On the book case slumps a deflated autographed football from the 1971 Grey Cup game he played in. Below it is a collection of books, including Tom Callahan's gridiron bio Johnny U. Below that is a pair of bronzed football cleats. On the opposite wall hangs a framed Forzani Group common share valued at $5,875. Such are the twin passions of John Forzani - business and sports, football and finance.
But this, too, speaks to the 63-year-old former Calgary Stampeder turned capitalist and team owner: on the wall behind his desk is a black-and-white poster that reads, "Golf with your friends." The poster is of Larry, Curly and Moe. The Three Stooges.
On this day, Forzani is carrying on about the former owner of the Stampeders, Southern California businessman Michael Feterik and his well-heeled henchman, Fred Fateri. The Two Stooges. Let unfettered, Feterik and Fateri could have flat-lined the franchise. A cardboard-box maker, Feterik was suspected of buying the team principally to provide a place for his son, Kevin Feterik, to play quarterback. With Fateri acting as Feterik's operating officer, the team sunk into last place.
"The fact Fateri, in his Giorgio Armani suits, was on the sidelines yelling at the ref during games got to me," Forzani says. "Then I found out he never thought, spoke or had anything to do with football before. That was it. That was when Ted [Hellard]and I believed it would be best if someone else bought the team."
This is the fifth anniversary season since that acquisition and the Stampeders have never looked better. Their principal owners - Forzani, Hellard and former CFL commissioner Doug Mitchell - have restored pride and professionalism through one of the slickest turnarounds in CFL history. Gone is the comedic management style. In its place, through good hires and combined efforts, is a smartly run organization with a football team that has fashioned an aggregate record of 65-42-2, made the playoffs every year, won the 2008 Grey Cup and will play host to the West Final this Sunday.
Off the field, the franchise is profitable for the first time in a long time. Getting hard numbers from the CFL's privately owned clubs is like prying secrets out of the Kremlin and, true to form, the Stampeders owners won't divulge theirs. But CFL contacts are adamant the club generated annual profits of $1-million from 2005 to 2008 and more than tripled that in 2009 by playing host to the Grey Cup. When The Globe and Mail bounced this figure off various owners, they offered no resistance.
This much is absolute:
- The Stampeders ownership group, which includes former players Dave Sapunjis and Bob Viccars, former University of Calgary football player Paul Colborne, oil and gas man Matthew Brister, investment dealer Rob Peters and three others who wish to remain unidentified, paid $6.5-million to send Feterik packing. (The Calgary Flames are also in for roughly 5 per cent.) Each owner purchased shares priced at $500,000 each with two goals in mind. "We wanted a winning program and not to have a cash call," Hellard says. They do, and they haven't.
- With the Grey Cup game in tow as an inducement last season, the Stampeders did franchise-record business in ticket revenue, selling 30,000 season tickets. Tourism Calgary calculated the championship game resulted in "net economic activity" of $39.5-million for the province, more than $24-million in the city alone. This season, the Stampeders have sold 24,000 season tickets and "our corporate dollars are up, which is almost mind-numbing to us," Hellard says. "Usually there's a 20 to 30 per-cent drop-off [after staging a Grey Cup]"
- According to Forzani, the Stampeders are in the "top three in the CFL for souvenir revenue." The Saskatchewan Roughriders rank first. As for overall revenue, "no one beats the Montreal Alouettes," he says. "Our top seats go for $600 for a year: the Als' are roughly $1,000. They have fewer seats but they charge a premium."
There are more than numbers to this story.