THE CANADIAN HEAVYWEIGHT EXECUTIVE HOPING TO BRING THE REAL MADRID MAGIC TO NORTH AMERICA.
Dave Hopkinson remembers Nov. 1, 1994, quite well: it was his 24th birthday and his first day hawking season tickets for the Toronto Raptors, then a professional basketball expansion franchise in a diehard hockey town.
Hopkinson and 23 commission-hungry recruits sat in a room on the 14th floor of a building overlooking an arena construction site. Each was armed with a phone, desk and chair, and all competed to make a sale and ring the six-inch brass ship bell that their boss, Raptors founder, John Bitove, had mounted on the wall as a motivational tool.
The top four sellers were promised full-time jobs. The rest would be let go.
“Dave was determined, fearless and fun,” Bitove recently recalled. “And he was just a kid, in his early 20s, but he would never give up, which is one of the things I loved about him. He would cold call anyone. He would work the phone. He would work his personality.”
Hopkinson would keep ringing the bell and look over at Bitove’s desk afterwards with a big, awshucks-boss-I-did-it-again grin on his face, which drove everybody else in the room halfway nuts, but earned him a full-time sales position.
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The entry-level job was a toehold on the sports business ladder that he has kept climbing: from selling the Raptors to selling just about everything for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. — owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors, FC, Argonauts and more — including a 20-year, $800-million deal with Bank of Nova Scotia to rename the rink formerly known as the Air Canada Centre.
The deal — the largest of its kind in North American major professional sports history — reverberated internationally. Hopkinson, long sought after by NHL and NBA teams but never sold on a move, became a hot international commodity.
An executive recruiter in Los Angeles called and, this past June, Hopkinson left
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