bri burke

I was fortunate enough to be invited along with a few employees from theScore to take part in the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference Monday and Tuesday, and with all the smart people and interesting insight that got tossed about there today, I thought some of the commentary would be fun to pass on. Specifically that of one man, as you’d expect.

The panels included “The Business of Sports: Meeting the Challenges of a Competitive Market” (Burke, Tim Leiweke, Bob Popko and others), “Developments in Drug Testing, Awareness, and Enforcement” (Steve Fehr, Serik Galas, and Clark Griffith), “Current Issues in the World of Sports” (Bob McKenzie, Elliotte Friedman, Nick Kypreos and Sam Cosentino), and Athlete Evaluation and the Role of Analytics” (Kevin Abrams, Kevin Cheveldayoff, Dave Nonis, Patrick Morris and Alex Rucker), among others.

Oh, and Gord Miller interviewed Gary Bettman one-on-one, then Rene Fasel (IIHF) and Bob Nicholson (Hockey Canada) together. Needless to say, there was a lot of good stuff, and day two looks fairly stacked itself.

If it seems like there was an inordinate amount of Brian Burke quotes, that’s because he’s the quotiest quote machine ever to be quoted, soooo, yeah, that’s bound to happen.

So! The most notable lines were:

* Brian Burke, on watching a hockey game on a phone: “Watching hockey on a 2.5 inch screen is simply imbicilic.

Tough to argue with that actually, but hey, sometimes you get desperate.

* Burke’s three tenets of building a team:

1) Run it like a business
2) Play an entertaining style
3) Community service

His general point was that his teams were playing to packed buildings before they started winning in Anaheim and Vancouver because of that strategy. (Obviously the Leafs were a different story, since they’ve always sold out.)

Leiweke said character/charity etc. is not in a player’s contract, while Burke said “I can’t make them do the charity work, but I can trade their ass if they don’t.”

* More Burke, re: the media, and how a lot of them are great, but… “…There’s a bunch of scumbags who ruin it for everyone.”“Some of these people are just psychotic.” …he even got specific with: “If Larry Brooks can have a job, then I know I’m good for life.”

* Tim Leiweke weighed in with his take on poor press in the newspaper: “Eh, they wrap fish with it the next day. I don’t read the blogs. Half of them are in the basement somewhere.” (Doug Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway took that one further by adding the “parent’s basement” tag, as one does.)

Burke obviously liked that line of thinking from Leiweke, so he re-used his line “The Toronto Sun sports page is only useful if you own a puppy or a parakeet.”

It’s funny – they actually heaped praise on most of the media in general, but boy…

They basically spat the letters out.

To elaborate, it was funny how many of the higher-ups with teams referred to it being good to have people “talking about us,” but they didn’t seem to realize that the online communities who drive so much of the conversation about them are the very people they hate or fear or just disparage for kicks. I’m not personally offended by the remarks (I’m not even sure what you’d call what I do), it just seems remarkably out of touch.

Also said something like they’re “not even on his compass,” which is pretty great considering how dated a compass reference is compared to say, a radar.

* Brian Burke with sage wisdom: “Alcohol and Twitter don’t mix.” 

* Gary Bettman is a very good lawyer. During the interview with Gord Miller, Gord would barely get to the first comma in the first sentence of his question and Bettman would take the “questions” wherever he wanted them to go.

* Miller, discussing the Olympics with Bettman: “Would your preference be for a World Cup controlled by the League?”

…short silence…

Yeah,” Bettman said with a smile.

It was bizarre – as someone I talked to there pointed out, it’s tough to say what makes people so open and loose at this Conference, but Bettman was having a grand ‘ol time.

* Bettman seemed pretty resistant to doing anything about fighting in hockey. Called it a “thermostat,” said he’d rather see guys “swinging fists not sticks,” and directly said that “sometimes a staged fight sparks a team.”

* Bettman: “there may be a genetic link to concussion susceptibility.” He used that as a jumping off point for guys being allowed to assume risk if they so choose to. Would the League be allowed to stop someone who’s more likely to get a concussion from playing? The NHLPA probably wouldn’t love that.

* At one point Chris Lechenski talked about a team that appeared to be the Washington Capitals (he joked about an owner blogging), and how that team once held a “blogger night.” He said it was terribly attended because most of the team’s bloggers were under 16 and didn’t have driver’s licenses. (Not sure if that’s true or not, but it sure sounded like a word-of-mouth wive’s tale.)

* In hockey, women provide a huge opportunity for growth for advertisers. I believe the stat shared was that as many women watched the Stanley Cup playoffs as men last year. While I’m speculating on stuff, that seems a bit high, but isn’t impossible.

