Businessman Clifford Starke to issue ‘intent to purchase’ Alouettes

CFL footballs. (John Woods/CP)

TORONTO — Montreal businessman Clifford Starke will formally announce Thursday his "intent to purchase" the Montreal Alouettes.

Brad Smith, a former CFL receiver with the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos, is a consultant with Starke’s potential ownership group and says the chairman of Hampstead Private Capital is "more than interested" in the Alouettes.

"This is not purely a business decision, it’s a passion decision," he said. "The guy wants the team and wants to do it for the right reasons."

Starke, 35, has acted as a consultant, adviser and/or director to more than 15 publicly listed companies.

Smith, also 35, and Starke grew up together in Montreal in the 2000s attending Alouettes games during a time when the team was a CFL powerhouse. From 2000-2010, the franchise appeared in eight Grey Cup games, winning three.

But the addition of Smith wasn’t made just for friendship reasons. Football has long been a cornerstone of his family as his father, Larry — currently a Conservative senator — played nine seasons with Montreal and later twice served as club president.

After overseeing the relocation of the franchise from Baltimore following the 1996 season as CFL commissioner, Larry Smith became Alouettes president in 1997 and held that post until 2001. Smith went on to become president and publisher of the Montreal Gazette from 2002 to 2004 before returning to the Alouettes. He remained until 2010, the last time the franchise captured the Grey Cup.

"It’s one of those things where he (Starke) has been very successful in a very short amount of time," said Brad Smith, who was The Bachelor Canada in 2012. "And he’s chosen to want to take that success and put it into something that’s not necessarily a right-off-the-bat successful endeavour.

"You can tell this is for him something where he wants to do right not only by Montreal but for himself as a fan."

The Alouettes have hit hard times of late. The club hasn’t been to the CFL playoffs the past four seasons and amassed a dismal 21-51 record over that span.

Last week, the CFL said American businessman Robert Wetenhall continues to own the Alouettes amid much speculation the league has assumed control of the franchise and will be tasked with finding a new owner. It appears Starke’s group is front and centre with former Als player Eric Lapointe announcing Friday his potential ownership group was no longer in the running to purchase the Montreal club.

Last month, former Montreal Canadiens defenceman Serge Savard was said to be involved in a potential Alouettes ownership group but quickly denied any such involvement. The eight-time Stanley Cup champion added he was part of a group that once was interested in buying the Alouettes during Larry Smith’s tenure as president, but nothing came of it.

The CFL did not immediately respond for comment to an interview request on Monday.

"We want this to be taken seriously, we want to be vetted as a buyer," said Brad Smith, who owns two restaurants in Toronto and in ’15 became a host of "Chopped Canada" on Food Network. "We understand we’re not the Serge Savards and Eric Lapointes yet there’s too much mystery going on right now with what’s happening.

"And the fans, most importantly, deserve to know what’s going on with their team. It’s the intent of Mr. Starke and his business partners to really understand where this process is. We just want to let people know Mr. Starke and his business partners are very serious about taking the steps in order to see if this is feasible because if there’s anybody who can do this feasibly it’s them."

"Here’s one of the league’s flagship franchises in trouble and there are people who want to help so why don’t you let us help them?"

Wetenhall has owned the Alouettes for more than 20 years. He resurrected the franchise in 1997 after it was revoked from Michael Gelfand and declared bankruptcy. Wetenhall also assumed the organization’s debts despite not legally being obligated to do so.

Early in Wetenhall’s tenure, the Alouettes were a model franchise. From 1999 to 2012, they finished atop the East Division nine times and making the eight Grey Cup appearances.

Wetenhall was a former part-owner of the Boston Patriots (AFL) and New England Patriots (NFL). In 2011, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from McGill University for his work with the Alouettes and expansion of Percival Molson Stadium.

Wetenhall was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

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