EDMONTON - Len Rhodes is the new leader of the brand.
If you thought the Edmonton Eskimos were a football team, you'd have been confused to attend the press conference Wednesday.
If it had been held in Calgary, the photo op would probably have involved a branding iron.
That word, brand, had to be used at least 250 times.
The title is still the same as it used to be, president and CEO. And Rhodes has it now, replacing Rick LeLacheur who says he's now the CMO — "Chief Mentoring Officer."
The new leader of the brand is the former brand manager of Molson Breweries and most recently the global senior vice-president and general manager of Reebok-CCM Hockey.
"I build brands," said the new Eskimos boss, effective Dec. 1.
"I reinvigorate brands that I believe in, that have heritage and potential. I have to believe in the brand I'm revitalizing. I have a good reputation for bringing things back to life. I rejuvenate the brand. I do that very well. I set new standards.
"The Eskimos live up to all of those criteria. We're going to rebuild the brand, rejuvenate the brand. But it's a very healthy brand, so what I want to do is bring it to the next level and allow us to be proud of what we're doing, doing it together with the community, with the players, with all the staff.
"I worked 11 years for Molsons as brand director. In 1999 I was hired by CCM, a company which had been around since 1989 to come in and turn the brand around and come back.
In 2004 Reebok purchased CCM and we made it No. 2 in hockey. My DNA is marketing."
But this was about football — you knew that because the press conference was at Commonwealth Stadium.
He'd never been there before.
"When I walked in today I just felt goose bumps," said Rhodes. "I'm thrilled. I am so lucky to be here today. And I will live up to the expectations of the community."
Rhodes was put in the position of having to introduce himself in several different directions.
"I'm a 47-year-old who had two great stints," he said.
"I didn't want to go to work for a competitor in one of the areas I'd worked before. So, how do I use my experience and leapfrog into something else and to do something I really want to enjoy and get some satisfaction out of while bringing value so that it's win-win?
"It just felt right, just felt natural the whole time. This is where I need to be.
"When I heard about the Edmonton Eskimos job, I knew. I knew the moment I heard of it. It just felt right. It just felt natural the whole time. This is where I needed to be.
"The first time I got the call informing me there was a potential opportunity, I knew it was the one for me. There were other opportunities. But the Edmonton Eskimos were the clear leader and I let all the other opportunities to go because I wanted to be here.
"The Eskimos, from my perspective, is something really exciting because of the history and the standards of excellence the Eskimos have always had.
"I love the Edmonton Eskimos brand. To my mind, in the Canadian Football League, the Edmonton Eskimos have been the standard to which others have compared."
He says he'll take 100 days to look and learn while at the same time working hard to connect to the community.
"I already know that people care. The people here are fabulous. It doesn't take long to understand that people in Edmonton are genuine. The onus is on me to reach out.
"Whatever the expectations of the fans are, we're going to meet it and exceed it over time. Things are not broken. What we need to do is separate ourselves from the rest of the pack and make sure we are the standard to which all others compare."
It won't be difficult to judge his success. Count the crowd.
"It's a large stadium. And that's the opportunity. It's going to be full again someday. We're going to get to that.
"The seats are not filled 100% today but I love the fact the fans are engaged. Most of the comments are positive. Some are negative. But that means they care.
"I'm a custodian in making sure I deliver what they want. Put things in place, not only to make sure the fans are coming, but coming back.
"The fans will be my boss."
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