Five things we learned at PrimeTime sports con­fer­ence


National Post (Latest Edition) - - SPORTS - John Matisz jma­tisz@ post­media. com

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:


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.”


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.’”


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.”


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.”


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.

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