In a city that loves a Champion - The Montreal Alouettes have captured the hearts and minds of Montrealers. Since having to relocate a playoff game to Percival Molson Stadium because Bono and U2 were playing at the Olympic Stadium, the Alouettes have enjoyed nearly 100 consecutive sold out home games. Football On The Mountain has become a marquee event for Montrealers, with visiting teams somewhat awestruck by the stadium that overlooks Downtown Montreal.
Photo: Benoit Pelosse, Montreal Alouettes
Team President Larry Smith and Owner Robert Wetenhall have worked with dogged determination to realize the successful expansion of the stadium, to create 5,000 new seats. The stakes were high. The reality of the CFL is that ticket sales are the primary source of revenue for the football teams. Montreal had the smallest stadium in the league, and yet has been able to maintain a high calibre organization and team - a team which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on the last play of the Grey Cup game last November. Without the revenues from the extra 5,000 seats – the Alouettes were not financially viable.
In a recent interview, Larry Smith stated; “There was no way in the long term that we would have survived unless someone was willing to write the cheque. We could have also spent $300,000 less than the salary cap, and had a mediocre team.” ‘Mediocre’ is a word not found in the actions of any of the senior executives involved with The Alouettes, beginning with team owner Robert Wetenhall.
Robert Wetenhall has achieved financial success through investments in New York real estate, including hotels, office buildings, and shopping centres. He was also an owner of the Boston Patriots before they became the New England Patriots when the American Football League merged with the National Football League. During a recent interview, Bob (as he is known to his associates) told me; “After selling my interest in The Patriots, I realized that I missed the game.” Continuing; “I declined to invest in the Alouettes when the previous owner approached me – but later when the league approached me it was a much better deal – although an expensive one,” he noted with a chuckle.
Owner Bob Wetenhall has invested
$6 million into the stadium expansion
Alouette President Larry Smith
has given the team financial stability
A few minutes before our conversation, Bob Wetenhall described his start with The Montreal Alouettes at a press conference to announce the re-signing of General manager Jim Popp, arguably the best football GM in Canada. “In 1996 I took over the Montreal Alouette Football Club. It was about 3 months prior to Larry coming on as President. We had no coaches under contract; we had no players under contract. In fact, we had only one asset – and that was our General Manager, Jim Popp. I knew he was a winner, and he has proven that year-in and year-out for the past fifteen years, fielding a team that has been competitive, giving us winning seasons and more championships than any other team in the CFL during the past 15 years.”
Indeed, it was during this event that I was able to see and appreciate the bond of mutual trust and respect that exists with Bob Wetenhall as owner; Larry Smith as President, GM Jim Popp and Coach Marc Trestman. To that group we must add Claude Rochon, VP of Marketing with a lifetime of experience in sports marketing.
“A winning tradition is an absolute requirement in Montreal, as evidenced by our hockey team. Montreal fans expect a winner.” Continuing, Larry stated, “To accomplish that, a sports team requires an owner who is absolutely dedicated to winning, and prepared to invest accordingly. A continually successful team also requires an outstanding General Manager who will find talented players who are judged not just for their athletic ability – but also for their strength of character and attitude.”
Jim Popp, a native of North Carolina, came to Canada 19 years ago as the “coach and personnel guy” for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He didn’t know much about Canada, as evidenced by his query about why he couldn’t see the Rocky Mountains from Regina. “I took a bit of a chance coming to Montreal – but I wanted to be here. To rebuild the team was an interesting challenge.”
General Manager Jim Popp has signed
a new 4 year contract
Coach Marc Trestman brings a
new philosophy to the team
Photo: Benoit Pelosse, Montreal Alouettes
“The success we’ve had here is remarkable,” Jim continues; “and it begins with Bob as the owner. He’s a special kind of person. I can give my opinions without concern if they’re not the same as his or Larry’s. That openness encourages creative solutions at all levels of our operations.”
Coach Marc Trestman has led the Alouettes to two Grey Cup games in his 2 years as Coach, and won the Championship in 2009. Before coming to Montreal as Head Coach, Marc had considerable experience in the NFL as a quarterback coach, running back coach and offensive co-ordinator. Marc has initiated innovative offensive plays, using the speed and larger field in Canadian football to his advantage. TSN Analyst Matt Dunigan, a former quarterback in the CFL, has commented that Marc Trestman’s innovations are being studied and adopted by other CFL teams, even though Trestman is just in his third year as a CFL Head Coach.
Marc published his first book, Perseverance – Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork in the spring of 2010. The book is autobiographical and motivational: Marc recounts that he recognizes the importance of being a facilitator; to enable each team member to realize their personal and professional development. By working with the whole person, the Coach is able to increase the effort of the player with the resulting improved results. Spread across an entire team of athletes and coaches, the improvements can be translated into championships. This brings us full circle to the concept of working with a winning attitude.
Observing the interaction between Bob Wetenhall, Larry Smith, Jim Popp and Marc Trestman; it becomes apparent that there is a depth of understanding and shared purpose amongst the four executives. It’s palpable. Each has achieved Championship status in their career, some more than once and in different industries. They know the depth of personal commitment and intellectual focus required to be a champion. It doesn’t just happen – it’s the result of a concerted effort. As stated by Jim Popp when asked about his longevity with the club, “We learn about each other and trust one another”.
That’s what it takes to deal successfully with three levels of government in order to expand a downtown stadium and thereby ensure the viability of the franchise. Elections brought new personnel into the situation, retarding the process. Larry Smith joked in a recent interview; “I had brown hair when we began this process – and now I have grey hair,” alluding to the length of time it has taken to see the project through to completion.
As stated by Jim Popp; “The challenge for us now is to work at staying on top in the CFL. As Grey Cup Champions; every team we play is geared up to see if they can beat the champions.”
For information about season ticket packages, please call: 514-871-2255.