* Dave Hopkinson (Chief Commercial Officer, MLSE): “The conversation is about ads on jerseys now.” He talked about soccer teams and their jerseys (they have ads), and how you can expect to see a small infusion of ads on NBA jerseys first, specifically those of NBA refs.

* James Mirtle grabbed a few goodies from the last panel:

Specifically, he was talking about in contract negotiations/arbitration stuff. So naturally, they’re going to be into whatever makes their guy look best. Gotta stat that gives us a positive? Let’s chuck it out there.

Nonis was nearly Burke-level obstinate about this stuff.

Hey, who knows what they’re specifically into, but I will say I find it hard to believe that these guys would turn down the chance to gain an advantages on their opponents, like legal steroids for their rosters, so maybe there’s just nothing valuable enough there yet. Or, maybe there’s something there and they don’t want to let on how much they use it so they can maintain that advantage. They are doing better than people expected.


I’ll have my ears open again tomorrow, and will try to have something similar for y’all.

Comments (20)

  1. Justin, please don’t let them put ads on the jerseys. They’re so lovely and clean right now. Use your influence to dissuade them of the idea. If they won’t listen to you just mention that you write for a blog and represent the will of the people…er…paying fans…and that’ll be sure to get their attention.

  2. Justin,
    I’m a Brock University Sports Management major who was offered numerous chances and strongly encouraged to attend the event but obviously it is out of the price range of most students. Thanks a lot for doing this, had wondered what would be said. What were some of the issues the media guys talked about?

    • Hey Chris,
      I’m a student and I, along with two other classmates, attended the event We managed to do so by first petitioning our student association and when that unfortunately fell through we approached the Dean of our school. We developed a proposal, presented it to him and within 24 hrs. received a positive response. We assume we’ll have to present our findings from the conference to the school and perhaps inform other students about our experience, but it was more than worth it and I encourage you to do the same. Good luck!

  3. Yeah, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment is so hurting for money that they’re going to put ads on the Leafs sweaters. Like they’re some struggling AHL team in Peoria. They’ve already cluttered the ice with the damn things

    If they put ads on the jerseys, me and the NHL are done. I’ll the brain cells I spend following this sport to some other good use.

    • “f they put ads on the jerseys, me and the NHL are done. I’ll the brain cells I spend following this sport to some other good use.”

      I love the game but I, too will be done with the NHL if they screw up the jerseys. I watched the Minn @ Notre Dame game on NBCSN last Friday and almost cried at the clean ice and lack of ads on the boards. Just like it was when I discovered the NHL……

      I’ll bury myself in local pickup and beer leagues, I guess.

    • Obviously MLSE doesn’t do things because they’re hurting for cash but because they can make a lot of money. They brand EVERYTHING involved with every sport that they are involved in so if ads on jerseys are on the table then don’t think that they won’t jump at the chance if they think it’s worth it.

  4. I think the Capitals event Lechenski meant to allude to was a bloggers panel at the Caps Convention 3 years ago. My site wasn’t on the panel, and I didn’t attend– but all reports said it was sparsely attended.

    None of those bloggers were 16 years old though…

  5. Irony is that Larry Brooks is awesome. As ranger fan he is by far the best out there covering the team. Both plugged in and informed and knowledgeable about the game. Willing to take people to task when so many others especially in NY happy to accept what they are being told as gospel. I guess having national acclaim helps him get this reputation, but as NY fan he is a huge service. Even started incorporating shot attempt stats into his analysis. Just provides so much more than the dry quotes and goal summaries that you see from so many others.

  6. The leadership of the NHL’s view on blog and advanced analytics sums up their attitude on the game overall.

    The very idea that they dismiss the medium that a HUGE portion of the base interacts with, just goes to show how out of touch the leadership is with the fan base, and how they are stagnant in their ability to grow the game.

    True entrepreneurs are always reinventing themselves to stay relevant with the ever changing market.

    Burke says to run a team like a business? Good thing he isn’t running my business…

    • I think you massively overstate how much of the ‘base’ is concerned with advanced analytics. There is certainly a group of fans that pay attention to it, but that group is miniscule in comparison to the whole. I have never heard a single mention of corsi or any other measure among fans around rinks, bars or anywhere besides small groups on the internet. I follow it to a small degree, but to be honest it’s something I’ll really only look at it if I’m incredibly bored or it’s presented along with other more interesting material, and I’m probably more inclined to pay attention to such things than most fans. It’s great info for in depth analysis, but most fans aren’t interested in that depth.

