Mark Weightman speaks during a news conference in Montreal, Tuesday, December 3, 2013. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
After leaving the president's office vacant for 18 months, the Montreal Alouettes opted to hire from within.
The Canadian Football League club announced Tuesday that Mark Weightman, the former Chief Operating Officer, will be the new president and CEO.
Weightman, 41, had been filling the president's duties anyway since Ray Lalonde stepped down in May 2012 after only 14 months on the job.
"We asked Mark to lead our franchise," said Andrew Wetenhall, the son of owner Bob Wetenhall who was unable to attend the announcement due to a flu. "He's proven himself time and again."
Weightman has been with the franchise since 1995 when he worked for the defunct Baltimore Stallions. The native of St. Andre d'Argenteuil, Que., moved with them to Montreal the following year and stayed on when Wetenhall bought the team from Jim Spiros in 1997.
His first priority will be to fill Percival Molson Stadium, which has had empty seats since it was expanded from 20,202 seats to 25,012 in 2010. The Alouettes used to sell out the smaller stadium every game, but have generally drawn about 23,000 since the expansion.
"It's a pretty high priority," said Wetenhall, a New York investment banker who is a CFL governor. "It's a marker of our commercial success and our on-field and community success to secure that support.
"At the same time, we're not in an at-all-costs type of mentality. We need to correctly approach the marketplace and put a winning team on the field to enable people to say 'I've got to go to that event."'
The Alouettes went 8-10 this season and lost the East Division semifinal to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They have not won a playoff game since winning back to back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010.
The empty seats suggest the Alouettes' popularity is waning, but Weightman said the future looks bright. The season ticket base has remained at about 17,000, but they hope to increase sales through partial season tickets, family packs and other offers.
"We're still going through a transition where we have a bigger stadium and people think we're not doing as well because the stadium's not full," said Weightman. "We had 23,000 where we had 20,000 for 10 years.
"If you look at TV ratings and how much we're followed on social media, you'll see our fan base is as strong and healthy as ever. But we need to do a better job of reaching out to all our fans."
He also hopes to boost the team's community involvement and its support for minor football in Quebec, which are priorities for the Wetenhall family.
"In reality, we didn't have a president, so I can't say my role will change a lot, other than that I'll have to get some new business cards," added Weighman. "The important thing is the transition we've done over the last year or so.
"We've refocused on the things we've done well over the last 15 years — winning on the field, the great experience in the stadium, and being involved in the community. Now we have to bring that to the next level."
A large media contingent turned out to the news conference expecting an announcement on whether general manager Jim Popp will remain as head coach after taking over from the fired Dan Hawkins five games into the season, or on whether 41-year-old quarterback Anthony Calvillo will retire.
Instead, it was a day for the men in suits.
Weightman said there is no timeline for a decision on the coach, although they would prefer to make one soon so that preparations can start for the 2014 season.
The future of veterans like Calvillo, who suffered a season-ending concussion in August, all-star guard Scott Flory or defensive end Anwar Stewart are not expected to be decided until after the CFL expansion draft on Dec. 16.
Flory lauded Weightman's appointment.
"There's a lot of stuff going on around the league," said Flory. "It's not just our team.
"The thing is, to have leadership from the top, you have to have the right people in place. The Alouettes have got it right so many times over the years. I've been here 15 years and played in eight Grey Cups, so we're doing something right."
The experiment with Hawkins, who joined the team without any pro coaching experience, was a setback.
Another may have been Lalonde's one-season tenure as president and CEO. He left citing personal reasons, but there were reports the former Montreal Canadiens marketing guru was feuding with Popp and former coach Marc Trestman.
Lalonde had replaced popular former Alouettes player Larry Smith, who left after the stadium expansion was completed in 2010 to try his hand at politics.
Andrew Wetenhall said his family's commitment to the Alouettes and the CFL is as strong as ever.
"I certainly am," he said. "We make decisions like this one in a family format. We're very committed to this league and it's success. We've invested 20 years almost in Montreal and we're hopeful there will be another 20 or 50 to come."