the Trappers leave. Campbell said the Eskimos will "look for other baseball alternatives."
The Eskimos' chief operating officer, Rick LeLacheur, will travel to Winnipeg this weekend to watch the Eskimos-Blue Bombers game and will try to meet with officials of Winnipeg's highly successful minor-league club, the Goldeyes.
This past season, the Goldeyes, an independent team that plays Double-A-calibre baseball, had 15 sellouts and averaged 7,161 fans, a count that bettered that of most Triple-A teams.
"There are options," LeLacheur said. "Vancouver has a Double-A team. There's the Northern League.
"I guess if you open your mind you could look to Kelowna and Victoria because they had teams in the CBL and maybe do more of a Western Canada league.
"We never went into this with the thought of moving the Trappers out of Edmonton, but things have changed.''