MONTREAL—He faceplanted and almost killed himself while cycling and flamed out in the political arena as leader of Quebec’s sovereigntist Parti Québécois.
Now Pierre Karl Péladeau is marching onto the gridiron.
The restless president and chief executive officer of Quebecor was unveiled Friday as the new owner of the Montreal Alouettes football team.
The man who once proclaimed his desire to make Quebec a country separate from Canada now aspires to keep the CFL franchise in the game after several years stuck in a grinding, financial third down.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the billionaire media mogul said his purchase was inspired by the pride he felt for his hometown and its sporting culture rather than as some get-richer scheme or a corporate play to exploit potential synergies between the club and his communications and media companies, which include Videotron, the Journal de Montreal newspaper and the TVA television network.
“I’m here for the long term,” Péladeau said, adding that he was born, raised, educated and continues to live in Montreal.
Péladeau’s commitment to Montreal and to Quebec is not in doubt, though the political soul of the 61-year-old indépendantiste may bristle that he now represents the Canadian Football League.
His apparent love of the sport, despite his reminiscence of listening to games on the radio in his youth, is less obvious.
As both a business titan and an ex-politician who was briefly married to one of Quebec’s most influential media stars, Julie Snyder, Péladeau lives in this province under the perpetual microscope of his fellow citizens.
But few saw this new endeavour coming.
Péladeau’s social media feeds are filled with images of him in cycling suits in the summer and cutting ski tracks through the snow in the winter. There are no photos of him tossing the pigskin with his five children.
Until now, Péladeau’s professional sporting ambitions have been most closely tied to the Quixotic quest to have the Quebec Nordiques resurrected and returned to the National Hockey League, playing out of Quebec City’s Centre Videotron.
In this failed, field-of-dreams endeavour, the province and the city paid for the arena’s construction and Péladeau’s Quebecor paid for the management and naming rights for the 20,000-seat arena that serves as the oversized home of the Remparts de Québec, of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
“The dream has always been to get the Nordiques back or at least another Quebec-based hockey team,” said Rotman School of Management professor Richard Powers. “But I think they’re realizing that that’s not going to happen, at least within his lifetime.”
The money to purchase the Alouettes comes out of Péladeau’s own wallet — not that of his company, which owns the Remparts as well as the Armada de Blainville, another QMJHL team.
“We want the citizens of Montreal and Quebec to be even more proud of their team. We have the means and the tools to ensure that that link is even stronger,” he told reporters, suggesting that he might draw on the expertise that exists within his media empire to make that happen.
But Péladeau’s decision to purchase his hometown CFL squad is unlikely to make him any money, according to experts.
“It’s impossible. You can quote me directly: No way,” said Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer at Montreal’s Concordia University specializing in sports economics. “That team is not profitable. It’s not going to be profitable.”
Part of the problem is the business model of the CFL. It has just nine teams in the league, but no viable markets into which it can expand in this country. There is also little chance of CFL games competing for attention against the dazzle of the NFL or the A-list hockey, basketball or baseball or even soccer franchises in their cities.
“You’ve got so many other choices and the CFL has struggled,” said Powers. “I think the only teams that make money are the community-owned ones.”
In the CFL, Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatchewan are all community owned, meaning the teams’ loyal fans are essentially its shareholders.
The enticement for a private CFL owner, as Péladeau has become, is more subtle.
“It’s not the same as owning an NHL team. It’s not the same as owning an NFL team, though there is some prestige that goes along with it,” said Powers.
But Péladeau’s assertion that this purchase was a gesture of love from an entrepreneur to the city where he built upon his inherited wealthdidn’t persuade Lander.
“Very rarely do you see purchases of sports franchises as some sort of patriotic duty,” he said. “It’s either that you want a toy to play with — and I don’t think that this is a great toy — or you’re doing it because there is, underneath, some sort of tax benefit that you can see, or some sort of financial opportunity.”
Lander’s bet is on the tax benefit.
“He’s going to be able to take large-sized losses each year and use that to offset his taxes from other parts of his empire that were profitable.”
Hardcore Alouettes fans won’t likely care, so long as they are not denied their three-down football from June through to November.
“There’s absolutely nothing negative to say about the purchase of the (Alouettes) by (Péladeau),” Mitch Garber, a prominent Montreal entrepreneur who is a minority owner of the Seattle Kraken, wrote on Twitter.
“When we’re drowning, we don’t criticize the person who is saving us. The Alouettes are saved. It’s a good day.”