Campbell steps down as Eskimos president

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Hugh Campbell will have one less title but no less clout with the Grey Cup champion Eskimos in 2006 as the slow, careful handoff of authority to Rick LeLacheur continued on Thursday.

Campbell ceded the title of club president to LeLacheur, who runs the business end of the operation and remains chief operating officer, while the Hall of Famer remains the Eskimos' chief executive officer and is the undisputed top football man.

"To me, I see it as a nothing deal," Campbell said at the club's annual general meeting. "I don't have any new job, I have exactly the same job that I've had.

"I think it's just more reflective of what everybody else in the league is doing. They have a CEO or an owner that is treated one way and there's a Presidents' Council of people that are not the football people.

"A year ago, Rick was elected (Council Chair) of the presidents' council when he wasn't our president. By making him president, it just feels better for me."

Asked if the public would be off-base in perceiving this as part of a gradual exit for Campbell, he said: "Well, I'm always one year closer to getting out, but I don't know exactly when that will be.

"I had a real good time the last several years -- all the years I've been here -- but with Rick here it's really been good for me. We're working well together."

LeLacheur said he did not foresee any significant change in the working relationship between the two, even if Campbell is away from the office more and more.

"I think the value of Hugh Campbell is not being at the office eight or 10 hours a day," LeLacheur said. "He can have more value to me in a 10-minute conversation that would be worth well more than him spending a week or two at the office.

"But at the end of the day, the CEO is still the boss -- and he's the CEO."

It's little wonder the CEO and the president had such a splendid time in 2006. The club's report to the shareholders demonstrated that not only did the Grey Cup champions have the last laugh on the field in 2005, they were laughing at the gate, at the merchandise kiosks, on the balance sheet and all the way to their investment banker.

Yes, the club's payroll ka-chinged to CFL-high of $4.1 million, largely because of the $450,000 salary paid to quarterback Ricky Ray. Not only is the Edmonton payroll over the CFL's newly installed salary management system upper limit, it gazes smirkingly down at the previous cap of $2.6 million few in the league took seriously.

"We're over (the cap)," LeLacheur said. "There's no question that we're over.

"Right from the start we've said that we're committed to working towards (getting under the cap). Will we get there? I'm not sure yet. But all of our discussions, player contract-wise, are with that in mind."

Getting under the cap would certainly be a nice gesture toward the rest of the league and to CFL commissioner Tom Wright, for whom the salary management system was a pet project. But it's not as if the club is hurting for cash. The club reported a net operating profit for 2005 of $163,839 on revenues of $12,620,271, up from $11,414,840 from 2004.

The Eskimos Stabilization Fund, sort of a club-directed Heritage Fund, earned an investment return of $544,749, growing the fund to $7,899,037 as of Dec. 31, 2005, compared with $7,354,288 at year-end 2004. The $6.1-million net profit earned from the sale of the old Triple-A Trappers, in other words, is a gift that keeps on giving.

In a season in which the up-and-down Eskimos did not play host to a post-season game, attendance increased by 36,226 to 414,644, averaging about 41,000 per game.

Game-day ticket sales were up $415,000 to just over $2 million, and sponsorship revenue -- a major growth area under LeLacheur's business stewardship -- was up $615,000 to just under $2.5 million, an increase of 33 per cent. Team merchandise sales grew by $47,000 to just under $200,000.

Advancing to the Grey Cup meant ringing up expenses to the tune of $475,431 for things like travel costs for players and their families and championship rings. Not that anyone was complaining.

And it appears fan access to the Commonwealth cashbox will be upgraded for 2006 -- at no cost to the Eskimos. LeLacheur said the city has approved money from its capital budget to move the north fence back to the property line -- north of the big scoreboard, in other words. The plan is to add extra gates on the northeast corner, where LeLacheur said about 65 per cent of the Eskimos fans pour into the Stadium.

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Despite several financial pitfalls scattered throughout the 2005 season, the Edmonton Eskimos escaped unscathed.

Although the club signed quarterback Ricky Ray to a mammoth $450,000 contract and had to swallow significant expenses for winning the Grey Cup, the Eskimos still cleared a $163,839 profit last year.

It's a rare accomplishment for a team that usually bleeds red ink after paying Grey Cup bills.

"I think it's very impressive, to be honest," CEO Hugh Campbell said of the 2005 balance sheet, which was revealed at last night's Eskimo general meeting.

The small profit means the Green and Gold now has $12.1 million in net assets, including the $7.9 million stabilization fund.

GREY CUP COST $365,000

In total, the Grey Cup cost the club about $365,000.

"That's Grey Cup rings, the extra travel (for the team) and the subsidization of the players' families to go to Vancouver," said COO and new president Rick LeLacheur.

"The better you do in the CFL, the more it costs you; that tradition continues."

By failing to host a playoff game for the first time in five years, the Eskimos also cost the team coffers another $200,000 in revenue.

However, it's a black bottom line because sponsorship sales jumped 33%, attendance jumped nearly 10%, and the club cut almost $250,000 from the marketing/communication budget.

