Esks unveil big number!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:16 AM ET

It was such a beautiful document, the Edmonton Eskimos' report to the shareholders, featuring a colorful cover, 21 gorgeous graphs and ...

And everybody at the annual meeting of the community-owned football club madly flipped the pages to the last one to see THE BIG NUMBER.

Ever since the day the Eskimos sold the Edmonton Trappers baseball team, there have been a whole host of people waiting to see THE BIG NUMBER.

And there it was -- $12,911,579!

"Cash and short-term investments -- End of year: $12,911,579." Really big number!

"We don't want to put the money in a coffee can and bury it in the backyard," said CEO Hugh Campbell. "We're going to spend money to make money. That's our position.

"Right now, this is the strongest we've ever been. And from an ownership point of view, this is the strongest that the league has been in all the years I've been involved.

"This is a time not to rest on any laurels, but to get very aggressive in marketing, promotion, sponsorship and attendance. It's a good deal to have this kind of money now. It's a better deal if we make it work for us, for the league and for the community."

The Eskimos, who previously put $3.5 million from the profits of hosting the Grey Cup into the stabilization fund, will put $3.7 million more into the football version of King Ralph's Heritage Trust Fund. The $3.7 million is the number the Eskimos took out of the fund to buy the Trappers in the first place. The fund is now up to $7.3 million.

STABILIZATION FUND

"We always want to have a stabilization fund," said COO Rick LeLacheur. "There have been times over the years when the Eskimos have had to draw from the fund."

The question is how, exactly, they intend to spend the rest of the money. Remember, they've already spent a bunch of the proceeds of the Trappers sale to ease their conscience for selling out local baseball fans by letting the Pacific Coast League have their way of ridding themselves of their final franchise on the Canadian side of the border.

The Eskimos put $2 million into city sports facilities with $500,000 earmarked for new infield turf for Telus Field and $1.5 million for an artificial surface for Clarke Park. Another $100,000 was provided to the Golden Bear, Huskies and Wildcats football programs, plus the same figure to Football Alberta.

"We'll put more money into the community, we just don't know where yet," said LeLacheur.

FIELD HOUSE

One thing they're looking at very seriously is the idea from the city for a field house at Clarke Park.

"It would provide an excellent facility for soccer, especially, but several other outdoor sports to be played indoors during the winter. And from our point of view, we could use it for indoor practices in bad weather circumstances. I think something like that would go a long way to keeping our players in the city during the off-season as well. A win-win situation like that would be good for everybody."

The Eskimos will also be looking at building new offices on the Commonwealth Stadium site.

"We're looking at that. It would be great to have our offices on the property so the coaches could be close to the locker-room and with adequate-sized meeting and media rooms. Our current building is getting old and we're out of space, big-time," added LeLacheur.

The Eskimos, who drew 402,306 fans despite brutal weather for their biggest games against Saskatchewan and Calgary, still ended up with a profit of $673,984 last year, up from $164,907 and $180,586 the previous two seasons. The final year of Trapper baseball, on the other hand, ended up with a loss of $208,705.

The man who had handled all that money, treasurer Bob MacLean, was elected the new president replacing John Butler. Larry Pollock and Art Sawin were welcomed as new directors. No new Eskimo president ever walked into the job with almost $13 million in the bank.

"I believe I have a real responsibility to steward that money, to see it's used properly for the community and the football club," said MacLean.


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