Marketing vet named new Eskimos CEO

Len Rhodes, right, and current Edmonton Eskimos Football Club President and CEO Rick LeLacheur ...

Len Rhodes, right, and current Edmonton Eskimos Football Club President and CEO Rick LeLacheur during the announcement Rhodes will be replacing LeLacheur at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday, October 5, 2011. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:34 AM ET

The Edmonton Eskimos Wednesday introduced, as their new president and CEO, Len Rhodes.

Who?

Exactly.

But the most important question isn’t ‘Who?’ It’s ‘Why?’

Recently divorced from his wife and dog and recently fired by Reebok — to be replaced by somebody from Germany in the Adidas takeover of the company — Rhodes is a Montreal specialist in rebranding who was suddenly available at a time in his life when he was interested in an entirely new challenge with an entirely new entity at an entirely new locale.

The 47-year-old former beer and hockey equipment executive is the new president and CEO of the former flagship franchise of the CFL because why?

Because it is the former flagship franchise, that’s why.

Rhodes’s job definition is simple. Make the ‘EE’ what it used to be.

The Eskimos used to lead the league, not only in wins and attendance, but in every little area there was in which to lead a league. The Eskimos board of directors have effectively hired him to return the team to its former glory in every area.

Previously global senior vice-president and general manager of Reebok-CCM Hockey, Rhodes will move into the job Dec. 1 and work for a year with retiring president and CEO Rick LeLacheur.

Rhodes took proud, tired old brands Molson and then CCM, and re-branded them back into something special.

Eric Tillman was hired to reboot the Eskimos back into a team resembling its former status on the field.

Len Rhodes has been hired to do the same with the team image, perception and status as a special entity in Canadian sports.

That’s the why.

“He’s been hired to take the iconic brand we’re so fortunate to have and to build it,” said Eskimos board chairman Allan Sawin.

“He’s here to increase the fan experience in the stadium and build the brand in the community and use his proven leadership skills to return the Edmonton Eskimos to the upper levels of the league in all areas and aspects, and make it like it used to be when everybody else wished they were the Edmonton Eskimos.

“Len is all about building the brand. His mandate is to take us to the next level. He’s a real good, solid guy.”

Born on the Quebec side of the border from Labrador City, he’s lived his life in Montreal and he’s never seen the Eskimos play a football game in Commonwealth Stadium.

He has no connection to the Eskimos or Edmonton at all.

“We are taking a bit of a chance there, but it’s a chance we’re willing to take with his track record,” said Sawin of the lack of experience in dealing with Edmontonians or the business of football, where he’d be the guy to make the decision to fire general manager Eric Tillman when and if the time came.

“He’s managed businesses with budgets of several hundreds of millions of dollars. We are a small business by comparison,” said Sawin.

“He wasn’t a hockey guy but he managed a hockey equipment business employing managers who were experts on hockey equipment.”

The Eskimos, a team which currently employs one sales person, has had a great deal of difficulty in making the transition from the mom-and-pop business it was when Norm Kimball took over and led the league in every category with 55,000 season ticket holders and five straight Grey Cups in a new Commonwealth Stadium.

“His biggest challenge is to sell those 20,000 extra seats and to get to know the community,” said LeLacheur, who intends to mentor and transition Rhodes, but mostly allow him to roll up his sleeves and get on with the job while he oversees the installation of $12 million of new seats to the stadium to complete the $125 million of improvements which will be his legacy.

“It’s a whole different business since Norm Kimball and Hugh Campbell ran the football and business side of it. Now you hire the experts on the sports side of it,” said LeLacheur.

It’s difficult to have a real first impression of the guy one or a real clue if Rhodes is the guy to get the job done. But credit the Eskimos for seeing the light, that this is the time and place to return to being everything they can be … and everything they once were, and more.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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