CFL Pass

Former Als player Lapointe joins Starke's ownership group for CFL franchise

Clifford Starke has again enhanced his bid to buy the Montreal Alouettes.

The Montreal businessman said Thursday former Alouettes player Eric Lapointe has joined his ownership group as a "strategic adviser in an expanding role."

Lapointe, twice Canadian university football's outstanding player and a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, stated repeatedly this off-season he could put together a local ownership group for the CFL franchise if approached by the league.

"The importance of getting Eric on board is the fact we saw his merit within his own group, his passion, how much he cares about the Alouettes and how much it hurt him to see where the Alouettes were," Starke said. "We just want to put the best people around our group in order to make this purchase real because as more groups start dropping out, we want to keep showing we're going to continue going after this because of the passion of the project.

"Everybody else talks about the business aspect but adding someone like Eric Lapointe shows we don't want to go away, that we'd like to build this into what the CFL can no longer deny is the best group for the Alouettes going forward."

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has said the league is negotiating exclusively with one potential ownership group. A league source said that's a partnership headed up by Montreal natives Peter and Jeffrey Lenkov, who were in Edmonton on Friday night for the Alouettes' season-opening 32-25 road loss to the Eskimos.

The source was granted anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on negotiations.

Peter Lenkov, 55, is a producer in Hollywood while Jeff Lenkov, 53, is a lawyer practising in California.

Starke, 35, announced in April his intention to purchase the Alouettes but was told recently by the CFL that he was no longer in the running for the franchise.

Undeterred, Starke sent CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie an amended purchase offer last week. The league is now running the franchise after taking ownership May 31 from American businessman Bob Wetenhall and his son, Andrew.

"It (an amended offer) has been presented to the CFL and the board of governors," Starke said. "We're past the due-diligence stage in understanding what the situation is with the Alouettes.

"We're not letting this go. I think we're the only group that's showing we have the staying power to do this because most people would be and have been getting out of this process after understanding the actual financial situation the Alouettes are in. We're attacking this from every level because we truly believe from a CFL aspect there's nobody that can have the rebound rate that we have. We just don't want to see the CFL become enamoured by anything less than the best people for the situation."

Starke, 35, is the chair of Hampstead Private Capital and has acted as a consultant, adviser and/or director to more than 15 publicly listed companies. He said his group will add more qualified individuals moving forward but will only continue pursuing ownership of the Alouettes until July 2.

"Now that we've added Eric, there will be more dominoes to fall as far as people that we're adding not only to our board of governors but also as strategic advisers," he said. "We will confirm and commit that July 2 will be our last day of being in the race.

"That will be the last day which we will accept conversation about our offer."

The CFL wasn't immediately available for comment.

"Obviously we've been having conversations with the right people who can add CFL experience," Starke continued. "The CFL has gone down this road with Bruce Firestone, the Gliebermans, John Candy and Bruce McNall.

"Although owners that come in should be of local ownership, there is no real possibility to create an understanding of a product unless you've worked with that product before and the CFL is a product. In order to sell that product you need experienced people who've done it and been successful at it. Where we're trying to do is create the team that's best suited to be in that situation. When we look at every group that's been presented, there's no group like the executives we'll put forward to save this team."

Wetenhall resurrected the Alouettes in 1997 after they were revoked from Michael Gelfand and declared bankruptcy. Wetenhall also assumed the organization's debts despite not legally being obligated to do so.

From 1999 to 2012, Montreal was a CFL powerhouse, finishing atop the East Division nine times. The club played in eight Grey Cups, winning three.

But Montreal hasn't been to the Grey Cup since winning it in 2010 and has missed the playoffs the past four years.

Larry Smith played a big role in Montreal's resurgence. The former Als player and CFL commissioner twice served as club president (1997-01, 2004-10) and was instrumental in gaining the franchise a foothold within the Francophone community, making over 200 appearances annually throughout Quebec promoting the team's brand.

The Alouettes also registered 105 straight sellouts at Molson Stadium during Smith's tenure. Smith is now serving as the leader of the opposition in the Canadian Senate.

His son, Brad — a former CFL receiver with Toronto and Edmonton — is a consultant with Starke's group. Starke and Brad Smith grew up together in Montreal in the 2000s attending Alouettes games.

Lapointe joined the Alouettes as a free agent in 2001 and remained through the 2006 campaign. The five-foot-11, 208-pound Lapointe starred collegiately at Mount Allison and after being named Canadian university football’s top rookie in 1995 claimed the Hec Crighton Trophy in 1996 and '98.

He was selected in the third round, No. 20 overall, of the 1999 CFL draft by Edmonton but joined the Hamilton Tiger-Cats later that season after being released. Lapointe was traded to the Toronto Argonauts in 2000, then joined the Alouettes the following season.

Lapointe is currently a managing director with Stonegate Private Counsel in Montreal. His office assists high net-worth entrepreneurs with sustaining, growing and transitioning their wealth.

"We're going to have the best executive team with CFL experience, with CFL marketing experience, with CFL executive experience on many levels," Starke said. "We're trying to create a bid that's nonsensically the easiest choice of all the groups out there."


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