My experience as a former Alouettes employee

Disclosure: I worked at the Alouettes’ head office for almost 2 years somewhere over the past five years. I wish to remain anonymous and may be vague with certain parts. You may choose to think that more proof is necessary to prove that my claim is actually true and I respect that, but my goal here is just to relay my experience and remain anonymous. I have since moved on to another industry and have no affiliation with the team. See this as an inside look if ever you wanted to work for a pro football team in Canada as a long-term career as a young person coming out of college or someone who wants to know how business actually works inside the organization’s office without media bullshit obscuring the truth.

Business Culture

A big issue that I saw every day was the cliques and the backstabbing. People had their 3-4 friends and wouldn’t interact with anyone else. These friends helped out each other and almost always ignored everyone else. About backstabbing, there was no formal sales method and it occurred on more than one occasion that people would attempt to steal away client sales in order to pad their commissions. This caused constant tensions between certain people and created a very toxic environment.

Training was almost nonexistent. No manuals, no documents, no consultants coming in. We had to rely on our instincts alone. Sometimes this would work out, sometimes it didn’t.

Finally, a little gripe of mine. People were on facebook/sports websites constantly. This was extremely demotivating and promoted an atmosphere where people can just be lazy and it’s okay.

My Feelings about Robert Wettenhall and Mark Weightman

Yes, it is true that owner Robert Wettenhall saved the franchise from implosion in the late 1990s and he is overall a great human being. The big problem here is that he lives in the US and my impression of him was that he had no idea what was actually going on at the front lines. There was always a feeling that he was just putting money into the system and not actually making sure operations were running correctly. He seldom actually visited the Montreal offices and we received one, maybe two emails from him a year. Another big issue was the fact that his sons were Alouettes board members, but again we never saw them or heard anything from them as they are consultants living in the US. Above all else though my biggest issue with him was his penny-pinching tendencies. We had no budget to actually reward clients, create hype events or hire top talent. More about this below.

Mark is a nice guy, but again, very detracted from front line people. Objectives would be set, but we would have no idea how to implement them or what was expected of us to achieve them. My impression was that he was always promoting a ‘‘good old boys’’ club within the company, where it was hard to advance unless you were in this clique. An example of this is the Compass contract they had. Compass is a food provider that also does the Canadiens games. We would have clients calling in all the time saying that the hot dogs taste like crap, or that there isn’t a good menu selection, that we often ran out of food or that everything is grossly over priced vis-à-vis the quality. Compass never made any adjustments, because the upper management never told them to or at least never put their feet to the fire. This buddy club among upper management and big suppliers remained for the entirety of the time I was there.

The Football Business in Montreal

Terrible. It was just god awful. Clients constantly telling us they were switching their season tickets to Impact tickets as those were more affordable and the events were more entertaining. Upper end clients of ours would switch over to the Habs at the first opportunity they got. The quality just wasn’t there anymore, and I’m not even talking about the team itself. The show just wasn’t interesting and companies didn’t see value in spending tons of money every year on tickets anymore.

Company Strategy

This is where I feel the Alouettes organization struggled the most. While managers held a weekly meeting, there was rarely any communication about those meetings to the rest of the employees. No newsletter, no substantive team huddles. Lower level employees desperately wanted direction, and they weren’t getting any. One department department director in particular was nonproductive, leaving the office early almost every single day, not getting a good assessment of where the employees were headed and just staying in his office all day.

One small detail I almost forgot, I just feel like the company never engaged sufficiently with the fans. We never took advantage of the league forums, reddit, etc. Sure we had a great facebook page, but it never really felt innovative.

Our relationship with Football Operations

Seemingly very little. We rarely took advantage of the ‘‘star power’’ of some of our players and staff in football operations to promote synergies. The reason being? Money. Always money. There were always excuses where we would ask for help on a project from some of the players. ‘‘We’d have to pay them’’, etc, etc. Ok then pay them? Well that answer would always be no. Again, penny pinching was the norm here.

