The Hockey News - Money & Power
NO. 4 STILL HAS GAME
He’s 70 and leaves the heavy lifting to the agents in his stable, but he’s still Bobby freakin’ Orr
THERE IS A story from a rival agent that shows the sway Bobby Orr has over the hockey world. Both firms were pursuing the same future NHLer, who just happened to be from Massachusetts. The decision was coming down to the wire. “Then Bobby showed up and gave the dad a signed jersey,” said the agent. “It was over.”
That’s the mystique of No. 4, and he’s the only one in the agent game who can pull it off. While Orr has a crack group of agents working in his stable, he also brings a unique set of skills. And now he’s got another strong ally on his side. The Wasserman Media Group is a highpowered agency whose clients include NFL quarterback Andrew Luck, NBA star Russell Westbrook and baseball’s Giancarlo Stanton. But the company wanted to get into hockey and needed an established brand with which to partner. Jason Ranne is Wasserman’s chief operating officer and executive vice-president, team sports. He had been working in the front office of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder for a couple years before returning to Wasserman in 2015, and he had a mission that, in 2018, the Orr Group helped complete. “We had a presence everywhere but hockey, but who was the right fit?” he said. “They were similar to us in terms of people, and their agents were like our agents.”
Also, the Orr Group had one of the most iconic names in hockey as its head. “It’s absolutely part of the uniqueness,” Ranne said. “To have an agency named after a Hall of Famer in that sport? It has never existed.
Bobby is one of a kind and has been for a long time.”
Like any good leader, Orr has surrounded himself with effective people. The hardcore client work is done by names such as Rick Curran, Jeff Jackson and new recruit Judd Moldaver, who brought client Auston Matthews with him from CAA in one of the most controversial hockey business stories of the year. Matthews joins Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad as No. 1 overall draft picks represented by the Orr Group, and with Wasserman in the fold, the newly branded Wasserman-Orr Hockey can do a lot more with its clients off the ice. “The way the business is evolving with social media and content, things are changing drastically, month to month,” Jackson said. “We’re really good at what we do, but we didn’t have the resources for the other stuff, (such as) best practices, social media, analytics, audience engagement.”
In a salary-cap era, even top names such as McDavid and Matthews can only earn so much in salary, and in the case of McDavid, he took less than market value on his long-term contract in order to give the Edmonton Oilers enough cap space to build a contender around him (they’re still working on that part). But the endorsement game is very lucrative, and knowing how to maximize a player’s value in the marketing world can propel those deals. Wasserman brings that type of expertise. “I’m proud to associate my name with a company like Wasserman,” Orr said. “And I’m excited about the things we can accomplish together.”
In terms of clients, the agency keep things boutique. “We try to pinpoint who the very best young players are,” Jackson said. “If we don’t succeed, we don’t just go further down the list. It’s quality over quantity.”
With the 2002 birth years, for example, the agency has six kids, including Quinton Byfield, Will Cuylle and Jamie Drysdale. Four of the Orr kids went in the first six picks of the OHL draft this past spring, while the other two were also first-rounders.
“We want to give kids our team,” Jackson said. “Their success means success for the agency.”
That includes a strong background in on-ice development, something that both Jackson and Dave Gagner (the former NHLer) have championed with the group for years.
So the off-ice and the onice are covered, but that’s not unique. Having a living legend at your disposal? That’s a bit different. “He’s Bobby Orr, right?” Jackson said. “He has a dialogue with our players, and he follows our clients intently. He’s very engaged, and he’s helpful for us to talk to.”
While he may not be a lawyer or a marketing whiz, Orr does have a lifetime of experience in the hockey world to draw from – including cautionary tales like his relationship with the disgraced Alan Eagleson – and that makes Orr an engaged boss. Not only that, but he has that innate ability to connect with players and their families. “Bobby knows people,” Ranne said. “He’s very perceptive.”
And even at the age of 70, Orr has seen where the player agency game is going and kept on top of things.
TO HAVE AN AGENCY NAMED AFTER A HALL OF FAMER IN THAT SPORT? BOBBY IS ONE OF A KIND – Jason Ranne