JONES: EE Football Team looking ahead to uncertain future
In the long-time capital of Canadian football, it’s all about Edmonton EE now.
The difference between today and yesterday, says new president and CEO Chris Presson, is simple.
“It now puts us in position to be responsible for ourselves.”
Presson said Monday’s official final verdict that there would be no shortened CFL season of six games per team plus playoffs and Grey Cup game in a hub city bubble environment in Winnipeg translates to Edmonton EE’s official kickoff to the future as a rebranded entity.
“Now we don’t have to depend on anyone or anything as we head into our future other than on our fans that we know are loyal,” said Presson of the new beginning.
If you think the league is going to have challenges going forward with the considerable credibility and image damages done over the last few months, consider Edmonton EE.
Not only have the Ex-imos all the same issues to deal with as most other CFL teams, they also have to rename their team to a fan base that overwhelmingly wasn’t pleased to ditch the storied and iconic old one.
The 14-time Grey Cup champion Eskimos had long been the flagship franchise of the CFL, a not-for-profit community owned business that poured millions into its stadium and operation and had a rainy-day fund of $12.9 million in the bank going into the previous season.
Estimates are that losing the entire season will cost the Double-E a loss of about $10-12 million and will likely put them close to having no money left in the bank when they head into an uncertain season next year.
“It’s a gate-driven league and it affects our entire business including our food and beverage, our merchandise and beyond. It affects our ability to execute what we committed to for our sponsors. The challenge we face today is how do we come out of it for 2021 in a better position?” said Presson.
As has been pointed out in this space previously, it will also cost a few million to change the brand. And Edmonton EE has come to the conclusion that can’t happen overnight.
“To be able to turn everything over in a calendar year is a virtual impossibility. Even if we had more money in the bank, we’d have to be very fiscally responsible with how we go about it,” he said.
“Now that we know we’re not going to have a shortened season, our focus will be on our name and building our business to have a chance to be successful in trying times. How do we come back in a way that makes us more resilient? How do we take it from where it was to where it needs to be?”
The best way to be successful returning next season at the gate, other than what Presson must produce in terms of inspired off-season promotions — like a major initiative to attempt to fill Commonwealth Stadium for opening day — would be to burst out of the gate with an obviously competitive football club.
For general manager Brock Sunderland and new head coach Scott Milanovich, there are a lot of unknowns involved in the process of attempting to do that.
“Right now, we have the whole roster that we’re allowed for the off-season. But that includes players with one-year contracts. How does that affect them going forward? We don’t know. Right now, there are questions that we don’t have answers to,” said Sunderland.
When all that is sorted out, both believe they’ll have a contender to begin to attempt to create a legacy under a new name.
“My philosophy is to control what we can control. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Things are going to change.”
Some are possibly going to improve the product.
“The NFL went from 90 to 80 players. You do the math. There are that many more players available.
“We’re scaled down. We’re not operating with the number of people we usually operate with. But we’re still functional. We can’t attend any NFL camps but a lot of us have worked in the NFL and have relationships. So we’re on the phone doing as much as we can under the circumstances,” said the GM, who believes the team would have led the league in players all aboard for a shortened season of hub city football in Winnipeg. He only had one player decide not to play in a hub situation there.
“There was one player who called me, and I don’t want to say who that was, who said if we did play in a hub in Winnipeg that he wouldn’t play because of personal reasons. I anticipated more.”
For new head coach Milanovich, he’s still getting over having had Lucy pull the football away again.
Milanovich told me a story on himself.
“I’d managed to convince myself the league was going to return on Labour Day and that would mean we’d open against Calgary. For a month, we grinded to prepare to play Calgary in our opening game.”
You’d think that Milanovich, who left an assistant coaching position with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars to take the Edmonton job, would be second-guessing that move, but he said he hasn’t been doing that.
“Not one time. It hasn’t happened. I’m just anxious to begin doing what I was hired to do.”
On Twitter: @byterryjones
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