A disappointing reality for me was that we’d never actually see any of the coaches or management staff (ie Jim Popp). Actually talking to them could have given us good business ideas or what ever, but it was just something that never happened. Football ops stayed in their cavern at the Olympic stadium and we stayed downtown, and that was it.

Pay and turnover/HR

Atrocious. We were asked to worked extremely hard while being paid McDonald’s type salaries. This caused another problem where we could never recruit top talent out of university as who in their right mind would want to work for $30k a year with limited benefits. Yes, some people had degrees, but a lot didn’t.

Another big issue issue I had was their practice of hiring young people as ‘‘unpaid interns’’. There was nothing ‘‘internship’’ -ish about these jobs. They were quite literally the exact same job as the full time permanent one, however the ‘‘interns’’ would simply be paid nothing. This to me was them just taking advantage of young people who desperately wanted to work for a sports team. Terrible policy and very unethical.

Finally, turnover. Over the time that I was there, I’m pretty sure about 50-60% of people moved on to other jobs that paid better. We lost so many key employees it was absolutely ridiculous.

The Media

After working at the Alouettes, I learnt never to trust the Journal de Montreal again. I remember them running a headline called something like ‘‘consistency and stability’’. I found this absolutely hilarious considering the company was treading water financially, losing a bunch of office staff and coaches leaving halfway through the season. The media seemed either completely unaware of what was happening inside the organization or was willfully lying to the public.

Summary

I’m sorry if this sounds like a rant. My purpose here is to share my experience and tell a story that is never talked about in the media. I do wish the team the best and hope that they recapture their glory days of the early 2000s, but I think right now they just have too many structural problems where a solution is going to require new management/ownership. The sad thing here is that I should be the exact type of person the team courts to come see some games. I used to watch a whole bunch of games live and on TV, but rarely keep up anymore. I do miss a lot of the people I was working with and a lot of them are genuinely wonderful/intelligent people. I also think the players were absolutely amazing with all of the community service they were doing (hospital visits, etc.). I just wish there were more positives to discuss. Anyway, you guys can ask me questions below if you want and I may answer some of them.

Edit: typos.

Tom Higgins!! I was wondering why we haven`t heard from you in awhile!

lol

time frame seems plausable...

Thanks Former Al for posting .

Leadership , oversight and systemic relationships seem to be the crux of the problems . I wonder if this fall happened after Larry Smith leaving . Absentee ownership is always a key ingredient in a recipe for failure

One thing I always wondered is how do the Als stay afloat when the revenue stream is limited in that stadium . How do you keep the corporate client happy with such competition and the loges sparse and poorly situated ?

They need to right that ship in Montreal which is fixable with a little TLC and placing key vital management in quality control positions . A little money allocation is needed in some areas.

As a fan watching the game live get a video board in a proper position that is up to date in quality . Get a few better concessions and watch the price point for poorly situated seats .

Depressing to see such a damning indictment of the Als org from the inside. The characterization of Wetenhall and his sons is exactly what a number of us have been thinking for years.

The best thing that could happen to this franchise is for Wetenhall to sell it to a committed, forward-thinking owner who can put together an organization that isn't a dysfunctional mess.

@disciplineandpunish: it was even more depressing for me at the time I was working there, feeling very powerless to change things for the better. Things might have changed for the better since I left, but that's up for you to decide. I agree though, the organization probably needs new ownership that is local. Something along the lines of how Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment operates all of their sports franchises through a central hub in Toronto. I would feel great if the Molson family bought the Alouettes Franchise. Again, the above assessment is my personal opinion - some other employees may have had a different experience, but I feel my description is pretty accurate.

@Hank01: I'll try and answer your questions one by one.

  • How do they stay afloat: I don't remember the exact break even point, but I'm pretty sure it was around 22,000 attendance/game. They needed the yearly playoff game to top off their revenues. I know that it hurt them pretty bad a couple of years ago when they had to play their playoff game at Molson Stadium and only 12,000 people showed up.

  • Unfortunately they actually lost a few important sponsors over the past few years. These sponsors were initially brought into the fold by Larry Smith's longtime business relationships, but when he left the Als those sponsors didn't see as much of a reason to stay. No free food was a big complaint for companies buying loges.

