It will soon look like the ferocious rivalry that used to pit, in the 70s and 80s, the long-departed Quebec City Nordiques against the Montreal Canadiens. It will even be played out in a hockey arena, with superstars that are paid millions.
Except this is a different business. Think divas, rock and roll legends and edgy indie bands. And think an all-out entertainment war between two Quebec business empires. At one end of the ice, Pierre Karl Péladeau; at the other, the Molson trio, with Geoff Molson playing centre.
Mr. Péladeau may have been extremely upset to lose out to the Molsons when American businessman George Gillett auctioned off the Canadians in 2009. And he still hasn’t convinced the National Hockey League owners to let him buy a struggling expansion franchise or, in a costlier scenario, to establish a new team in the Quebecor Arena now under construction. (Although he has learned from Jim Balsillie to keep his mouth shut and his temper in check.)
But to head what will become the newly formed sports and entertainment group, Quebecor has recruited the Jaromir Jagr of show business: Aldo Giampaolo.
Mr. Giampaolo won’t have anything to learn to compete with Evenko, the successful Molson-controlled promoter and producer. Before he joined the Cirque du Soleil in 2005, the 63-year-old executive ran the business himself.
Little known outside of entertainment circles or outside Quebec, Evenko produced more than 1,000 shows in 2012. It was the world’s 8th-biggest promoter in 2012 by tickets sold, according to the concert tour industry magazine Pollstar. The Bell Centre was also the busiest concert hall in North America last year, and the fifth in the world as measured by revenue, in front of Paris’s Palais de Bercy and the Los Angeles Staples Center, in the 15,001-to-30,000-seat category.
If Montreal punches above its weight in the music business, it has much to do with Mr. Giampaolo, who was named the third most influential person in Quebec showbiz by La Presse in 2004 behind cinema power couple Denys Arcand and Denise Robert and TV producer Julie Snyder.
Few people have worked longer in an arena than he has. Mr. Giampaolo is a hockey buff who coached a major junior hockey team and worked as a scout for the Calgary Flames in the East. In his 20s, he managed the Verdun auditorium, a borough south west of Montreal. In 1986, this landed him a job at the glorious Montreal Forum, where over 15 years he first oversaw operations and then became general manager. It is while he worked there that he succeeded the renowned Donald Tarlton, when the man better known as Donald K. Donald retired as a show producer.
Mr. Giampaolo convinced René Angélil to let Céline Dion sing at the Forum by transforming what was only seen as the home of the “Sainte-Flanelle” to a more intimate concert hall, through an innovative use of curtains and lighting. Many superstars followed. And when the Bell Centre was built to replace the Forum, he made sure that its scenic capabilities and acoustics would serve the performers on tour, through the use of materials that would reduce reverberations, for instance.
When he managed Evenko, then the Gillett Entertainment Group, Mr. Giampaolo was instrumental in producing the shows that would fill the Bell Centre on off-hockey nights. He even promoted artists in other venues such as Gregory Charles, the multitalented singer and dancer, when he launched his English show Black & White in New York.
Vertical integration is still the way to go in entertainment. With its media outlets and its stable of young stars from reality TV singing shows, Quebecor will push its cross promotion even further. But then, no one is going to feel sorry for Evenko.
After rumours broke out, the company just admitted that discussions are under way to acquire L’Équipe Spectra. Co-founded and presided by Alain Simard, Spectra launched the famous Montreal Jazz Festival, the also famous Francofolies and the foodie fest Montréal en Lumière – whose historical sponsor is, incidentally, Hydro-Québec, now chaired by Pierre Karl Péladeau. Spectra also owns a record label and a number of concert venues such as the Metropolis. So big an entertainment powerhouse this would create that some industry observers wonder aloud if the Competition Bureau should not intervene.
But even if this deal doesn’t go through, one thing is certain. Between Evenko and Quebecor, there won't be much middle ground left, as independent artists and producers will be forced to pick sides.