SPORTS

Former Als president Prince intrigued by CFL commissioner's position

12/19/2014 01:39 EST | Updated 02/18/2015 05:59 EST
Time hasn't diminished Skip Prince's affinity for Canadian football and the CFL.

The former Montreal Alouettes' executive confirmed Friday he recently contacted CFL board chairman Jim Lawson about the commissioner's position but hasn't heard back. Prince said while he's busy as the principal of The Prince Companies — which provide consulting services in the sports and entertainment industries —he inquired about the CFL's top job at the urging of two business associates.

"I had two people from United States Hockey League teams ask me about it and suggest I consider it," Prince said from Austin, Tex. "I was very flattered to get those calls and while I'm busy and not yearning for the position ... it's always been in the back of my mind that it would be wonderful to get back into that (CFL) again.

"I like the property a lot. It's football played well by great athletes in front of crowds that are very appreciative of the nature of the game ... I just see it as special, it really goes no further than that."

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon is scheduled to step down Jan. 9. Lawson, who heads up the committee searching for Cohon's replacement, will serve as interim commissioner until Cohon's successor is named.

Cohon, a 48-year-old Chicago native, succeeded Tom Wright as CFL commissioner in 2007 and signed a three-year contract extension in 2012. He announced in August he wouldn't seek another extension to remain on the job after his current deal ended in April 2015.

The CFL hasn't revealed who it's looking at to succeed Cohon. On Thursday, league spokesman Jamie Dykstra wouldn't confirm either Prince's interest in the commissioner's job or reports that Tom Anselmi, the former Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment boss, has been approached about the position.

Prince, a 61-year-old native of Richmond, Va., served as Montreal's president and chief executive officer from 2002-'03 and also was on the league's search committee that hired Wright to replace Michael Lysko, who was fired by the board of governors in 2002. Prince also served as an adviser to the CFL before starting his own consulting firm in '04.

"I've remained a big fan of the league and am impressed at its stability and the many positive elements it has in place," Prince said. "I sent a note to Jim Lawson saying I'd be interested but I'm neither offended nor wounded there's not been a response. That leads me to believe they have a roster of candidates already and that's fine.

"I've never lost neither my affection nor love of the Canadian game and desire to see it played very well."

Prince possesses a long and extensive sports resume.

In August, he completed his tenure as the senior associate director of athletics at the University of Texas following a six-year stint as USHL president and commissioner. He continues to serve as an adviser with American hockey's top junior league.

Prior to joining the Alouettes, Prince spent nine years as a vice-president with the NHL (1991-2000) and also served as a vice-president for the parent company of the L.A. Kings. He also helped develop and syndicate the Arena Football League in 1986, serving as its head of business and legal affairs before a stint as interim commissioner.

Prince attended Yale, where he played football and basketball before graduating in '74. He's also a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law.

Cohon's successor will take over a league that has four years remaining on both its blockbuster television deal and collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players' Association. In March 2013, Cohon helped negotiate a five-year deal with TSN reportedly worth $43 million annually that was more than 2 1/2 times the previous agreement.

But Cohon couldn't fix Toronto's stadium issue — the Argonauts still haven't found a new home with their Rogers Centre lease set to expire in 2017. The club reportedly remains in talks with MLSE regarding a lease for BMO Field but that deal is contingent on the completion of a $125-million renovation at the outdoor facility.

MLSE is contributing $95 million toward the expansion with the city of Toronto agreeing to provide $10 million. But the anticipated funding of $10 million each from the provincial and federal governments hasn't materialized, potentially threatening completion of the project.

The Ontario Liberals are expected to contribute $10 million but the federal government is reportedly balking. That could force the CFL to make up the $10-million shortfall in order to secure the Argos' future.

The Argos have long been plagued by attendance issues at the cavernous Rogers Centre, which can hold over 50,000 for football. Toronto averaged less than 18,000 fans per game there last year and many football pundits suggest a move to a more fan-friendly, outdoor facility will attract more spectators.

But Prince said a new stadium would be just the first step towards recovery for the struggling franchise.

"You still have to promote to the Toronto public that following the Toronto Argonauts is all right," Prince said. "It's ironic because one of the teams in my hockey league is based in Indianapolis, where they also have football and basketball teams like Toronto.

"The triple-A baseball team there doesn't do well because people in Indianapolis think of themselves as major league. The people running the triple-A baseball team are trying to figure out how to tell people it's all right to go watch triple-A baseball and doesn't detract from the nature of their city, and I think the second issue in Toronto would be teaching the fan base the Argos are part of an extraordinary league of their own."

Another step would be the Argos creating a positive fan experience at BMO Field and giving their supporters a reason to want to return.

"What you've got in Toronto, which is why I believe you need a five-year plan, is you've got to get people to come back," Prince said. "I'd expect over the last 10 years everybody has sampled it and you have a project where you've got to make it exciting. The venue helps but it doesn't end there.

"That's why I like the CFL because the game is intrinsically entertaining. I've never seen a boring CFL game, the rules mandate against it."

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