The pressure is mounting on the CFL to put forth a concrete plan for their 2021 season and beyond, but Montreal Alouettes president Mario Cecchini isn’t feeling the heat.
In a interview with Miguel Bujold of LaPresse earlier this week, the Alouettes front office leader said he was ‘not at all’ concerned about the survival of the franchise, noting that new owner Gary Stern has not wavered in his support despite the tough financial losses incurred in 2020.
“We experience all kinds of emotions, but he understands the situation and he remains fully invested,” Cecchini said. “His resilience has not been shaken in any way.”
Stern would like to see his investment actually take the field at some point however, and the Alouettes, like the rest of the CFL, remain vocally committed to a full 18-game season with training camp beginning in May.
Many in the media have questioned the realism of that goal, but Cecchini believes it is still a strong possibility.
“We are not necessarily worried about playing. The NHL is playing, so there’s no reason to believe we couldn’t do it, too,” he insisted.
“Being able to play is one thing, but what we want is obviously spectators in our [stands].”
The all-important criteria of butts in seats needs to be met before the CFL can relaunch and Cecchini thinks that will be a realistic possibility come June.
“Vulnerable people, the elderly, healthy working people, in principle, all of these people will have been vaccinated. And that’s what we’re going to make in our arguments with Public Health for the notion of spectators,” he said.
The CFL and CFLPA have already prepared return to play health and safety protocols to be submitted to various levels of government later this week, though that plan only covers the players and staff, not fans. That will require more negotiations with bureaucrats to get approval but Cecchini is already sensing a positive shift in his conversations with Quebec.
“I think the government is increasingly aware of the pressure that businesses are under. I am not saying that they were not before, but the longer it stretches and is difficult, the more the percentage of companies that need help increases. So there seems to be an opening on this side,” he explained.
“They are very aware of our issues, of that I’m convinced. They will work to help us as much as possible, but we have to understand that their primary responsibility is the protection of the public, and we respect that, of course.”
Should approval for fans arrive, the Alouettes are in excellent position to recoup financial losses. Despite the cancelled 2020 season, ticket sales are promising and excitement is building around the franchise.
“The people at the box office tell me that on some points, we are even ahead of 2019 [for this date]. This is encouraging given the current context,” Cecchini revealed.
“We always want to sell more tickets, but the public feedback is very positive. People appreciate our perseverance.”
Cecchini shares Randy Ambrosie’s optimism that the CFL will be on the field come June of of this year, but still gives himself some wiggle room, refusing to either fully confirm the existing strategy or speculate on alternatives.
Instead, the Alouettes are taking it one day at a time, secure in their belief in the future.
“Danny [Maciocia] has worked endless hours since December to build the team he has. Our team has been working on our sanitary measures for our two [potential] stadiums, so we are working for the short term,” Cecchini said.
“We’ll have to see how things evolve.”