brian burke

You can check out part one of “Notable Quotes” right here.

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Day two at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference brought another great bushel of smart/funny/interesting quotes from smart/funny/interesting people, and since not everyone could be there, I’ve sifted through the panels to grab a selection of what I thought were the best.

The panels I took in were: Issues affecting the operation of sports leagues, associations, and federations, Building your branding and selling out your events, Legal issues affecting players, teams, leagues and facilities, Utilizing new media to generate a return on your investment, and Developments in television, broadcasting and sports properties. You can see who spoke at those here.

There was also a “fireside chat” of sorts with Donald Fehr, head of the NHLPA. Again, if things are Brian Burke-centric, it’s because this was a sports conference, not hockey, so he’s the most relevant to us here.

Let’s dive in!

* Gord Miller made me feel bad for my day one suit selection with the opening line “I’ve worn this suit as an act of defiance, because short of blowing your nose into one, wearing a brown suit it just about as mad as you can make Brian Burke.” 

Who knew?

On some issues of sports leagues:

* President and CEO of the AHL Dave Andrews: “It drives me nuts when I hear media say a player is ‘up from the minors’ without even mentioning our brand.” He continued with “The quality of our product is so much better than it is perceived to be,” and “the myth is that there’s a significant gap between our league and the NHL.”

* Dave Andrews on drug testing in the AHL: “We are in the process of working with the NHL on that,” and “our union leader [Larry Landon] is trying to get it in place.” He’s referring to adopting the NHL’s exact policy, as soon as this season. When I played in the American League and ECHL, there was zero testing, and as I’ve said before, players did use (hey, why not?). The ECHL’s commissioner, Brian McKenna, added that their union leader (same guy) is “in talks” with the NHL about implementing their policy as well.

Let’s get to some Brian Burke-isms. As always, there are many.

* “You can’t build your marketing plan on team success,” said Burke, referring to the fact that every year 29 teams don’t win the Stanley Cup. “You’re in the entertainment business, you’re competing for people’s entertainment dollars.” He mentioned telling the Ducks owner after winning the Cup something like “congrats, you’re due to win again in 30 years.” 

* Brian Burke on marketing: “The league should market the stars, the teams should market the teams.” He thinks teams tie themselves to a couple players too tightly, which limits them in trades, which screws them if there’s a scandal, which handcuffs them in contract negotiations with those “face of the franchise” players. He says he’d rather see groups of players in commercials for his team. That theory makes a ton of sense to me.

* Regarding secondary ticket markets, Burke says that a survey during his second year in Toronto showed that, of the 45 tickets a season ticket holder gets (41 home games, four preseason), the average STH physically attends seven games, so you “gotta provide a secondary market for them, and it’s gotta be secure.” In Alberta, StubHub and those sites are perfectly legal, without restrictions. It’s harder in Ontario, where this isn’t the case. Patti-Anne Tarlton, the Senior VP and COO of Ticketmaster Canada says “Teams in a place like Alberta can use Ticketmaster as a ‘value-add’ in selling season ticket packages,” in that season-ticket holders can sell the ones they don’t use.

* Burke on difficulties in Anaheim: “There’s only 5700 seats in the lower bowl, so it’s tough to be profitable there. You want nine or 10 thousand there, that’s your top ticket, that’s your top revenue generator.”

* “Giving away free tickets is fatally flawed and stupid,” said Burke. His two policies are “One, never give away free tickets, and two, group ticket packages have to average out to a price that doesn’t offend the regular ticket buyer.” He basically explained how the type of person attending on a free ticket doesn’t spend money anyway and just lowers the general value of your tickets, and how if group rates are so low that a guy who bought a normal ticket finds out the guy in the row behind him paid $150 less, you’re losing the real customers you want.

* Burke, on the people in the platinum seats in Toronto not returning for the drop of the puck at the start of periods: “They can come out whenever they god damn well please for the price they pay.” As he said, it’s an optics problem until the first whistle, and it just looks bad when there’s a few minutes of play without them after puck drop.

Okay, stepping away from Burke for a second until we get back to his “keynote speech,” which was great.

* Our senior VP of content here at theScore, Joe Ross, was discussing all of our obsession with our phones, and how we use them to not just communicate, but to consume news, find places, follow sports, pay for things…just everything. “I lost my phone for 30 minutes the other day and felt like I was in downtown Casablanca without a map.”

Research is showing that if buildings don’t have wireless soon, they’ll lose fans (it’s already happening) because they don’t want to be out of touch for that long.

* Senior Director of Marketing for MLSE, John McCauley: “We’re not going to be hiring just writers anymore; we’re going to be hiring writers who can write, do video, operate the camera…” 

And on to Burke’s keynote:

Burke led with an anecdote about suing the libellous folks on the internet regarding the story that he had “knocked up” some reporter at some point… “I’ve had, ahem, a surgical procedure to prevent kids, so if it’s mine they should name it Jesus.” He’s pretty proud of the lawsuit, saying it immediately shut down the rumours, and set a precedent for other people in situations like his. He said he had entertainers and other professionals calling him offering to help with legal fees so the precedent would get set. He’s dead-set on “getting” the people mentioned in the lawsuit.

On the US Olympic team…

* Gord Miller implied that anyone could pick the team, and the third/fourth lines won’t matter much anyway. Burke:People trip up in these tournaments because they think those spare parts are spare parts.”

A few notes: Burke said winning the silver in 2010 was crappy (administrators didn’t even get them anyway), he’s comfortable taking extra centers because they can play anywhere, and that the US’s top-six are “heavy-lifting guys.” As in, Backes, Kesler, Oshie, Pavelski etc. are skilled, but they’re bangers too. He supports NHLers in the Olympics because “It’s a global game, and you can’t just look at where the fertilizer goes on our end, you have to look at where it’s spread globally.”

