I cannot recall being more excited about a prospective owner of a Montreal sports franchise than when news broke that movie theatre mogul, real estate tycoon, restaurateur and TV star Vincenzo Guzzo is the odds on favorite to add the football Alouettes to his stable. The Canadian Football League Board of Governors have reportedly already approved the transaction and it is expected to close on July 1. He will have a 50 percent stake in the franchise, with two partners taking on 25 percent each. At this time he is doing his due diligence, so the Guzzo kick off is still very much tentative.
Let me say this right from the start. I got to know Guzzo six years ago when I did my first of many face to face interviews. He is charismatic, brilliant and never short of ideas. In addition, his involvement in community and philanthropic projects with his equally sensational wife Maria is legendary.
Guzzo has built up what started as a small independent theatre house, Cinemas Guzzo, into a powerhouse. He ventured into real estate, opened his own restaurants and last year became one of the stars of CBC TV’s The Dragon’s Den. His fundraising initiatives include the annual Notte In Bianco event. Guests are all attired in white for this social event of the season at the Guzzo estate in Terrebonne and at least $250,000 is raised in a single evening. Cancer research and programs dealing with mental illness have been the main beneficiaries.
Guzzo is a lawyer, trilingual (English, French and Italian) and an expert at garnering media attention. The Alouettes have been very fortunate to have a generous owner like Robert C. Wetenhall for the past two decades. Had he not stepped up at that time we might have lost the franchise for a second time. In recent years his son Andrew has pretty well run the operation.
Sadly, the Wetenhalls had no profile in the community. They are Americans who were completely invisible. The Alouettes need an owner like Geoff Molson of the Canadiens and Joey Saputo of the Impact who are out there. Well they will hit the jackpot with Guzzo!
The Alouettes should be attracting 20,000 fans a game or more. I believe Guzzo could be the missing link to making that happen. For starters, just think of the incredible cross promotion possibilities with his theatres. Tickets could be sold at every Cinemas Guzzo location (buy a movie pass and get 10 percent seats to an Als game). Before every movie, Als infomercials could be played on the . How about meet and greets with the players and Als branding at all the concession stands.
With his vast contacts, Guzzo will be able to expand upon group sales opportunities and private box leases. I have been his Notte In Bianco affair and the guest list is a who’s who of the business community. Just think of how this can assist the brand!
TSN 690’s Tony Marinaro reported that Guzzo wants to change the name of the team to Les Alouettes de Québec. But Guzzo has clarified to me that he merely wants the team "to be seen or become the Quebec Alouettes where every Quebecer sees this as their regional team like the BC Lions. I never said I wanted to change the name."
In addition, Marinaro says he wants a French speaking coach and general manager. If the deal goes through, Guzzo will assume control just as the regular season begins. Team president Patrick Boivin just engineered a rebranding exercise last winter. I believe GM Kavis Reed is starting to hit his stride and let me tell you I have never met someone in his post who has implicated himself more in the community. I am not necessarily sold on head coach Mike Sherman. Danny Maciocia has always been the obvious choice for that bilingual coach/GM but he seems quite content at the Université de Montréal. I would not be surprised for 2020 if the Als do not improve this year to see Guzzo try and lure Maciocia and Anthony Calvillo back to the team.
Guzzo will inherit some talent in the administrative ranks, people like Director of Sales and Fan Services Brian Weightman, whom I worked with at the Impact for many years and has added a missing touch in the area of outreach and fresh ideas.
There are indeed some exciting days ahead for pro football in Montreal.