Former CFL commissioner Larry Smith has some friendly advice for Pierre Karl Peladeau, the new owner of the Montreal Alouettes: Expect the unexpected.
Peladeau took over the Alouettes on Friday, purchasing the franchise from the CFL. The league had assumed ownership of the club Feb. 14.
The 61-year-old Peladeau, a former leader of the Parti Québécois, ticked two huge boxes for the CFL.
Firstly, he's a Montreal businessman — Peladeau is the president/CEO of Quebecor Inc. — and gives the franchise its first local ownership since Leo Dandurand founded the original Alouettes in 1946 although Charles Bronfman owned the former Montreal Concordes in the 1980s. Peladeau also has deep pockets, with a reported worth of US$1.9 billion.
The last point is crucial given the CFL has been forced to assume control of the struggling franchise twice since 2019. The good news is Peladeau said all of the right things Friday, including that his purchase of the Alouettes was a labour of love and not a business transaction and he understood the financial implications he was assuming.
"Getting involved in a situation where you've had a franchise that's had some difficulty over the last seven, eight years is not an easy thing because you that know going in you're going to have to write cheques," Smith told reporters Monday. "You know going in that there are going to be surprises.
"You know going in that it's one of those situations where if you have one impression of what you're getting, the actual reality is that impression may not be 100 per cent accurate because of some of the surprises."
Smith, a member of Canada’s Senate, certainly understands the Montreal marketplace and the Alouettes' place within it. The 71-year-old native of Hudson, Que., spent time with the organization as a player (1972-81) and twice as its president (1997-01, 2004-10) after serving as CFL commissioner (1992-97).
As commissioner, Smith oversaw the franchise's relocation to Montreal from Baltimore in February 1996. Smith resigned as commissioner in February 1997 and became Alouettes president.
Smith was instrumental in securing the Alouettes a foothold within the francophone community. The first player taken in the '72 CFL draft out of Bishop's University, Smith made over 200 appearances annually throughout Quebec promoting the Montreal club's brand as its top executive.
Smith said having local ownership is a big plus for the Alouettes.
"I think (Peladeau) has great name recognition, which is a major, major positive," Smith said. "(Secondly) he has the financial resources and (No. 3) he has energy and energy, properly transferred to the market, can be a very positive thing.
"The CFL has a unique niche and it has to play to its niche and has to be able to figure out how to grow within the environment that it lives in. That, to me, is a huge opportunity but a huge challenge."
However, the league's purchase agreement with Peladeau is interesting, given among Quebecor Inc.'s holdings is TVA Sports, a French sports-specialty channel. But any notion of adding CFL games to its programming will have to wait as currently the league's broadcast rights are held by Bell Media (TSN and RDS) through 2026.
The CFL and Bell Media agreed to a six-year extension in 2019 but the league didn't stage a season in 2020 due to the global pandemic.
"Maybe Mr. Peladeau looks at this as an opportunity for competition and competition is good because competition forces people to get out of their comfort zone," said Smith. "Let's see whether Mr. Peladeau can deliver something in terms of a benefit to the league because it would be benefit to the league to have competition to increase those rights."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press