* A question was asked about Bruce Boudreau in 24/7, “bullying,” and if he thinks that sort of coaching will fade away. Burke: “Players don’t take us seriously unless we curse. If we talk without swearing, they assume it’s unimportant and tune us out.”

More notes: he doesn’t want to see more dressing room access for fans, he’s never allowed hazing on any of his teams (that’s a hard-and-fast rule), and they cap “rookie dinner” cost at five grand.

* Discussing the draft: “At the draft your job is to draft the best athlete available.” He says a GM can make adjustment to fill roster holes, but you risk making a huge mistake when drafting for position.

***

Hope you found a tidbit or two you found useful.

Comments (13)

  1. These recaps are great, Justin.
    Interesting re: Team USA. I wonder why Gord Miller thinks 3rd and 4th lines won’t matter. Is that just for Team USA? Regardless, he’s dead wrong. If your top two lines hit a scoring slump, you better hope you have talented guys on the other two lines and not just “anyone”. That is, don’t leave off talent in favour of “character” and “experience”.

    In 2010, Toews was arguably Canada’s best forward and was picked as “bottom 6″ guy if there is such a thing on the Olympic team.

    Also interesting re: Team USA and Burke’s comments about centers. His strategy makes sense, unfortunately, the one area where their depth is light is down the middle. Hyper-talented on the wings, but their centre depth sucks.

  2. Burkes’ Immaculate Conception reference is priceless. He learned a thing or two at Providence College. As a lawyer, he has to know he’s a public figure and thus cannot win a libel suit against whoever is behind the rumors, but it’ll sure give some people pause.

    • Why can’t he win a libel suit exactly? The cause of action doesn’t disappear simply because you are a public figure, what changes is the required proof and the degree of the burden of proof. I’m not sure where Burke filed, but generally a public figure needs to show actual malice and meet an increased burden of proof.

  3. In the “Developments in television, broadcasting and sports properties” panel, did they happen to talk much about broadcasting? Specifically, as a Rangers fan, it infuriates me how their Center Ice feed is never in HD. I’d rather watch an HD feed from a good/neutral away teams announcer than the crappy standard def feed from MSG.

    • Forgot to add…

      This goes along with Burke saying, “Watching hockey on a 2.5 inch screen is simply imbicilic.”

      I bought an 46″ HD TV and an HD cable box because I want HD!

      • I switched to DirecTV for HD hockey. Neither my local cable (Comcast) or the Dish network was offering the Center Ice games i wanted to see in HD. DirecTV offers almost every game in HD. The MSG HD feed is out there, it’s the carrier who decides which feed to pick up and broadcast.
        Check it out
        http://www.directv.com/sports/nhl_schedules

        (and no, neither I nor my family work for DTV)

  4. In regards to Burke’s comments regarding marketing players and teams, yeah it sounds good in theory, except for the fact that most of the dollars come from individual players and not the team as a whole. If a team is paying top dollar for a star player, i’d imagine they’d want the highest return on that player as possible.

  5. “The league should market the stars, the teams should market the teams.” He thinks teams tie themselves to a couple players too tightly, which limits them in trades, which screws them if there’s a scandal, which handcuffs them in contract negotiations with those “face of the franchise” players. He says he’d rather see groups of players in commercials for his team. That theory makes a ton of sense to me.

    Does it make a difference, though? The players the league markets are the Crosbys and Toewses and Stamkoses – the sort of players you don’t want to trade, you ride out a scandal (hard to imagine any of my examples causing one though), and you’re paying through the nose for anyway, because they’re really, really good at hockey. And the NHL is going to promote them in your team’s jersey.

    Whereas teams often promote the human-interest type of thing with hyperactive teenage rookies who may or may not make it long-term, or third-line centers with puppies/babies. Those are the guys that are fan favorites and also useful trade pieces.

    • I think it makes a difference. Look at Calgary, they built that team and it’s image in the local market around Iginla, to the point where he was held onto for at least 2 seasons longer than he should have been. Some of that was certainly delusional management/ownership thinking the team was a contender, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if part of it was an unwillingness to remove a player who basically was the franchise.

      • But Iggy would have been marketed locally anyway (because who outside of Alberta is going to stay up late to watch him), and the public aren’t going to notice whose dollars are behind the ads. I think the Flames problems were/are a lot bigger than that.

        • The point is that Iggy became the sole face of the franchise. Sure he would have been marketed, but if the focus is broader and includes multiple players you don’t run into a situation where moving one player has such massive repercussions. That’s Burke’s point as well, teams that market stars to that degree tie themselves to those players, and it makes operating more difficult when circumstances change.

  6. “Patti-Anne Tarlton, the Senior VP and COO of Ticketmaster Canada says “Teams in a place like Alberta can use Ticketmaster as a ‘value-add’ in selling season ticket packages,” in that season-ticket holders can sell the ones they don’t use.”

    That’s great and all, but it’d be greater if Ticketmaster stoped raking consumers over the coals with surcharges that can cost more than the tickets.

    Of course, tickets are also pretty hard to get in Toronto, as I understand. I wonder how much of Burke’s data is generalizable, given how different Toronto is from other markets.

  7. “* Discussing the draft: “At the draft your job is to draft the best athlete available.” He says a GM can make adjustment to fill roster holes, but you risk making a huge mistake when drafting for position”

    It’s a good thing he drafted Tyler Biggs instead of Brandon Saad and John Gibson then…

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