For the Riders, millions; for the Esks ...

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

Unlike the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Edmonton Eskimos aren't expecting a multimillion-dollar gift to fall in their lap any time soon.

The Riders will receive $3.75 million over the next 10 years for the naming rights to their facility, which is now called Mosaic Stadium instead of Taylor Field.

But the Eskimos don't appear to be in a position to benefit from a similar windfall.

A few years ago a company was somewhat interested in paying to rename Commonwealth Stadium, but that talk didn't last long.

"City council made a policy decision (back then) that Commonwealth Stadium would not be available for naming rights," said Eskimo president Rick LeLacheur. "So, we haven't really looked at anything (lately)."

But there could be a major change inside Commonwealth Stadium before the turn of the decade.

LeLacheur believes there's perhaps a "50-50" chance the grass surface will be replaced by field turf, which is the same artificial surface at Clarke Stadium.

"I think I want to see one more winter and try to get another test on clearing (the field turf) at Clarke Stadium and seeing what it's like (for footing)," said LeLacheur, outlining what the next step is on the Eskimos' decision chart.

Footing appears to be the main issue in the decision process. The club wants to know: How slick would a field-turf surface be after clearing snow from the field?

A TESTING GROUND

The Eskimos have the luxury of using Clarke Stadium as a testing ground before making a landmark decision on Commonwealth Stadium.

"We didn't really given it a real test (at Clarke) this year because we didn't really get any snow until January," remembered LeLacheur. "So, by then everything (with our team) was shut down. We didn't get an opportunity to grade it or sweep it - which we would have to do at Commonwealth."

For years, other teams have complained about the league's only grass field inside the Eskimos' house, citing the Green and Gold's advantage for choosing proper shoes.

But there is the flip side of the coin that really affects both teams: the grass field can become a skating rink in the fall and incredibly slippery in the rain.

"The players like the mindset advantage of the grass," continued LeLacheur. "At the same time, they really like the new turf (at Clarke) for the footing."

OTHER EVENTS

The team used Clarke for camp this spring.

If the Eskimos decide this fall/winter to move to field turf at Commonwealth, City of Edmonton administrators must be involved.

"If we have turf in there, what does that do to other events?" explained LeLacheur. "For example, I don't think you can have rugby on (field turf) surface."

That means the Churchill Cup would be scrambling for a new venue. But it appears major soccer events could still be held.

"On this new field turf, FIFA has approved every event except the World Cup," continued the Eskimos' COO.

SHORT YARDAGE: LeLacheur doesn't have all of the cost estimates for switching surfaces, but knows there are pros and cons.

The initial hit to put in the turf could run close to $3 million.

The surface at Clarke cost about $2.5 million when installation was complete, but there is a massive sprinkler system that would have to be ripped up under the existing Commonwealth grass.

While maintenance costs would almost disappear with an artificial surface at the main stadium, there's a hitch.

"You would need some sort of fund to replace it because it would probably last eight to 10 years," LeLacheur estimated.

SIDELINES: Construction inside Commonwealth Stadium on the north end zone area will likely start next month.

The fence by the scoreboard will be moved to the property line at 111 Avenue, hopefully eliminating the bottleneck of pedestrian traffic by the Jumbotron.

Gate 9 on the northeast corner - which handles about 65% of the traffic - will also be expanded with washrooms being added in the area. Construction will last until the fall.


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