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When Gary Stern hosted his annual Grey Cup party, he and Sid Spiegel had no idea that they’d come away from it entertaining thoughts of owning a CFL team.
One of Stern’s guests that night was Dale Lastman. Lastman was on the verge of being named the new chair of the CFL. As the game progressed, Stern and his father-in-law, Sid Spiegel, got to talking about how much fun it would be to own a team.
Lastman reminded them that the Montreal Alouettes were on the market. That was all that Stern needed to hear.
“I go, ‘I’m in,’ and Sid says, ‘Are you sure?’ I was sure. Then (Sid) goes, ‘I’m in!’”
After they watched the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hoist the Grey Cup that night, the two men that lead Crawford Steel (Spiegel is the founder and chairman of the board and Stern is the company’s CEO) were on a fast track to discussing how they could bring a Grey Cup to the Alouettes and their fans.
“It’s a dream. I’m thrilled,” Stern said. “We know it’s going to be a challenge. We know that there’s a lot of work to do in the community, but we’re going to do it.”
On Monday, those thoughts became a reality when the duo was named the new owners of the Montreal Alouettes. They’ll own the team under the name S and S Sportsco. Stern will serve as the Alouettes’ lead governor on the CFL board of governors. Their ownership ends a seven-month period that saw the CFL hold ownership of the club.
“It’s a dream we’ve always had. We know we can do really well with it and the people of Quebec will be really happy with us,” Stern said.
For Stern, that dream started when he was a child, growing up in Toronto. He remembers drives to the family cottage with his dad, listening to Argonauts games on the radio. They’d get to the cottage, turn on their black-and-white TV and fidget with the rabbit ears to see a roster full of players that they felt like they knew personally.
“It’s been in my blood forever. I love the CFL,” Stern said.
Then, as it does for all of us, life happened. Stern married into Spiegel’s family and he joined Crawford Steel, helping make the company a success in Ontario and into Quebec. As they moved through their careers and lives, that love for the league only grew.
While the rush of taking ownership of a team and becoming a part of the CFL settles in, this new ownership group takes on a team with a bright on-field future and some work to be done off the field.
Head coach Khari Jones shook off the interim tag at the end of November, signing a three-year deal with the club. He led a revitalization of the team on the field, steering it to a 10-8 record and its first playoff appearance in four years. The team’s success on the field brought some despondent fans back to the stands at Molson Stadium by the end of the season, but it didn’t make up for the recent years of ending fruitless seasons in the red.
“The first step is to get the president and GM in and up to knowing the club, taking charge. I honestly believe both of these are going to be good, experienced people who know what they’re doing,” Stern said.
“We’ve got free agency. We’ve got a club to run. It all starts in May and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
Listen to Stern for any amount of time and you’ll hear the optimism in his voice about what he and his Spiegel are embarking upon. They feel like they’re coming to this role at the perfect time and see nothing but opportunity and room for growth.
“You have to be optimistic. You have to be positive. I know Sid and I will make some mistakes along the way but if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying,” he said.
“I had it explained to me and I think it’s fantastic. In its simplest form we have to worry about 10 events, 10 home games. How hard is it to get people excited to come out, fill the stadium for 10 home events? We make it exciting, we put a good brand of football on and they’re going to come, they are. Ten times. Oh and then the playoffs and a Grey Cup.”
By off-season standards, Spiegel and Stern are coming to their roles later than they might have liked. December is when most teams make their staffing changes and/or hires. While Jones has already been inked to a new deal, the team needs a GM and after Friday’s announcement that Patrick Boivin had been relieved of his duties, the Als will also need a new president/CEO.
In the ownership press conference, Stern said that he’d like to have a new team president and GM (two separate roles) hired by Friday. He’s been meeting with candidates over the past few weeks.
“Don’t hold me to (the specific day),” he cautioned, but he sees the urgency required to get his new team up to speed and into the rhythm of the off-season.
It’s a common thread through this league that many of its fans across the country can relate to. One team can pull you in, but eventually you have an invested stake in the entire league. For Spiegel and Stern, it’s now true in a literal sense.
“I think we can take the CFL back to where people again feel the same way we did when we were kids,” Stern said.
“We’re here, we’re funding it, we believe in it, we believe in the passion and this football team can be a great football team that everybody in Quebec can support and be proud of.”