Ambrosie says he has received assurances from Alouettes majority ownership about club

·4 min read

TORONTO — Commissioner Randy Ambrosie says he has received assurances from the Montreal Alouettes majority ownership that nothing has changed with the CFL club.

Minority owner Gary Stern created a huge stir Monday when he announced he was stepping away from the franchise's day-to-day operations and surrendering his spot on the CFL's board of governors.

Stern and partner/father-in-law Sid Spiegel purchased the Alouettes from the CFL in January, 2020, with Spiegel taking a 75 per cent ownership stake. Spiegel died in July 2021 but his estate controls the majority ownership of the Montreal club.

Stern also stated Monday he was keeping his 25 per cent stake in the franchise.

Ambrosie said Stern informed him Sunday of his intentions. The CFL commissioner remains upbeat about the Alouettes' fortunes after speaking with representatives of Spiegel's estate.

"It has been exceptionally encouraging," Ambrosie said. "They (majority ownership representatives) have had three core messages and they haven't wavered from them.

"They've said it's steady as she goes. They've got a good management team in Montreal and they want to continue the operation. They talked about winning football games being a big priority, which clearly demonstrates they understand our business and want to entertain their fans. From my perch, it's been a really good week . . . in some respects it's been very uplifting with their focus on those three priorities for today."

Montreal (4-6) will chase a third straight win Friday night when it hosts the Ottawa Redblacks (2-8) to kick off the CFL's Labour Day weekend. The Alouettes are second in the East Division, two points back of the front-running Toronto Argonauts (5-5), who visit the third-place Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-8) on Monday.

But questions remain regarding Montreal's long-term future. The CFL was forced to operate the Alouettes in 2019 before eventually selling to Stern and Spiegel.

"You can only deal with what's in front of you and that's what we're doing," Ambrosie said when asked about the Alouettes future. "Again, what we've got is the message we're getting from the representatives of the majority owner and that's it's steady as she goes.

"Beyond all of that, we've been thinking a lot about how do we create a better, stronger future for the league? We're focused on two things: The best product on the field and the strongest business off the field.

"I think if we do that, regardless of what decisions our owners might make over time, if we stay focused on building a great business and the best brand of football in the world, I think we're going to be absolutely fine in all of our markets and the new markets that we'll ultimately find our way to."

Ambrosie will be in Montreal on Friday, then head to Regina in time for the Roughriders-Winnipeg Blue Bombers contest at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday.

The Labour Day weekend is traditionally an important one for CFL teams. The games are rivalry contests and signify the unofficial start of the second half of the season, a time when clubs make their playoff push.

Ambrosie knows all about that. He played nine CFL season as an offensive lineman with the Calgary Stampeders (1985-87), Toronto Argonauts (87-88) and Edmonton (1989-93), winning a Grey Cup title in his final year on the field.

"I have my own memories (about Labour Day) which just elevate my feeling about the weekend," he said. "What you learned about Labour Day was no matter how hard you played or how focused you were, when you got to those games they just felt like they were more important.

"The energy you experienced in the stadiums was higher and there was an elevated sense, it's so exciting. Besides Grey Cup, Labour Day in the CFL is, I think, perhaps the second-most special time of the season."

But CFL attendance this season has been soft, with the league drawing an average of 21,106 fans per game. And, again, nowhere is that more of an issue than in Toronto, where the Argos are averaging 11,805 spectators _ and drew an announced gathering of 9,806 for a 23-22 home loss to Winnipeg on July 4.

To be fair, though, the Argos are coming off a season-high attendance of 14,963 for their 37-20 victory over Hamilton on Saturday night. However, the club won't return to BMO Field until Oct. 8 versus the B.C. Lions.

"We are watching it (attendance)," Ambrosie said. "We're also watching in the world of sports and entertainment more generally that it's more soft everywhere . . . we could've all sat back and said the recovery after two very difficult years in the COVID crisis was going to take some time.

"I think we're going to see a great crowd in Montreal on Friday, great crowds in Regina on Sunday, we'll have a great crowd in Calgary and a sellout in Hamilton. This is going to be a really good weekend for us and it sets up the stretch drive."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept, 1, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press