David Braley, owner and chairman of the BC Lions, has died at the age of 79.
Braley, a Hamilton businessman and a stalwart of Canadian football, has owned three CFL franchises - including at one time simultaneously owning the Lions and the Toronto Argonauts.
The Lions announced this morning Braley died peacefully at his residence in Burlington, Ont.
“One of his final acts of devotion to Canadian football was a clear expression of his desire that the stability of our club be maintained through a smooth transition following his passing,” said Lions president Rick LeLacheur in a statement. “We will work closely with David’s estate to follow that plan.”
Braley had been in the process of looking for potential buyers for the Lions for the past few years. He had owned the team since the 1997 CFL season while also owning the Argonauts from 2010 to 2015. Braley also owned the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1989 to 1990 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
Lions officials have confirmed that the Braley estate will guarantee the operations of the BC Lions football club for 2021 - whether or not there is a CFL season. However, the future of the team beyond that point (including the selection of a new ownership group to sell to) remains unclear at this point.
Justin Dunk, managing editor at Canadian football website 3 Down Nation, said the CFL will be hard-pressed to find another person as dedicated - and as willing to use resources to support that dedication - to the Canadian game.
"As a younger person covering the sport since about 2010, everybody will talk about him in glowing terms because he kept teams viable in less than certain times," Dunk said. "If he hadn't stepped in for Hamilton, the Argos and the Leos, we might be looking at a league with fewer teams - or maybe no league at all."
TSN Football Analyst Dave Naylor said Braley was "the perfect owner for a pandemic" in that the businessman was always a strong proponent of the CFL and was willing to pay and provide stability to the team he owned no matter what external circumstances existed.
"David Braley was a safety net for the CFL," Naylor said. "When the Argos were in financial trouble in 2010, he was the person the lead the search for an owner... He has practically loaned money to every team in the league at one point."
However, Braley was also known to be a staunch traditionalist, Naylor noted - as the Hamilton native consistently opposed putting all CFL games on television, supporting instead a model with TV blackouts in the home markets of teams that struggle to draw live attendance to stadiums.
"He was no visionary," Naylor noted. "There was always a feeling that a Lions turnaround would require a new ownership with a fresh vision."
He added he has heard at least two groups remain interested in buying the BC Lions.
This has been a tumultuous month for the Lions front office, even if the COVID pandemic and the cancellation of the 2020 season were not taken into account. General manager Ed Hervey abruptly resigned on Oct. 16 for personal reasons, and the CFL has not indicated if it is able to play in 2021 - given the league's heavy dependence on gate revenue and would require live audiences to sustain operations.
Finding a new owner for the BC Lions will be another challenge to the long list of big tasks facing the CFL, but Dunk agreed that the league has to move forward.
"I would have liked to see Braley live 100-plus years, but you have to look at reality," he said. "Finding a new owner will be a massive undertaking, and you have to find someone that's committed... Because David Braley will go down as one of the most influential people in CFL's history."