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Minority owner Gary Stern stepping away from Montreal Alouettes

It's business as usual for president Mario Cecchini and the Montreal Alouettes.
Gary Stern the new co-owner of the Montreal Alouettes tries on a cap following a news conference in Montreal, Monday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

It's business as usual for president Mario Cecchini and the Montreal Alouettes.

Minority owner Gary Stern announced in an open letter Monday to Montreal fans he was stepping away from the club's day-to-day operation as well as his position on the CFL's board of governors. Predictably, that created quite a stir but with the franchise's ownership structure remaining intact -- Stern also stated he's keeping his 25 per cent stake in the Alouettes -- nothing has changed with the team.

Stern and partner/father-in-law, Sid Spiegel, purchased the Alouettes from the CFL in January, 2020, with Spiegel taking a 75 per cent ownership stake. But Spiegel never got the chance to see his team play as the league cancelled the '20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spiegel died in July 2021. His age wasn't divulged but Spiegel was listed as 89 when he and Stern purchased the Alouettes.

"It is business as usual," Cecchini said Monday afternoon. "The question of who will support the team does not change.

"It's the 75 per cent majority ownership and that goes on. What changes for me, personally, is the majority ownership will have to appoint someone other than Gary for me to report to as far as the team is concerned."

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie echoed those sentiments.

"I have been in touch with representatives of the majority shareholder of the Alouettes," Ambrosie tweeted. "I'm happy to report that they assured me that 'business as usual' continues for the club."

In his letter, Stern said his decision to step back was a difficult one.

"Today, I am forced to share with you my current reality; I can no longer be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Montreal Alouettes," Stern wrote. "This was a very tough decision for me and my family, but it is a final decision.

"I love this team. I love Montreal and our fans. As a lifelong sports fan, my role with the Alouettes was a dream come true. I loved every minute of it."

Stern also stated Spiegel's death dramatically impacted their plans for the Alouettes.

"His death has effectively shelved the amazing plans we had for the Alouettes," Stern wrote. "We were ready and wanted to invest long-term in the future of the Alouettes.

"Due to COVID-19 cancelling CFL play, Sid, who was the 75 per cent majority owner, sadly never got a chance to see his team play. I will always regret that."

Stern added his ownership stake in the team "will remain."

"Today, decisions related to team financing and operations rest with Sid’s estate," Stern wrote. "The close partnership Sid and I had, which included our shared love of sports and our ability to grow our team the way we have invested and grown our other joint businesses for decades, no longer exists.

"I wish nothing but the best for our team, our fans and our community. I remain one of the Alouettes’ and the CFL’s biggest fans. But I will be cheering from the sidelines as I return to my role as a private citizen and step back. Thank you to everyone in Montreal. I will always cherish the memories we have made."

American businessman Robert Wetenhall, with assistance from his son, Andrew, owned the Alouettes from 1997 until 2018 before the CFL took over operating the franchise while it searched for new ownership. For much of the elder Wetenhall’s' tenure, Montreal was a CFL powerhouse.

From 1999 to 2012, the club finished atop the East Division 10 times and advanced to the Grey Cup on eight occasions, winning three. But the Alouettes' last Grey Cup win during Wetenhall’s ownership was in 2010 and the franchise missed the CFL playoffs the last four years of his tenure, amassing a 21-51 overall record over that span.

And there were reports the Alouettes lost $12 million in Wetenhall's final season as the owner. Inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2015, Robert Wetenhall passed away in September 2021 at the age of 86.

Wetenhall and Stern were polar opposites as owners. While Wetenhall chose to remain behind the scenes, Stern took to social media to actively become the face of the franchise, going so far as to boldly predict victories for his team.

The '22 season has been a roller-coaster affair for Montreal (4-6), which is second in the East Division. The team fired head coach Khari Jones after opening the season 1-3, with GM Danny Maciocia taking over as coach on an interim basis.

Montreal remains the only CFL team to have defeated the Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers this season. But last week the club suspended fullback Christophe Normand indefinitely as he faces two charges of luring a child under 18, including one count of luring a child under 16, or who the accused believed was under 16 at the time of the offence.

Montreal hosts the Ottawa Redblacks (2-8) on Friday night. On Aug. 20,  the Alouettes drew a season-high 21,014 fans to Molson Stadium for their come-from-behind 29-28 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press