Not long after he inherited the job of CFL commissioner, Mike Lysko travelled to the U.S. with B.C. Lions owner David Braley for a meeting with NFL vice-president Gord Smeaton and then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
The tête-à-tête got off to a curious start.
"Mr. Commissioner, I should tell you that I'm a very powerful man," Braley sternly addressed Tagliabue, according to a person familiar with the meeting. This reminder to a commissioner who dealt many days with the likes of Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, who helped start Microsoft alongside Bill Gates.
Mark Cohon, welcome to the CFL.
Cohon is the CFL's new commissioner. Voted in 8-0 by the league's board of governors, the 41-year-old garnered a five-year contract that pays him about $450,000 a year.
The league's owners are a divisive, volatile lot and once the honeymoon period ends, Cohon's job is sure to be choc-a-bloc with tumult. With that in mind, it's worth pulling together a list of a several items he should make a priority. Getting at least a few of them accomplished might keep his more irascible employers at bay.
Perhaps the biggest and most understated challenge Cohon faces is burnishing the CFL's flagging national sponsorship program. The league likes to boast about year-on-year percentage increases in sales and sponsor-related revenue. But the fact is, there's no meat behind those percentages.
Few of the league's top-flight sponsors pay any more than $400,000 a year, several sources told the Star. In fact, according to one "sales deck" sent out to sponsors a year ago, the CFL asked for as little as $450,000 a year.
Many sponsors pledge so-called contra, or free products or services, towards their sponsorship and that means the actual cash value of a main CFL sponsorship probably averages out closer to $350,000. That should be a cause for concern for Cohon, who's well-versed in marketing. His father George was involved in starting up McDonald's Canada.
At the same time as the CFL needs to redouble efforts to burnish sponsorship revenue, the league should also open its purse strings and license a video game.
Like most leagues, the CFL has said it covets young sports fans, who advertisers typically have a hard time reaching. Teens and pre-teens are among the most loyal of video game players. It almost makes too much sense. The fact development costs for a new CFL game would eclipse $1 million – even if the game was built using the same programming as EA Sports uses for the popular Madden football game – should not hold the CFL back. There's no better way to turn 12-to-18-year-olds on to the CFL.
It'd also benefit the league by improving its relations with the CFL Players' Association.
In the U.S., players like now-retired Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis are a household name because the league didn't flinch at the idea of having to pay the players union for the right to use its stars in advertising campaigns. "That's why players like Damon Allen and Danny McManus still aren't associated with any products in Canada," says Craig Cripps, the CFLPA's former director of marketing. "CFL owners don't want to spend the money."
Finally, Cohon has his work cut out in Toronto.
Just ask the Argos brass; it's tough enough to sell season tickets and merchandise in the country's largest market in the summertime, going head-to-head against the Blue Jays, and myriad music festivals and concerts.