Alouettes owner Pierre Karl Péladeau’s ‘competition’ with Bell makes for odd CFL partnership

Photo courtesy: Minas Panagiotakis/

For the CFL’s broadcast partners at Bell Media, the call is now coming from inside the house.

Billionaire media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau has officially become the owner of the Montreal Alouettes, bringing an end to the franchise’s second period of league stewardship in four years. The 61-year-old former leader of the separatist Parti Quebecois is an odd bedfellow for the Canadian Football League and carries with him a considerable amount of personal controversy, but his positioning within the media landscape might be the most peculiar aspect of the move.

As president and CEO of Quebecor, Péladeau’s business empire includes both print and broadcast media, including TVA Sports. Yet the Alouettes’ new owner won’t see any of his team’s games shown on his own network for the foreseeable future, as the CFL’s television rights are held exclusively by Bell subsidiary TSN and their French language off-shoot RDS.

“The TV rights are managed by the league and they exist for the benefit of Bell Media until 2025. At that point, we will see what will happen,” Péladeau acknowledged during his introductory press conference. “I think it would be premature to anticipate whatever that is. We need to wait until the moment of importance to see what that situation might produce.”

TSN has been the CFL’s exclusive national rights holder since 2008. The two sides came to an agreement on a six-year extension in 2019 worth over $50 million annually, making the broadcaster the league’s most important financial partner. Unlike larger leagues, no regional broadcast rights are given in the CFL.

Not only is TVA Sports the chief competitor for RDS in Quebec, but Péladeau’s relationship with their parent company has also verged on open warfare. His frequent public complaints that Bell Media has placed his sports channel at a disadvantage by prioritizing RDS in cable packages and underpaying on broadcast fees led him to pull his feed from Bell TV subscribers during the 2019 NHL playoffs. That move was found to violate the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s “standstill rule,” a decision that Quebecor challenged until May of 2022 when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear their final appeal.

In February, Quebecor announced it was cutting 240 jobs, including 140 across their TVA Group channels, after revenue declined across the board in 2022. In his statement on that announcement, Péladeau cited a difficult media environment but specifically called out Bell Media, alleging that their “highly prejudicial treatment” of TVA’s specialty channels had created a “permanent conflict of interest.”

Speaking on the odd relationship between himself and the CFL’s broadcast partner, Péladeau praised the level of competition they’ve developed, specifically citing the success of Quebecor’s telecommunications subsidiary Videotron.

“When we started and we bought Videotron in 2000, people were saying, ‘What’s that guy doing? What the hell is he doing there? What does he know about cable?'” he recalled. “20 years later, I can tell you something, I guess Bell knows a lot now about what we are able to achieve and we achieved it.”

“We’ve been able to get 50 percent of the wireline business, which was the historical business of Bell. We took close to 25 percent of the wireless business, which we were not involved in. I’m mentioning this because competition brings what we can consider the best thing. It creates a sentiment that you want to go ahead, you want to be better, and it’s all good for everyone.”

While Quebecor has been a worthy challenger to Bell when it comes to regional cable, phone, and internet, TVA Sports has struggled to keep up in its own department. The channel has reportedly racked up over $200 million in pre-tax losses since it launched in 2011 and Péladeau has previously threatened to axe the enterprise altogether. Meanwhile, RDS publicly trumpeted a whopping 76 percent market share in December of 2022.

While the CFL is looking to diversify its broadcast revenue with a new American television deal, Bell Media’s vice grip on Canadian rights is not currently in question. If Péladeau’s acquisition of the Alouettes is a long-term play to attempt to scoop up French language broadcasting rights for TVA Sports after 2025, it would mark a significant departure from the league’s recent strategy of exclusivity. Other rights, such as regional radio, could be up for grabs but Quebecor is not currently invested in that sector, though the man in charge couldn’t say what the future might hold in that area.

Though he noted multiple times that he sees the potential for mutual benefit between Quebecor and the Alouettes, it will be Péladeau, not his company, that ultimately controls the franchise. The team was purchased as a personal asset and he carefully avoided questions regarding how much, if any, involvement Quebecor might have going forward.

While the idea of corporate ownership was considered, there was a desire to separate the cash-strapped Als from the rest of the business. Unlike other assets, Péladeau’s primary goal in investing in the CFL was civic pride, not profit.

“This is not an enterprise that generates benefits. That’s not to say that it won’t one day but in reality, it is an enterprise that requires capital,” he said frankly. “In that spirit, don’t forget that there are two or three projects that we are working on that are pretty important at Quebecor, to become the fourth national wireless operator.”

The company is in the process of attempting to purchase wireless provider Freedom Mobile, a key part of plans to expand outside of Quebec and challenge Bell nationally.

“It’s not a small matter, a transaction of three billion dollars,” Péladeau explained of that deal. “I didn’t want the Alouettes to become a distraction for my team, for our team.”

In turn, the CFL hopes their new outspoken team governor is less of a distraction than the last one. Whether he can play nice with the league’s most important partner will be a critical part of that assessment, though the 10 digits in his reported $1.9 billion USD net worth will be enough to assuage most concerns.

Despite the terms of his purchase of the Alouettes and the team’s current financials being bound by a strict confidentiality agreement, one doesn’t need a degree in corporate accounting to see why Péladeau emerged as the new owner.

“It needed someone who was able to write a cheque,” he said wryly. “Not a small cheque, but I guess what we consider to be appropriate.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.