  • As for concessions quality, please write in directly to either Compass or Als management directly. They don't listen until people actually speak up.

I hope this answered your questions.

Would have to be very bad from whatever aspect for me to switch from gridiron football to soccer but maybe those people that did switch were really more soccer fans at heart anyways. Don't know. I can't imagine ever having season tickets for any soccer league as it's just not my sport at all in terms of entertainment from an on-field aspect as well as the soccer culture just doesn't fit me and don't think it will to be honest, but who knows.

At any rate, I hope the Als organization learns from your "exit interview" if you will FAS. Have to admit, I love watching games on television from Percival Molson Stadium, looks great on TV even for a stadium that is quite old. Looks like a great experience when they show the fans. Obviously I'm not getting the whole picture? :?

@Aerial:

Sorry I should have specified, those cancelling their Als season tickets in order to move to the Impact were mostly corporate clients, basically businesses who bought tickets to take out their clients to an event. I don't really think it had to do with their personal sports tastes, but more what value they perceived they were getting.

Thanks again FAS . Was the tail gate in the park or the open end zone party zone a success by your estimate ?

Two marketing ideas that I liked however did not try out personally .

Pardon me gang if I'm a bit skeptical.

Over the years, we've had many posters who suddenly showed up and claimed to have oodles of 'inside information.'

As long as such a person has no track record in here for veracity, and makes significant claims of inside knowledge, all the while remaining anonymous, well. . .

Yup.

@Hank01: The tailgates were considered a major success and credit must be given where it is due. Previous efforts to implement it were hindered by opposition from the Tremblay administration if I remember correctly. Current city hall was more open to the idea so that's how they were able to get permission.

@MadJack: I still have some old stadium employee passes/business cards, if you actually want to verify me you can send me a PM and we'll discuss further. I would obviously black out the name and year, but it's up to you - I have no interest in listing my identity here, only to share my experience. It's up to you guys whether or not you want to believe the 1600 words of text I've written today about the matter.

I don't really think it had to do with their personal sports tastes, but more what value they perceived they were getting.
Regardless, these corporations must think their clients like soccer a lot or else they wouldn't switch even if the hors-d'oeuvres and booze was a lot better deal at Impact games than Als games. :wink: Soccer does have a lot of fans in every Canadian city especially with the large immigrant populations in Canada's large cities and maybe Saputo Stadium, I think that is what it is called, with it being newer than Percival Molson has fancier and more swanky corporate suites. That will factor into any "entertainment value" for a corporation without question regardless of the sport or whether it's sport or theatre, music etc. :? Hey, I'd even go to a soccer game over a football game perhaps if a corporation was wooing me and they had smoked salmon and filet mignon compared with flounder and blade steaks and high end craft beer compared with discount beer. :wink:

When reading FAS's letter I didn't sense any hate or lets get even tone which would tag someone . Also his knowledge is what I would suspect an employee of his nature to have and I sense a respectful and educated tone to his letter and answers .

I have to analyze these things and I am the first to be cynical with something like this but I sense an affection for his former job that he wishes was up to the standard he believed a pro team would have to sales . This exit letter is what every employer should take and use to a have a better strategy in creating an atmosphere of
success from all employees going forward .

The bottom line is he cares .

What I find funny Aerial is I try to explain to people that Saputo stadium is capable at 60 million to get a Nova Scotia team going yet there are nay sayers who don't realize the limitations at existing parks like Molson (McGill) .

They can exist on 22,000 in attendance for a break even point with poor Corporate Loges . A little big shot treatment goes a long way wherever you live or whatever sport you want to entertain the corporate client whether it's free food ,parking and novelty perks .

I suggest a good trip for you and your wife is visit Montreal by rail in the Summer when it is half off rates and find a good hotel thru expedia . Spend the night and enjoy Montreal it is a great city plus get to visit a unique stadium while watching the CFL . If you get good weather ; you will enjoy it even more no matter who is playing .

