Randy Ambrosie, CFL commissioner: FP Magazine sits down with the ex-Bay Street executive and pro football player to talk about leading the Canadian Football League and the joys of cottaging.
What’s the state of the CFL?
We got a chance this winter to visit every one of the nine cities where we have our teams, and a tenth in the Atlantic region where we all hope one day to be playing, and you just walk away unbelievably optimistic. Our fans are passionate, they love the game, they’re filled with energy and ideas. They’re interested and interesting. Every stop we went I felt more energized.
Entertainment is a crowded marketplace. How does the CFL separate itself out?
We’re focusing a lot of effort on telling the story of our players so fans get to know them as people. We know that’s an important aspect of attracting fans, because our guys are cool and they’re interesting and they’re selfless. Getting them into the communities is another big part of our strategy. I think, pound for pound, there are no athletes in the world who give back more to their communities than CFL players do. I’m absolutely convinced of that. They’re not looking at their watch for when they have to leave. They tend to immerse themselves in whatever they’re doing and they’re making sure every kid gets a smile, that everybody is included. And that inclusion extends into our strategy. We want to make every Canadian feel welcome in our stadiums so that it becomes a perfect representation of what makes our country so fantastic: Everyone belongs and your next-door neighbour can be from anywhere.
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What about the future of the Toronto Argos?
It’s part of the human experience to forget where things come from. Building anything is hard work. Look at when teams that were great fall on hard times. So seldomly do you flip a switch and they’re great again. The great news is we have a really big market, and our game is incredibly affordable. Remember, the Toronto Raptors weren’t always the Toronto Raptors of today. If you talk to people who were there in the earlier days, it was bleak, it was a hard sell, it wasn’t popular. It’s now incredibly popular, it’s super high energy and you have to give MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.) credit for figuring it out. What we’re seeing from our partners at MLSE is that level of commitment to the Argonauts.
How about Halifax?
I’ve had a chance to spend time with Halifax town council, Mayor [Mike] Savage and his councillors, and I feel there is a genuine passion and belief that this is the right time. The economic models for stadiums have evolved from ‘Can the public fund this?’ to much more of an evolved model. What they did in Ottawa with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group has really created a new way of thinking about the relationship between the private sector and the public sector.
Fans seem to like that you have a connection to the league as a former player, but you also bring in the business background as a former exec at AGF Management and HSBC Securities.
This league belongs to the fans, but what I’m super excited about is that I can relate to the fans because I’m one of them. I could just as easily switch places with them and sit in a seat, drink a beer and cheer for the team the way they do. I can relate to the players because I love them, I know how hard the game is to play. I have a great respect for the work it takes to be a player. And then I look at from the teams’ view and I know how hard it is to run these businesses. Maybe in that way, I’m able to bring some of that experience from my own love from each of those areas to the table and hope that combination of experiences allows me to be a successful leader of this league.
I’ve heard you love being at your cottage. What’s the best thing about it?
The best thing, and I think all offensive linemen would relate to this, is the food. First of all, my wife, Barb, is an amazing cook and that, at least in part, explains why I’m this big. It’s the cooking, sitting together, eating, even the cleaning up. It’s being together as a family. One of our favourite times of the year at the cottage isn’t in the summer. We love having Christmas at the cottage. It’s quiet, the fireplace is on. I don’t think of the cottage as just a summertime thing; I think of it as an all-year place. It’s not so much what time of year it is, it’s that Barb and our girls are there, we’re all together, we’re all in the kitchen making dinner, sitting around the table laughing and telling stories. That’s what the cottage is about.
What’s so special about the cottage?
It’s all about family. The cottage is where we meet. It’s more than symbolic. The cottage has a way of stripping away the frenzied pace of the world. Your dinners last longer at the cottage. They just do. The cottage and families are synonymous with one another. The world is just a little bit slower there.