By Patrick Evans
This year Maclean’s again placed Ryerson among the best universities at producing the leaders of tomorrow. Confirming this appointment, the Toronto Argonauts have hired a Ryerson graduate to be their leader of today.
Radio and television arts grad Keith Pelley was named president and CEO of the Argos on Nov. 5, the same day Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon were introduced as the team’s new owners by the CFL commissioner.
Four months into the job, Pelley, 39, is still in awe of his high-profile position.
“Running a professional franchise is completely new,” Pelley says.
Priot to manning the Argos, Pelley was the president of TSN and spent most of his career working in broadcasting.
Although he credits much of his success to his time in RTA, Pelley says his first experience in television was in Grade 10 when he volunteered at a community channel in Etobicoke.
“I did everything,” Pelley says. “I was a reporter, I did camera, I hosted a show. [Then] I realized I was pretty bad on-air.”
After graduating from Ryerson, Pelley worked as an editorial assistant at TSN in 1986. According to him, his job mainly consisted of washing out coffee mugs and changing printer cartridges.
Three years later, at 24, he was TSN’s senior news producer.
Pelley credits his speedy career ascent to being in the right place at the right time.
“Business is about breaks and I’ve had some breaks,” he says.
But, modesty aside, Pelley admits lucky breaks wouldn’t have got him anywhere if he hadn’t worked a lot of long hours. In 1988, when TSN sent him to Calgary to cover the Olympics, Pelley spent most of his nights sleeping at work. His dedication paid off with a job line-producing TSN’s Calgary shows.
As the Argos CEO, Pelley’s current priority is marketing the consistently struggling CFL franchise. “We’re going to build the Argonauts brand, make it strong in the community,” he says.
Although the team has advanced to the Eastern Conference finals the past two seasons, the Argos had the second worst attendance record among the CFL’s nine teams in 2003.
According to Pelley, one way the Argonauts are reaching out to local communities is through the team’s anti-bullying program, where football players visit schools to speak out against bullying.
“It’s a perfect fit for the Argonauts,” says Pelley. “Football is an aggressive sports. A bully is a kid who aggressive in nature. Football gives a positive outlet for aggression.”
Besides stemming the flow of bloody noses in GTA school yards, Pelley also hopes to show fans a good time at the games. However, don’t expect any Janet Jackson-esque half time shows while he’s the man in charge.
“(Fans) want a great football team and non-stop action at the park,” says Pelley. “We’ll have cheerleaders in the stands … but we won’t have the Guess Who playing at half time.”