      • Advanced analytics are mostly used to win internet arguments on hockey forums. I agree that a large part of the fan base does not use or look at them. They’re likely just overrepresented on the internet.

      • As George Carlin once said – think of someone you know of average intelligence. Half the world is dumber than them.

        Analytics takes smarts and time to understand. If two thirds of the population is of average or below average intelligence, it’s easy to understand why fan bases don’t even attempt to understand, discuss or apply analytics.

        Then, in an attempt to cover up the ignorance of the majority, the analytics are mocked.

        • Actually I think most knowledgeable fans realize that there isn’t a ton to be gained from current analytics numbers. It’s not that most fans are dumb, it’s probably that most fans have enough hockey knowledge to see the many holes in analytics and steer away from the blogs that present these numbers like they are the gospel. Many blogs out there try to use these numbers to offset their often limited actual knowledge of the game (PPP specifically). While this may be good for many bloggers and new fans to the game, it is not much use for most intelligent hockey people. They are sometimes fun little numbers to look at though.

          • “Actually I think most knowledgeable fans realize that there isn’t a ton to be gained from current analytics numbers…They are sometimes fun little numbers to look at though.”

            hahaha spoken as someone that probably hasn’t understood what’s been done so far. Probably a huge proponent of the simple-minded “It’s not 100% predictive!” argument in addition to “Oh but have you ever PLAYED THE GAME!?!” retort.

            Yeah bud, it’s the people that are trying to develop a deeper understanding of the game that are stupid.

        • Or, as Jman said, analytics aren’t as useful right now as they’re made out to be, and people steer clear of the discussion because it’s filled with pretentious twats who think they’re a hell of a lot smarter than they are.

  7. Although slightly off topic, any thoughts on why hockey can’t make the Olympics AND World Cup work? Or at least not have it as monumental an issue as it is with the NHL? Granted hockey has 1-2ish elite leagues, but look at soccer, especially in Europe. They are on one unified calendar. This week, ALL the leagues stop. Why is that? So countries can play friendlies (exhibition matches). NO benefit to the clubs, tons of injuries happen at them, but it’s a way of life, and helps grow the sport and provide pre-world cup 2014 matches. I would love to see some kind of evolution in hockey that allowed some kind of tournaments on a regular basis without a HUGE fight every time

    • Both the Olympics and World Cup can easily work. The NHL just doesn’t want to be a part of the Olympics because it disrupts the season and the NHL doesn’t get any of the revenue. The NHL run World Cup would most likely take place before the season and most of the revenue would go to the NHL and that is the reason the NHL wants to transition the use of its players from the Olympics to their own World Cup.

      • The Olympics is all risk with little reward for the NHL. An Olympics in North AMerica brings some returns, but even that increased interest is at the expense of shutting down operations for 2 weeks and I don’t think it leads to much sustained interest. An Olympics in South Korea, where the next one is, has virtually no positive element for the NHL. Growth in the Asian market would be great, but I think Nagano showed that Olympic participation does not have that result. From an North American fan perspective, and those are the people who determine the success of the NHL, not new markets, those games are going to be even more difficult than these to watch, and they lack that quality that a hockey nation host brings.

        The only downside from a fan perspective to the World Cup replacing the Olympics is that players may not approach it with the same intensity as they would the Olympics. If it’s a fall tournament players aren’t in peak condition, and even if it’s mid season players may not see it as something worth risking their NHL campaign for.

  8. Hello Mr. Bourne,
    I was at the conference and I thought it was an amazing experience for a student to take part in. More schools should be taking advantage of such an event. It really felt like we were behind the scenes and in a position of privilege. One of the highlights for me was watching my young classmate, Mr. McIlroy, turn the Q&A on its ear when he asked the opening panellists, which included Mr. Burke and Mr. Leiweke, about the perception of people on the outside of the sports management world that, “Its not what you know but, who you know”! The reaction from the distinguished guests and the rest of the crowd on hand was absolutely priceless. I was hoping to get your take, and that of some of the other writers/bloggers, on that little tidbit of student glory. Also, I am not taking sides on the Dave Nonis ‘stats debacle’, but Alex Rucker, who is the senior analytics consultant for the Raptors, agreed with most of what Mr. Nonis was saying and not much mention was made of his opinion or his presence at the conference for that matter. I thought that was unfortunate, as the positional triangulation analytics he and his staff were working on seemed quite interesting and noteworthy. Anyway, keep up the great work Mr. Bourne; I enjoy reading your work. Thanks very much!

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