Alouettes owner Gary Stern: ‘financial boost will come from us making changes’

Photo courtesy: Peter McCabe/CFL

Montreal Alouettes’ co-owner Gary Stern wants to see the Canadian Football League achieve prosperity after the financial hit from COVID-19.

Stern joined host Tony Marinaro on TSN 690 radio in Montreal for a candid assessment of his first nine months as an owner in the three-down league. Sid Spiegel and Stern purchased the Als in January.

Q: At any point this year, when there was no season, did you say to yourself, ‘What in the world did we do here?’

Stern: I’d be lying if I said no, and I’m going to be very open and honest, there were a few days that came up. I bought into it back in December to play football. Unfortunately we couldn’t, but I’m really, really gung ho for playing football next year. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t, but just maybe this will make everybody even want it more in 2021.

Q: At any point did your co-owner Sid Spiegel say we’re going to lose millions of dollars this year and express his worries about the future of the CFL and how long we should be in this?

Stern: Not at any time, and if I ever got down, he would pump me up. He’s the most incredible, optimistic entrepreneur you’ve ever met. We saw in the CFL something that has been around a long time, needs fixing — we’ve never said it doesn’t — and we still believe it’s going to be this great business that we can all enjoy. Going forward we’re fully funded, we’re ready to go for 2021 — let’s play football.

Q: How disappointed are you that the CFL wasn’t able to play in 2020?

Stern: Very difficult question. Hindsight may have said we could have played or we should have played, but the nine governors, the nine presidents, the commissioner, everybody went all-out to play in a hub. There were some disagreements, there were some agreements, everybody wanted to play football. In the end, it was determined we couldn’t.

Q: Why?

Stern: I don’t think I can say that to you. There’s many reasons why we couldn’t, there’s many reasons why we should have. We have to say we didn’t and now going forward be really positive about what CFL football and the Alouettes are going to become. Going backwards really doesn’t do us any good, but I can assure you every president, every governor, everybody wanted to play football.

Q: What happens with the plan for next year?

Stern: The Alouette plan — we’re 100 percent going into Plan A fans in the stands, let’s go, plan B says we’re absolutely playing football next year. If it needs to be a hub, we have all this time to put it in place and make sure some of the reasons why the CFL didn’t play, don’t happen again. So Plan A is fans in the stands flat out. Plan B is we’re playing football next year, even if it has to be a hub.

Q: If there isn’t fans in the stands, can you make money?

Stern: I’m being told we can, therefore I’m saying we can. We have all this time to prepare for it. Unfortunately, that virus hit fast and hard.

Q: Can I ask you how you can make money if you play without fans in the stands — where would the revenue sources come from?

Stern: It can come from sponsorship, it can come from TV, it can come from many different sources. And it can be played in a way that the expenses are in line with revenue and knowing that yes, we’re going to lose some money. Speaking on behalf of the Alouettes, I believe, every team would be willing to lose some money because the CFL has to play football next year.

Q: Are you hoping fans don’t forget about the league?

Stern: Absolutely. They are moving forward making sure, along with the media, along with the fans, that there’s way more involvement and way more putting the CFL and the Alouettes into the news. That’s their expertise, it’s really not mine.

Q: Can you tell me how much money you lost this year?

Stern: Nope. We lost money, more than I wanted to because the virus came around. I’m in many businesses, none of them did as well as they would have. That doesn’t mean we’re out of business. You move forward. We’re in this for the long term. Did I expect a virus? No. Did I lose more than we thought? Yeah. We’re moving forward.

Q: What in your opinion can be done so that this league can get the financial boost it desperately needs?

Stern: All nine owners, whether they are community owned, privately owned, corporately owned, learned in the last three to four months so much about the CFL, its shortcomings and its strengths. The financial boost will come, I believe, from us making changes, getting excited going into the new year, finding and retaining the same fans we had, and reaching out to more that are out there. As a league, we have to make some changes to reach all the demographics, not just what we had. 

If anything we’ve learned in the CFL, there’s a much broader base out there that we need to attract, and that’s where the money comes from. Without losing that loyal, loyal fanbase that’s been with the CFL forever. I know that’s achievable, and the league and the Alouettes are all working towards that. I’m so positive, we’re going to hit it, and we’ll be flying. That’s all the funding we need.