Eskimos budget looking up

Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman (left) and president and CEO Len Rhodes listen to the opening...

Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman (left) and president and CEO Len Rhodes listen to the opening remarks during the Annual General Meeting held in the Eskimos' locker room at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alta., Feb. 21, 2012. (PERRY MAH/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:02 AM ET

EDMONTON - It was almost embarrassing to hear the new Edmonton Eskimos’ president and CEO Len Rhodes make his statements at the annual general meeting of the team Tuesday.

But if you listened hard …

If you pushed for actual content …

Well, in there somewhere was reason to believe maybe the Eskimos might have come to an end of being the cheap, won’t-spend-a-dime-to-make-a-dollar mom-and-pop business they’d become since the Norm Kimball era.

But in his first address to those assembled at he AGM, Rhodes sounded like a fast-talking all-hat, no-cattle flim-flam man.

“Our vision is to deliver an overall sports and entertainment experience worthy of champions. Our mission is to challenge and lead through performance, innovation and creativity. We will create an environment that fosters strong employee engagement through a set of corporate values and include integrity, optimism, accessibility, authenticity, passion and professionalism … yadda, yadda, yadda.”

If you hadn’t dialed out by that point, you would have heard him make the statement.

“We will have the best game-day experience in Canada, North America and the world.”

Say what? This from a guy who has yet to attend an Eskimo game in Commonwealth Stadium in person?

In the entire history of the CFL, I’m not sure if anyone has ever come close to over-promising to that extent.

It wasn’t until cross-examination one was able to discover there was some actual content behind all that bull spit.

When we last left the Eskimos they had one sales employee. Greg Treble, after cross examination, we discover, suddenly has a sales and sponsorship staff with three department heads, three people in group sales, another in season tickets and another in inside sales.

That’s going from one to nine people.

“I believe you have to make an investment to get a return, not just wait for renewals to come in,” he said.

Bingo! Now you’re talkin’.

Rhodes also revealed in a private interview that he’d convinced the board to free up a quarter million dollars to spend on event experience and environment.

“Football isn’t like hockey. You can create 10 events. That’s hard to do with 41. In football you can turn each game into a happening. With $25,000 a game we can provide a lot of extra entertainment,” said Rhodes, who promises half-time shows significantly beyond the sad and sorry productions of the past.

One other thing: he talked about giving the stadium back to the fans. Interview him after the fancy talk and you find out there are actual specifics.

The wire mesh fence between the fans and the field that made Edmonton look like a third world soccer outfit, will be coming down. The Jackie Parker room and Quarterback Club will no longer be exclusive but will be open to all fans, with buffets under $20. The Green & Gold club will return. The ban on peanuts may even be lifted.

Why he didn’t come out and specify all that at the AGM, I don’t know. But now you know.

You should also know the Eskimos have returned to having a Canadian scout like they had when Frank Morris judged talent in the five-in-a-row era and half the new stadium seats will be installed during the season and the other half before the start of the following season.

The best news is that Rhodes is looking at 30,000 fans as a stadium being half empty instead of half full.

The problem with the Eskimos as a business is that it has long been successful in terms of the rest of the league, without really trying.

And Tuesday’s AGM was certainly an example of that.

The financial statement of the community-owned club showed revenue of $17,457,433, up about $1.8 million on the previous year. Expenses were $16,929,627 which, after other items, left the team with a net profit of $473,471 for the season.

Board chairman Allan Sawin said the profit basically came from having the first home playoff game since 2004.

Bottom line? The Eskimos have $9,071,679 in their Heritage Trust Fund.

It’s about time they stopped being cheap and returned to Norm Kimball’s idea of leading the league in every single little area.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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