Special Report Tama Marketer of the Year: And the finalists are… Smith: shaking up football’s status quo

Larry SmithCommissionerCanadian Football League'Every job I've had has been because they wanted to shake up the status quo,' says Larry Smith, whose latest venture is tackling the giant killer u.s. football market.Where the wfl, the usfl, and the wlaf have all...

Larry Smith


Canadian Football League

‘Every job I’ve had has been because they wanted to shake up the status quo,’ says Larry Smith, whose latest venture is tackling the giant killer u.s. football market.

Where the wfl, the usfl, and the wlaf have all been sacked, Smith vows to keep his Canadian Football League in the game.

But, where the others butted heads with the National Football League, Smith is pulling a quarterback sneak.

He’s starting in smaller non-nfl cities, and creeping up on the nfl with his ‘longer, wider, faster’ (also, older and cheaper) game.

His inspiration? Wal-Mart. Start small, get big, then yell, ‘Surprise.’

Smith betrays a smile, ‘Right now, they view the cfl as ‘some kind of escapade. We’d love it if they suddenly said, ‘Hey, they’ve been here for five years.’

This is not some character from Coach, who has read Made in America a couple of times.

He scored a b.a. in economics and business; then, worked at Ultramar; played Grey Cup football; took a law degree, plus, did league public relations work – all at the same time.

He has held top management posts in major companies from computers to bakeries. But Smith was ultimately lured back into the old ball game by the opportunities free trade presented.

The cfl is never compared with the ‘big elephant,’ the nfl, unless it does it itself, with slogans such as ‘Less Boring – More Scoring.’

Smith sees more parallels between the cfl and the National Basketball Association, and takes some valuable coaching from his basketball counterpart, David Stern.

Smith is all ears for customers, too.

‘[The cfl was] the classic example of Field of Dreams – put a product on the field and they shall come – but with competition like Phantom of the Opera, 45 tv channels, et cetera, they don’t come,’ he says.

Now, when they do come, they’ll be positively pampered.

Smith pushes comfort in the stadium: daycare, food service in the stands (so you won’t miss a touchdown as you chow down), non-smoking and non-drinking sections, handicapped access, and crucially important family-priced tickets.

Now, talk about listening to customers.

When a Las Vegas lounge lizard folded, spindled and mutilated the Canadian national anthem at a game recently, the league got 7,000 phone calls in Ottawa alone.

That meant two things to Smith.

One, we’ve met the ultimate Canadian standard – validation in the u.s.

And, two, let’s get that bozo back to sing it again, in Canada, this time. That move netted Smith 10 times the cfl’s usual media coverage in the States.

It didn’t do the singer any harm, either. He had 14 media interviews lined up as of game day.

To other Canadian businesses, Larry Smith says:

‘Canada has to realize that regulation is gone, protectionism is gone. Otherwise, we won’t be able to meet the challenge. What we are doing with the cfl represents what every company in Canada has to do.’

And, shouldn’t we listen to a guy who has a league of his own?