A businesswoman based in London, England, said she was recently approached about her interest in purchasing the Toronto Argonauts.
Although Christina Saint Marche has no desire to own the Argos at this time, she told The Gazette she’s eagerly attempting to secure an expansion franchise for Quebec City that would establish a natural Canadian Football League rivalry against the Alouettes.
“I’ve done my homework and have put in a large amount of time, money and effort,” said Saint Marche, who has communicated with The Gazette through a series of emails this week. “If Quebec City happens, there will be a rivalry like none other between Montreal and Quebec. There will be tension between the cities. Each time they play, it will be a war. That you can take to the bank.
“I’ve done my homework and I deserve a shot. For now, I sit and wait.”
And she might have to remain patient indefinitely.
Through a spokesman, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said he hasn’t been approached by Saint Marche, adding any discussion of an expansion franchise is premature and will remain so until the provincial capital has a suitable stadium with a seating capacity of 25,000. The league spokesman added no group has come forward that’s dedicated and shown to have the resources.
Before the CFL can begin to contemplate the potential of a 10th franchise, it must sort out the situation in Ottawa, where a group of businessmen have been awarded a conditional franchise – the league’s ninth – that might begin competing in 2011. That group has a 60-day period to negotiate an agreement with the city of Ottawa for the redevelopment of Landsdowne Park and Frank Clair Stadium.
Saint Marche understands all this. She’s a fashion designer and entrepreneur with ties to numerous companies, including Signature Entertainment, a broadcast-production company. Born in Montana, she and her husband own a summer home in southern Ontario. Her haute couture business operates out of England and is scheduled to expand this January to Paris. That, in part, has piqued her interest in Quebec.
“The only true interest I have (in a CFL franchise) … would be in Quebec City at some later date, after Ottawa possibly comes online,” she said. “There are corporate sponsors in France which would love to expose their product to the French communities of Canada. I do a great deal of business in Paris, and I see how the French are trying to expand their products outside of their European boundaries.
“If nothing else, Quebec represents a potential new base of French product buyers, along with ad and sponsorship dollars.”
Université Laval, the defending Vanier Cup champions, plays out of PEPS Stadium, a 10,200-seat facility, although total capacity is 18,500. Last September, the federal government rejected a proposal that could have paved the way for a franchise in Quebec, saying Ottawa’s not in the business of subsidizing professional sports.
The government refused to accept a proposal by a group of investors calling for changes to the university’s new sports complex that would have allowed for expansion to meet the league’s requirements. Although the university’s sports complex is set to undergo an expansion, Denis Brière, the head of the university, has stated he refuses to modify the project to allow for expansion of the stadium.
Prominent Quebec lawyer Marc Bellemare, part of that investment group, couldn’t be reached for comment. But he has been working closely with Larry Smith, the Als’ president and a former CFL commissioner. Smith has frequently said he would embrace Quebec as a potential location and natural rival.
“Marc’s working diligently, putting interest together, and will continue to do so. But they need a stadium before anything can happen,” Smith said yesterday. “He’s credible and his intentions are good. But the dynamics must fundamentally shift.
“Similarly, it’s great that Christina has expressed interest. But unless the scenario changes, it’s not realistic.”
Saint Marche has been linked to numerous CFL franchises in the past. In 2001, she was willing to buy the Calgary Stampeders from Sig Gutsche for $10-million. That prompted Michael Feterik and his group to increase their bid, eventually accepted and approved.
That same year, Saint Marche approached Sherwood Schwarz, the Argos’ owner at the time, about purchasing the team at the end of the season. But he was seeking $10-million – nearly twice what she offered. She also expressed an interest in the Ottawa Renegades in 2006, but only to transfer the team to Quebec.
Saint Marche said she was approached by someone within the upper echelon of the CFL just recently about the Argos, told the purchase price was $10-million.
But David Cynamon, who purchased the financially-strapped franchise with Howard Sokolowski after the 2003 season, vehemently denied the team’s for sale.
“Absolutely not. I have no idea of any of this,” he said. “I’m shocked. This is news to me. If (the franchise) was in play, wouldn’t it be better to tell the world and get the best offer?
“We enjoy it and love it. That’s not to say they’ll never be for sale, but there’s no talk about it.”