CFL commissioner says he wants to find the right owner for the Alouettes

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie. (Frank Gunn/CP)

MONTREAL — The CFL wants the best buyer possible for the Alouettes and Montreal, and commissioner Randy Ambrosie said Monday they won’t be rushed into making a decision on the club.

The league’s commissioner told The Canadian Press in an interview the goal remains finding the buyer who will provide the best long-term future for the club in Quebec.

"We’re certainly not the only league where the league has owned a franchise, it happens in pro sports from time to time," Ambrosie said. "Our goal in this process — and I’m reminded of this by our governors all the time — wasn’t to find a fast solution, but to find the right solution."

When the league took over the Toronto Argonauts from New York businessman Sherwood Schwarz in July 2003, it gave itself four months to find a new buyer. But Ambrosie said there’s no deadline this time around.

On Friday, the league announced it was taking over the Montreal franchise from Robert Wetenhall as part of a transition plan and they were focused on finding a long-term owner.

The American businessman had owned the club for more than 20 years.

"We want to do it right, we want to take our time and make sure we answer all of their questions and they answer all of ours," Ambrosie said. "We’re hoping and expecting that when we do announce the new ownership group, that ownership group is going to be part of the Canadian Football League family for many, many years to come."

Ambrosie had nothing but praise for the Wetenhalls for their involvement in the league as well as in the community, nothing the success of the franchise since its return in 1996.

Bob Wetenhall resurrected the Alouettes in 1997 after they were revoked from Michael Gelfand and declared bankruptcy. Wetenhall also assumed the organization’s debts despite not legally being obligated to do so.

Between 1999 to 2012, they finished atop the East Division nine times and advanced to the Grey Cup on eight occasions, winning three times. The team had fallen on harder times on the field in recent years, missing the CFL playoffs the past four seasons while posting a 21-51 record.

On Monday, the commissioner explained that when Andrew Wetenhall — Bob’s son and the team’s lead governor — met with the league’s board of governors in November to discuss the problems with the club, it wasn’t necessarily with an eye on selling the team, but to find solutions.

But as the situation evolved, so to did the solution of selling the franchise as potential buyers began to materialize.

Ambrosie wouldn’t identify the groups, but in that past weeks, several people have been linked to the club, including a group headed by Eric Lapointe, an ex-Alouette running back, Montreal businessman Clifford Starke and Vince Guzzo, a Montreal entrepreneur.

A CFL source told The Canadian Press on Saturday that Starke is out of the running to purchase the Alouettes.

Ambrosie said the club’s next owner will have strong ties to the city.

"The search process has resulted in a very diverse groups of people who’ve expressed an interest," Ambrosie said. "The one common theme is they all have a strong connection to Montreal and a strong connection to Quebec."

Those groups have all discussed — on different levels — the notion building up the football club’s lacking infrastructure. The club doesn’t have administrative offices or a practice facility and play home games at Percival Molson Stadium, owned by McGill University.

"A real place to call home I think has been a core theme," Ambrosie said. "I won’t comment specifically about how each group thought about it, but it’s definitely something that has been talked about."

Asked about the potential of the team moving, Ambrosie said the league is focused on finding a strong local ownership for now.

"Right now we are focused on one thing and that is finding a new owner for that franchise in Montreal, a group that are going to invest in that team’s future, one that is going to bring them back to the glory that Quebecers and Montreal football fans are expecting," Ambrosie said. "That’s the only thing on our minds today."

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