Five things we learned at PrimeTime sports conference
INDUSTRY EVENT TOUCHES ON ARENA LICENSING, FRONT OFFICE OVERSIGHT AND PROTEST PROTOCOL
The PrimeTime Sports Management Conference never disappoints.
Co-chaired by Calgary Flames president Brian Burke and London Knights governor Trevor Whiffen, PrimeTime is a buttondown industry event headlined by panel discussions and keynote interviews with the who’s who in the pro sports business.
Here are five things we learned while attending the latest two-day conference:
FINAL ARENA DETAILS IRONED OUT OVER EIGHT DAYS
In the wee hours of Aug. 14, as an intense, exclusive eight-day negotiation window neared closing, a pro sports empire and a behemoth bank put pen to paper inside a Bay Street law office.
The agreement: Scotiabank will pay Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment $800 million over 20 years in exchange for the right to rename the Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs, Raptors and myriad of other entertainment events, Scotiabank Arena.
“We didn’t want any noise from the marketplace, any more complications. We decided to plow through,” MLSE chief commercial officer Dave Hopkinson told Postmedia on Tuesday, exactly two months later. “We live- drafted a binding agreement and left the room with a signature at 1:47 in the morning.”
Air Canada has been the only name attached to the 20,000-seat venue at 40 Bay Street, and the airline has paid $4 million annually for almost two decades. On July 1, 2018, a new era begins with much intrigue; the deal is reportedly the priciest of its kind in North American arena history.
“We looked at those as, quite frankly, the hurdles we wanted to hurdle,” Hopkinson said of recent big- ticket contracts inked elsewhere, such as JPMorgan investment bank’s reported $ 15 to 20 million per year commitment to the Golden State Warriors and the NBA’s imminent digs, the Chase Center.
“We’re competitive people. We wanted a big win here. We didn’t want a good deal, we wanted a great deal and I think we’ve achieved that.”
ARENA NAME INTENTIONALLY ‘ UNINTERESTING’
The name itself — Scotiabank Arena — was developed by somebody employed by or associated with the bank.
Hopkinson first saw it etched into a mini mock-up model of the venue that Scotiabank had on display. He was won over by its simplicity. Others not so much.
“In the paper, internally, in the marketplace, I’ve heard lots of, ‘ Why wasn’t it Scotiabank Gardens? Why wasn’t it Scotiabank Centre? Why wasn’t it the Scotia Air Centre?’ I mean, there’s really been some unbelievable suggestions,” the MLSE executive said.
“What I like about Scotiabank Arena, quite frankly, is how uninteresting it is in some ways.”
The Gardens moniker, the sentimental favourite following the Aug. 29 name reveal, has its faults, according to Doig. There is risk involved with attaching a corpor- ate logo and name to something so iconic to the city of Toronto.
“Half of the population of the city would probably say, ‘ Great idea,’” Doig said, “but the other half of the population would say, ‘ You dirty bastards.’”
BRIAN BURKE DOES NOT STRAY FROM TRADITION
Burke is in his element every year at PrimeTime, typically taking a seat on the stage for multiple discussions to charm the audience with bombastic story telling.
On Monday, 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr came up during the Key Considerations in Player Evaluations panel. It gave Burke an opportunity to both reflect on an off-season acquisition and share a theory about young captains.
It is a “huge red flag” for Burke if a player eligible for the NHL draft has not captained a team at any point in his hockey- playing life. It’s a tip-off, a first hint that there may be behavioural issues lurking below the surface.
Burke’s believed this theory for decades. So, when he interviewed Czech hotshot Jagr ahead of the 1990 NHL draft, the former Canucks GM dug in his heels.
“I said, ‘Ask Jaromir if he’s ever been a captain,’” Burke said, re-enacting a conversation between him and Jagr’s aide.
“The translator says Jaromir says no. I said, ‘No sh-t, I heard him say no.’
Burke pressed — “‘ You’ve never been a captain — why?’” — and eventually got an answer from the middle man: “‘Jaromir said he’s always played with players who are three years older than (he is).’”
“That’s the only good answer to that question in the history of pro sports,” Burke quipped to wrap up his tale, drawing laughs from the crowd.
Burke, who in Calgary presides over GM Brad Treliving and head coach Glen Gulutzan, served up another nugget about his drafting philosophy later on, saying the Flames compile a yearly Do Not Draft list.
The club is unafraid of blackballing a player, regardless of talent level, he said, because bad apples — or players who score poorly in background checks — typically don’t magically turn it around in a new environment.
“I think, historically, people would say, ‘ This guy is really talented but he’s got some behavioural issues, so we’ll put him in the second round,’” said the 62- yearold longtime NHL exec.
“My view is, he’s still going to be a problem for my coach (if he’s drafted) in the second round, he’s going to be a problem for my coach in the third round. We just don’t draft him. We have a Do Not Draft list.”
ALL LEAGUES DEALING WITH THREAT OF PROTEST
A league operations panel on Monday featured a number of heavy hitters: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, AHL commissioner Dave Andrews, NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz and CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress.
All five were asked about anthem protests, general player conduct and a league’s role in policing player views and actions outside of the sporting realm.
The responses from Sakiewicz and Andress stood out, given lacrosse and women’s hockey occupy tiny pockets of the business compared to, say, the NFL, NBA or NHL.
“We’ve always stated that you have the right to be who you choose to be, no matter what that is. You also have the right to your own truth, no matter what that is,” Andress said. “However, our league has always maintained that what you say in public or what you choose or how you choose to say those words can impact not only yourself but the league itself. So, it’s very important in our early years of growth that we continue to stand for what we believe in, but at the same time recognize that sometimes your belief isn’t what everybody else’s belief is around you. It’s important to respect that.”
BETTMAN, FASEL VIEWING RETIREMENT DIFFERENTLY
It’s not everyday hockey heavyweights Gary Bettman and Rene Fasel are in the same place at the same time.
Both were interviewed separately Monday by Gord Miller, though, with the Bettman 1-on-1 producing the marquee sound bites. Among other topics broached by the TSN play- by- play man, the NHL commissioner and IIHF president were pressed on their retirement plans.
“As long as the owners are pleased and I get up every morning excited about what I do,” Bettman, who turned 65 this past June, replied.
Fasel delivered a straighter answer. He’s eyeing sometime after his 70th birthday in 2020.
Calgary Flames president Brian Burke says the team holds steadfastly to a so- called Do Not Draft list.