Alouettes president hopes new look will reignite Montrealers' love for their team
Team revealed new logo, uniforms and approach for connecting to fans
The Montreal Alouettes play in a league where six of nine teams make the playoffs, but haven't made it to the post-season since 2014.
As a result, season ticket sales are down and recently the team announced it would be closing off sections of seats at their stadium in an effort to improve the atmosphere at games.
In a city where there is stiff competition for people's limited entertainment budgets, the Alouettes are eating up less and less of the pie.
"The reality is, this team is here to stay," says team president Patrick Boivin.
"But the other reality is that times are extremely tough."
Boivin was brought in as team president in 2016 and began working on a plan to revive the Alouettes.
Now, after two years of work, he's ready to show the world what he's come up with.
On Friday, the team revealed its new marketing strategy — it includes a new logo, new uniforms and a new approach for connecting to fans.
The new look <a href="https://twitter.com/MTLAlouettes?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MTLAlouettes</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ToujoursGame?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ToujoursGame</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Montr%C3%A9ALS?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MontréALS</a> <a href="https://t.co/gkNISf3IX4">pic.twitter.com/gkNISf3IX4</a>—@CFL
"Our identity was closely, very closely, almost actually too closely, tied to on-field performance," Boivin says.
"With a fanbase, you have to be able to intertwine yourself with a little bit more than just the performance aspect."
From 2000 to 2010, the Als made eight Grey Cup appearances, winning three times. Since then, they haven't made it past the East Division final.
Boivin says the new Alouettes philosophy will centre on customizing content for fans, including building connections with the team using music, food, arts, culture and the festival scene that city is known for.
He concedes that if the team was performing better on the field over the last few years, this relaunch would be a much easier sell, but he believes it needs to happen regardless.
"The intent going in had little to do with on-field performance other than knowing that next generation of fans would probably need more than just a great football team," he says.
Stars on the field = fans in the stands?
Great players with great personalities are traditionally the strongest links between successful sports teams and their fans.
For many years, Anthony Calvillo was that connection for Alouettes. In fact, even now it's common to spot fans wearing his #13 jersey at the stadium, despite the fact he played his last game in 2013.
But Boivin doesn't believe that he can hang the team's long-term success on just one player.
"Anthony wouldn't have been Anthony if the team had not have been winning the way that it did, even though he was a direct contributor to that," Boivin says.
Last year, the Alouettes added embattled Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel to their roster and Boivin maintains it was strictly a football move.
"Johnny Manziel is on this team because we believe he has the potential to be a starting quarterback in the CFL and then adopt the star power that comes with it."
Aside from Manziel, the Alouettes have a handful of young quarterbacks coming to camp to compete for the starting job. Boivin believes that any of them could establish themselves as the team's next all-time great quarterback.
He also pointed out that running back William Stanback has the potential to be the player to fill that superstar role.
Fewer seats, temporarily
For the 2019 season, the Alouettes are planning to downsize their seating capacity at Percival Molson Stadium from 23,430 to 20,025 seats.
And while some see this as a sign of impending doom for the franchise, Boivin prefers to see it as something like a strategic retreat.
"We're cutting down those seats to make sure there is a better experience in the stadium," he said.
"As soon as we're ready to reopen them up, they get opened up, because our business model is conditional on those seats being filled. But they're not being filled right now anyway, so what's the point of just leaving scattered seats open?"
Boivin's pitch to keep fans coming back to the stadium is that the 2018 season, while unsuccessful, was the foundation of a new start for the Alouettes and things are only going to get better.
"When you mix everything up from 2013 to 2018 and put all that together, that doesn't look good, but when you isolate 2018 there were some building blocks."
He says the members of head coach Mike Sherman's coaching staff have their feet on the ground after some growing pains in year one on the job, and the offensive line has enough talent to protect whoever the starting quarterback is — as long as the players stay healthy.
The 2019 season is full of a lot of promises both on and off the field from the Alouettes and Boivin. Ultimately, it's up to the fans to decide on if they want buy in.