"We have done a great job of bundling sponsorship deals," continued LeLacheur, referring to advertisers being able to receive field-level signs, scoreboard signs and other perks in one package. "And the CFL is a lot better brand than it was five or 10 years ago ... "

With nine regular-season games and one preseason tilt, the Eskimos attracted 414,644 fans - the highest in the league and the highest mark for the club in three years.

FAN-FRIENDLY SCHEDULE

A fan-friendly schedule of weekend dates and the return of Ricky Ray helped the attendance. And it was Ray's salary that prompted the team to cut part of its budget.

Ray's paycheque, plus the addition of an extra assistant coach (Dennis Winston) and a few injuries, also pushed the overall players/coaches cost to $5.65 million - a $750,000 increase from 2004.

LeLacheur estimates $4.1 million of that total was direct player cost, meaning the team has to drop $300,000 to abide by the new CFL salary cap.

Off the field, the Eskimos will spend the year examining the financial viability of three enhancement projects: a new indoor practice facility, new offices and seat replacement.

LATE HITS: Bruce Bentley will be the only new member to take a seat around the board of director's table for the Eskimos. Bentley replaces Bruce Saville, who's left the club after nine years ... Although there will be no change this year, LeLacheur admits the sacred grass field at Commonwealth Stadium could be replaced with innovated field turf similar to Clarke Stadium's surface in the future.

FINISH LINES: The city has allocated money to move the north fence of Commonwealth Stadium to 111th Avenue, which will ease the pedestrian traffic jam inside the facility.

"Sixty-five percent of our traffic comes in the northeast corner," said LeLacheur, who would like to add more gates.

I don't get it. With the super average of 41,000 fans or that total of 414644, based on a very conservative ticket average of $25 that would equate to $10+M. And that does not even take into consideration the game day in awesome beer sales, food etc... A very conservative estimate for this would be what maybe $1M in sales. Adding the corporate sales of $2.5M, this team has to be grossing in excess or close to $15 annually.
I think the financial statement is what accountants call creative bottom line.
The rich EE do get richer. And they do deserve it, with the best stadium and fans and the investment of the Triple A team.
Who said there isn't money to be made in owning a CFL team.

Went to one Eskie game at Commonwealth many years ago, a great experience for sure.
But Ivor Wynne Stadium, and even better Frank Clair Stadium, are way better stadiums as you are closer to the field, no track around. Older and not as polished for sure but being close to the field is important.
Hopefully one day in Hamilton we can spruce up IWS to be more first class, Bob Young has done wonders with the old girl with a new video board and paint job. But more needs to be done to get a Grey Cup here. Problem is just a few years ago politicians in this city, and maybe still some, wanted the Cats and the CFL to go away, they all thought the NFL was coming to Toronto and the Skydome, and they could go there to watch the NFL. But now they know this will not happen for a very long time so hopefully they will see the benefit of the Cats and the CFL like Bob Young does.

I agree with you Earl, as far as viewing a game, there is none better then Ivor Wynne. Having said that, the old girl is in bad shape. Cramp seating with the lack of backing in the vast majority of the stadium is horrible. The concessions and lack of parking is also brutal. You definitely need a new 40,000 stadium and from what I have heard there is plenty of room near the water front.
Like you, I was at Commonwealth a couple of years ago. The track is a pain in the a$$, but the seats, stadium and concessions are awesome. There is no other better game day experience at least based on my visits to include Crapdome, Ivor wynne, Frank Claire, Olympic Stadium and BC place.

That track is annoying for sure, but I would think we are stuck with it. Other than that Commonwealth is a terrific stadium, but can be pretty congested at the end of a game with a full stadium.

I agree argotom, all in all, I guess I will have to say Commonwealth is better without a doubt although I've never been to any other stadiums other than Commonwealth, FCS, IWS, RC and Big O.
I really hope that in Hamilton if we keep supporting the Cats better each year that something will happen stadium wise, upgrade IWS or a new stadium but I think a new stadium is out of the picture here but who knows. Main thing is we keep on supporting the Cats. Glad to see in Regina that Taylor Field is getting millions in upgrades, way to go Rider fans!

I liked Comonwealth last year when we took in a game. The track didn't bother me although we were near the top of the lower section.

So does that story mean Hughie will have more time for his League Commisioner's duties? :wink: :wink: :wink:

If we didn't have the track where would we drive the firetruck around after a touchdown? :slight_smile: Sure you're a little bit farther away from the action but I don't really even notice it to tell you the truth.

HEY CAMPBELL CAN DO TAMAN JOB FOR THE BBS, YOU WHO!!!

Sporty commonwealth is a toilet bowl!

I guess it depends on what you're used to. As a lifelong resident of Ivor Wynne, every time I've been to SkyDome (haven't been there since they renamed it) I feel like I'm watching it on TV...even when I'm sitting in the lowest deck, closest to the field.

Perhaps someone who's been to both can answer this: At which stadium are the stands FURTHER from the field: Commonwealth or Roger's Centre/SkyDome?