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.