Sign of the times

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

Call it a sign of prosperity.

And a hint of things to come.

Unprecedented financial support for the Calgary Stampeders could lead to a corporation purchasing naming rights for McMahon Stadium.

The CFL team's ownership group is investigating selling the 45-year-old stadium's name to a sponsor, according to Stampeders co-owner John Forzani.

And it's a plan supported by at least one local member of the McMahon family.

The proposed sale of naming rights to Calgary's football home would provide a financial boost for the Stampeders and the University of Calgary, which owns the stadium and the surrounding parcel of land.

"We are looking at every source of revenue," said Forzani, noting the team's corporate support is well ahead of last year's pace, including an eight-year sponsorship deal with Pepsi announced yesterday.

"We've been able to increase our corporate sponsorship considerably. But short of doing what they do in Europe in hockey where the players look like race car drivers, we're looking at every avenue possible."

In the CFL only Winnipeg has sold naming rights, allowing Canad Inns in 2001 to sponsor the former Winnipeg Stadium for a reported $1.75 million over 10 years.

McMahon Stadium was built in 1960 for $700,000 as a replacement to the smaller and dilapidated Mewata Park Stadium, the original home of the Stampeders.

Calgary oilmen Frank McMahon and George McMahon donated $300,000 to the University of Alberta (Calgary) and the citizens of Calgary while guaranteeing the rest of the money needed for construction.

Both McMahon brothers are deceased but John McMahon, George's son, still lives in Calgary and isn't opposed to the name change if the family's legacy remains.

"What our family was hoping for was that my father and uncle would be forever remembered for helping build the place," said John McMahon, 50. "By the same token, there's not much you can do to stand in the way of progress and who would want to if it would help the team survive?"

Both Frank and George McMahon had their names added to the Stampeders Wall of Fame inside the stadium in 2001.

"Sure, you feel sad but it won't in any way diminish my respect for what my father did or what my uncle did," John McMahon said.

Forzani said naming rights is a complicated and involved process that could take at least a year to complete.

"The naming of the stadium is a big one because that's a long-term deal," said Forzani, whose Forzani Group owns the Sport Chek chain of stores and is one of several companies that could purchase the naming rights. "Do I expect it to happen this year? No. There's people who would entertain the idea, including our company. But a lot of things have to be right. Signed permits and we'd have to also work out a deal with the university but it's certainly a long-term goal."

Stadium naming rights is just a portion of the new Stampeders organization's long-term plans, Forzani said.

"It's all part of making it work," said Forzani, who along with Ted Hellard and Doug Mitchell purchased the team in January from California businessman Michael Feterik. "When we bought the Stampeders, we knew it wasn't a story of just cutting expenses. As a matter of fact, we're going to spend considerably more money this year fielding a competitive team than was spent last year. So if it's not a matter of cutting expenses, it's a matter of increasing revenue. We have to increase revenue and we didn't increase ticket prices, so we need more people coming to the games, more sponsorship from our corporate world and those things are happening."

University of Calgary president Dr. Harvey Weingarten and athletic director Don Wilson were not available for comment.


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