Interesting perspective. My issue with it is it seems somewhat oblivious to the realities of running a business. Wetenhall is presumably in this to make money. If the break-even point is 22000 tickets -- at the Alouettes' prices, which IMO are extremely high -- and the team needed a playoff game to be profitable, why would the ownership heed calls for reduced concession prices or pay its employees more? Why would they spend money on training, or have football ops people spend time with sales people? I would be willing to bet Wetenhall is not making a fortune by owning the team. But as long as he's making money, the business is viable and there's no need to worry about a repeat of 1987. I'm sure business practices could be improved, and some wouldn't even cost much money. But this post overall strikes me as written from the perspective of someone without any skin in the game.

I have a couple of questions FAS:

  1. What dept. did you work in?

  2. If someone would ask your superior at the Als office about your performance, what do you think they would say?

  3. Did you ever address issues with your superiors?

  4. Its [u]Mark[/u] Weightman - shouldnt you know the president`s name?

  5. What was the aim of your post?

And speaking of the Impact, even with Drogba mania they have only managed to sell 9000 season tickets

One more question for your list:
How do you explain working for the company less than two years over a 5 year period?

I'm sure FAS worked for the Als. I am sure he has many concerns. But, truth be told, most of the concerns listed are common in most businesses - backstabbing, laziness, cliques, frugal owners, interns being paid nothing, high turn over of staff and clients, etc . I have seen it in many lines of work.

As for the team's finances...

The goal line has likely shifted and I'm sure it is easier for the Als to make money than it was even 3 years ago - more League sponsorship, more TSN money, saving FAS's mammoth salary (teasing). Also, as FAS said, the owner has 2 sons on the board and, my guess, they are well paid - that has to be taken into consideration.

If the team needed to average 22K fans 3 years ago, they may need to average less than 20K today. Hopefully that number will continue to shrink.

As I have said on many occasions, I would be happy if teams like the Als or Argos broke even indefinitely. I think they are close.

@pw13: The penny-pinching issue became more and more clear to me over the years after working at subsequent firms where they actually properly invested in employees. The difference to me was incredibly clear, companies that invested in their talent were able to hire top young grads and plan sophisticated events for clients - the Als seemingly did very little of these. But I understand your point, managing a business is tough work, especially managing a pro sports team.

@idealsheldon:

  1. Again, I don't feel like answering questions like these. My goal is to remain anonymous and transfer to you guys my experiences.

  2. Pretty sure this question is irrelevant, the text I wrote barely has anything to do with me, just my observations while working there.

  3. Yes, I did. On several occasions actually. Like I said, every problem was related to money and they had none apparently. Events (outside of games) were poorly organised, for example. There were a couple of times where we had public kiosks that looked like they were set up by complete amateurs. Very embarrassing at times, to be honest.

  4. Typo

  5. No specific aim. I haven't been working there in a while and this is sort of cathartic for me. I grew up with the idea that I really wanted to work in pro sports and was incredibly excited when I was first hired. Unfortunately, the experience left me with a series of many disappointments. I've been wanting to make a post here for a while but never got around to it and wanted enough time to go by so that a. I wouldn't be identified and b. hopefully thinking that things have improved for the better since I was there. I'm an optimist in life and I know that a lot of good people worked there, my goal isn't to rag on them only to share how I felt. I know of a couple of really good people they hired after I left that are quality guys, so I assume they are going in the right direction.

  6. About Drogba: My experiences relate to before his arrival, I have no idea if the Als are still losing season ticket holders to the Impact.

@Challenger99: I meant that I worked there for almost two years over the course of the past five years. I just don't want to share exactly when I was there, but know that it was within the past five years.

Working today is not fun - jobs don't pay well, few benefits, employees are treated like replaceable parts. I'm glad I worked during a better/fairer time.

You sound like a young man, FAS - mid 20's. My guess, when you look back at your career 40 years from now, you will see your time at the Als as a positive and a learning experience so don't think badly of the organization. They are just a small company trying to survive in a big world. As they say, "It's nothing personal, it's just business".

I hope you find greater success going forward.