What the changes at the top might mean for the B.C. Lions

If it indeed does take a considerable amount of spin-doctoring dexterity to purposely lose in the news cycle word about a big change at the top of the B.C. Lions food chain, they performed brilliantly announcing the imminent exit of Dennis Skulsky.

If you didn’t want the masses to focus on the fact that the president and CEO of the CFL team the last six years is stepping down to take on a more unstructured role of vice-chairman, you do what the Lions did Monday. TSN 1040 first reported the news two minutes before the expiration of the sleep-inducing NHL trade deadline.

In one rather deft move, the Lions not only briefly stole the news cycle at the exact same moment a radio audience was tuning in to find out the Vancouver Canucks were again doing nothing, but to some may have signalled a rise to a belief that football in the Lower Mainland can be salvaged.

Others may also wonder whether owner David Braley has just cleared the decks to sell the franchise by allowing a buyer to install their own person at the top. Skulsky’s contract, according to published reports, is up after the upcoming season, which might enable a more seamless regime change if the time has finally come for Braley to pull the trigger on the ownership move he’s been reluctant to make for more than a decade. At some point, the line of ownership groups who have been reportedly interested in making a deal to acquire the Lions over the years might have done enough waiting.

There’s also been speculation in the wake of the announcement that Skulsky (above) is not merely ascending into semi-retirement but moving to one side so as to be part of his own ownership acquisition group.

According to the club at least, Skulsky’s reasoning for the move effective April 1 is purely for personal reasons.

“The past couple of years have been challenging for me with some family health issues, the passing of my father, all of which is a reminder that life is very precious,” Skulsky said in a news release. “After 43 years of fulltime employment, the time has come to step back and spend more time enjoying life with my wife, family and grandchildren.”

By any balanced assessment, Skulsky’s work since formally joining the Lions would make him a polarizing figure.

Braley waited nearly two years for Skulsky to leave his previous post as a newspaper executive, then handed him the onerous task of marshaling the franchise through the move from B.C. Place Stadium to temporary digs at Empire Field and back.

Despite that challenge club revenues were on a solid incline for several years, according to Skulsky. Detractors said they were too high, as coffee-row discussion centred for a time around ticket prices, with the Lions responding with a $25 entry point for the 2016 season as early as last October.

Others took issue with Skulsky’s panache for a guaranteed win promotion and regularly standing alongside his team for a half during home games, suggesting his time would be better served rubbing shoulders with the business sector. He also butted heads with more than one media messenger locally, and their bosses.

It doesn’t take a football savant to suggest the Lions have a big job ahead, though no bigger than the Canucks these days to be truthful. The biggest issues for either team would go away simply by playing host to a playoff game.

Nonetheless, with Braley only able to take the pulse of his franchise from a distance, it’s fair to ask where the Lions would be had the owner not tabbed Skulsky after the passing of Bob Ackles to serve the Lions in a manner far greater than co-founder of the Waterboys business advisory group. The list of presidential candidates was not exactly stretching around a city block. The list of enthusiastic leaders willing to often dress in orange is even shorter.

Now Braley must do it again at a time when the list of candidates is still slim and the Lions at a crossroads, with Skulsky leaving after an extrmely steep attendance drop in 2015 and Wally Buono staying on for another two seasons in an all-or-nothing attempt to resurrect the on-field product.

Best thing for all of them now is the fact most in these parts seem to be currently preoccupied with Dan Hamhuis.


Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.