“We’re Not in This to Make Any Money”

Local investors buy the Edmonton Stingers from the league
New Stingers owners James Burns, Reed Clarke and Tank Vander

Those of us of a certain age will remember the famous ad campaigns for Remington shavers. The company’s owner, Victor Kiam, told us that he liked the product so much, “I bought the company!”

(Trust me, these ads were famous decades ago).

And that’s kind of how James Burns sees the Edmonton Stingers. On Thursday, Burns, Tank Vander and Stingers CEO Reed Clarke were unveiled as the new owners of the CEBL team.

“It’s about giving back and having kids play,” said Burns. “I know everybody says this, but we’re not in this to make any money. It’s giving back. It’s fun. And, maybe, some day, you sell the team, but that’s Neverland. If you want to make money, go do something else.”

Burns, the former CEO of Alcanna, has been in Edmonton for about five years, and had been a dedicated fan since the basketball team first played in 2019. When the CEBL launched, it had six teams, which were franchises that were owned by the league office. The philosophy was to walk before you run (or dribble). Slowly, the league has grown while selling off the assets. Commissioner Mike Morreale said six of the 10 current teams are now privately owned.

Vander has been a business partner of Burns for years, and is the founder of Ace Liquor and the president of the liquor division at SNDL, which used to be Alcanna.

“I’ve been a Stingers fan and season-ticket holder since day one,” said Burns. “I just sold a business last year and I didn’t have anything to do. So I reached out, and it turns out that I knew some people who worked at the CEBL. Canada is a small place, everybody always knows somebody — there are one or two degrees of separation. I saw some announcements, that someone I know is bringing a team to Winnipeg, and that Calgary and Vancouver are going to private ownership, so I just popped up out of the blue and said are you interested in selling Edmonton? And here we are.”

Burns is no neophyte, though. A lot of times, smaller leagues and teams have failed because owners come in with dreams of running the sports franchise off the sides of their desks — and that there’s real money to be made. He knows the game. He was close to John Bitove, the investor who brought the Toronto Raptors of the NBA to life. And Burns was a director on the Basketball Canada board, and was one of the leads that brought the World Basketball Championships to Toronto back in 1994.

Burns said a major announcement will come about a month from now. The team has already worked to refurbish community basketball courts in Edmonton, and announced a partnership with Free Play for Kids that will see $10 from every season ticket sold go to that organization. But Burns said more is to come.

“It’s about how we’re going to get involved 12 months a year in the community,” he said. “We only play 10 home games, and that’s a pretty small window. And it’s during the summer, when people are busy, anyway. We want to be much bigger than that. That’s the goal, here.”

The league can’t really expand its schedule because many of the players want to have the chance to play in NBA developmental leagues, or play in Europe during the winter. The CEBL lives in a very small window when those players are without other commitments.

Of course, as any new owner would, Burns identified issues he’d like to see addressed. A new floor and new seats are already being installed at the Expo Centre. But, concessions need to be improved — and the parking bottlenecks on the grounds are difficult. It can take fans 30 minutes just to get out of the parking lot.

Morreale said the Stingers are the “pillar franchise” of the CEBL, as it has won the title in two of the four seasons the league has been in operation.

“We operated this team from a distance, and it has been able to make some serious strides,” he said. “But today marks a special day, where we really get down to what’s important, and that is this local community and an investment by local people.”