Axe not the cheerleaders

The news broke today that the Montreal Alouettes have disbanded their cheerleading / dance group.

Citing financial concerns, the Montreal Alouettes have disbanded their cheerleading squad ahead of the 2020 season.
“This decision has nothing to do with the hard work (the cheerleaders) put in, or their popularity,” said Charles Rooke, the Alouettes president of communications. “In the current context of financial turnaround, difficult decisions must be made.”

This is sad. And weird, because they’re keeping the coach around (to work as Director General of the Alouettes Foundation) but axing a very talented group.

It’s also shortsighted, and wrong. Here’s why.

it’s a package

People have options these days. Watching a football game from the comfort of your own home in front of your 65″ TV in a luxurious armchair has a lot of appeal. The challenge for a league like the CFL is to get people to come to the games.

what if it was just football

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose the only thing going on was the football game itself. No cheerleaders. No mascot. No live music. No T-shirt-tosses or other stunts. Just football. Montreal vs Toronto out there bashing in to each other.

How many people would come, if it was just football? You’d have 1,000 diehards, people who really know the Xs and Os of the game, people who are anxiously watching defensive alignments and discussing the minutia of pass interference. They would have a great time, but another 20,000 people would be fidgety, bored, confused, and, most likely, would actually be at home watching something else.

what you really need

There aren’t nearly enough “pure football” fans to make the business work. In 2020, the game isn’t enough. You need a full game-day experience. And that means having

  • a team with a reasonable chance of winning
  • cheerleaders and a dance team
  • a mascot
  • live music
  • giveaways
  • stunts
  • stuff going on before the game, outside the stadium
  • lots of loud and crazy fans contributing to the spectacle.

Now, for any item X on that list, you’ll find people who say “I don’t care about X.” Fine. But there aren’t enough of you! This has to appeal to everybody. And cheerleaders and live music and everything else are all part of the package.

I think the Alouettes, and their new owners, are making a mistake here. (The fact that the new owners are from Ontario isn’t helping, but at least they got off to a good start by proclaiming at an early interview that the Argos suck.)

money? it’s about money?

I have no idea what the operation in Montreal cost, although the Als did mention on Facebook that their cheerleaders are getting paid per game. That isn’t the only model that could work. Surely there are sponsorship opportunities. Maybe a volunteering model with fees for outside appearances makes sense. (I’m honestly not sure how it works in other cities, but I do know that every CFL cheer squad works hard to raise money to travel to the Grey Cup, which won’t be the same without Montreal’s excellent group.)

(Also as you might imagine, I have a little CFL game-day experience. Argonotes, the Until Recently Argonauts Band was completely volunteer-based and never got a dime from the team, although the Drum Line was being paid. Lots of different models can work. But as you might have heard, the Argos and Argonotes parted ways in 2017. I wrote down why, somewhere. I forget exactly.)

ditching the cheerleaders is not right.

If the new owners are that short of money that they can’t keep the cheerleaders going, maybe they aren’t ready for this.