Ed Willes: Grinder Ambrosie never stops looking for ways to refine CFL

 

 
 
 
 
Randy Ambrosie, who has been the CFL's commissioner for eight months, is pushing owners and league partners to study data and fans' interests as part of his plan to improve the entertainment value of the Canadian circuit.
 

Randy Ambrosie, who has been the CFL's commissioner for eight months, is pushing owners and league partners to study data and fans' interests as part of his plan to improve the entertainment value of the Canadian circuit.

Photograph by: SCOTT ROWED, The Province

A couple of days ago, an article appeared on the 3DownNation website under the headline, “We have lost faith in Randy Ambrosie.”

To which we can only say, that didn’t take long.

The article, which ran under the byline A CFL Player, catalogued a series of crimes and misdemeanours perpetrated by Ambrosie — who’s just starting his eighth month as the CFL’s commissioner — against the league’s players.

Among other things, A CFL Player roasted Ambrosie for suggesting players might look to begin careers away from football in the off-season, for enforcing the provisions of players contracts regarding the NFL, and for suggesting an extra week off during the schedule is a benefit to the players.

Also, Ambrosie could lose some weight.

Now, on some level this is understandable — and let us acknowledge 3DownNation is on the short list of the more credible and respected voices in the Canadian game.

The CFL player, not just A CFL Player, is among the most exploited athletes in all of professional sports. The compensation is limited. The work is dangerous. And there’s precious little in the way of job security.

This is also the way it has been around the Canadian game for, oh, the last 100 years or so. A new commissioner isn’t going to change that in eight months.

But, as he tries to navigate the minefield that is the CFL, the league’s stakeholders are forming a different view of the new commissioner.

Clearly, it’s still early days but the former offensive lineman/money man is emerging as the game’s great champion, a driven, progressive leader who gives the CFL its best chance of solving its problems since sometime in the Jake Gaudaur administration.

As it happens, Ambrosie was in Vancouver on Thursday to meet with B.C. Lions’ season ticket holders, sponsors and members of the media. In my 20 years of covering the Lions, this is the first time I can remember any commissioner travelling to Vancouver in the off-season for an availability of this scope.

And, yes, that’s important.

“I think I’ve walked into an amazing time in our history,” Ambrosie said. “Tell me when we’ve ever had an ownership group like the one we have right now?”

The man has a point. It’s been a long time since a CFL owner has been indicted.

“I keep waking up and driving toward this idea of constant improvement,” he continued. “Let’s set our sails on growing the game.”

During the course of a lengthy sit-down, Ambrosie articulated his vision for that constant improvement. True, there weren’t many headlines — although he did reveal the Lions were fined for letting linebacker Micah Awe out of his contract to pursue the NFL.

But, it’s the totality of Ambrosie’s commentary that registers, his recognition of the game’s strengths and flaws, the need to drag it forward, the need to improve its business culture.

A couple of highlights:

• One month into his appointment, Ambrosie acted unilaterally on the video review issue, cutting back coach’s challenges to one per game. This remains part of a larger complaint tied up with officiating, the game’s flow and pace of play.

“We are aware of this,” Ambrosie said. “I’ve asked Darren (Hackwood, the CFL’s new director of officiating) to look for everything that can speed up our game. I don’t want to re-litigate the game in the command centre.”

• Ambrosie is a self-confessed data geek. He’s urging the league’s head office and member teams to build its business strategies around statistical analysis rather than whims and instincts.

“We’re building a data strategy,” Ambrosie said. “We’ve never been in the business of data. I come from financial services where, literally, you start your day by reading 17 reports.

“We need to get that culture established in the CFL where we’re much smarter about our markets and our fans; who they are, what they like, what are their consumption patterns, how do they rate their game experience.”

• The commissioner is pushing for a leaguewide ticket-selling campaign as part of a more centralized role for the league office.

“Every team is presenting their revenue strategy,” he said. “That’s not something we’ve done as a league. I’m saying let’s create a shared accountability. Let’s be one league working together.

“There’s no value in secrets. Secrets are yesterday’s idea. Today it’s like open architecture.”

• On the much-discussed Halifax expansion franchise: “Halifax is hard. It’s unfair to put a specific time frame on it.

“But it’s like the national railroad. You know there’s an unfinished piece of track and the Maritimes is like the last piece of track. This league can’t be defined as being complete until we have that last piece of track in place.”

OK, this isn’t a strict blueprint for success. It’s more like a collection of good ideas that may or may not work.

But this is the other thing about Ambrosie. He doesn’t profess to have all the answers or possess a magic bullet for the CFL’s issues. What he does promise is he’ll work and listen and try to implement the best practices he or anyone else comes across.

Some people will like those practices. Others won’t. But as long as he keeps grinding, keeps looking for that better way, he has a chance to succeed.

“Sometimes a whole bunch of little things can add up to some big things,” he said. “You don’t have to find the Holy Grail.”

Maybe not. But he knows you have to keep looking.

Ewilles@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/willesonsports

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Randy Ambrosie, who has been the CFL's commissioner for eight months, is pushing owners and league partners to study data and fans' interests as part of his plan to improve the entertainment value of the Canadian circuit.
 

Randy Ambrosie, who has been the CFL's commissioner for eight months, is pushing owners and league partners to study data and fans' interests as part of his plan to improve the entertainment value of the Canadian circuit.

Photograph by: SCOTT ROWED, The Province

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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