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Geoff Molson is the last member of his clan at the 224-year-old family brewery. (Sylvain Dumais)
Geoff Molson is the last member of his clan at the 224-year-old family brewery. (Sylvain Dumais)

ROB Magazine

Can Geoff Molson save the Montreal Canadiens? Add to ...

Multiple revenue streams notwithstanding, the family sees the Canadiens as a public trust. The stewardship mentality means Molson is not the sort of executive given to rash decisions.

That may explain why he endorsed the move to swiftly promote Pierre Gauthier as successor to general manager and executive vice-president Bob Gainey, who unexpectedly stepped aside just a couple of months after the sale closed. It was a conservative decision-Gauthier had been Gainey's assistant.

Last summer, it was announced that long-time team president Pierre Boivin would leave his job in June of 2011 (he will then join the team's board).

His successor? Geoff Molson. "When I step into Pierre's shoes, it will be heavy-duty work," says Molson.

Though Molson is avidly looking at ways to expand the business, he doesn't feel like being shoved along. There may well be deal-making possibilities on the real-estate front; Gillett at one point was involved in a venture with developer Cadillac Fairview, which in 2009 added Windsor Station to its holdings around the Bell Centre (it was rumoured during the Gillett era that he planned to build a 3,000-seat concert venue across the street).

Then there's the all-important question of broadcasting rights and revenues, which have become a lifeline for all manner of pro sports teams.

The Canadiens' deal with RDS-owned by Bell Canada-expires in 2014, and competitors Quebecor and Radio-Canada, which have ambitions to set up 24-hour specialty sports stations, covet Habs games. Until 2014, Molson says he's content to focus on expanding the Canadiens' media reach through the Internet and mobile streaming. But he's not done thinking about a pay-per-view Habs vehicle, even if he doesn't warm to it intuitively. "I think that was one of the biggest fears of the Quebec community," he says. "[RDS]does a great job and they're partners of ours. At the same time...we have to create value for the partnership. And so we're going to explore those avenues. The intent is not to all of a sudden say: 'If you want to watch the Montreal Canadiens, it's going to cost you 160 bucks a year on the NHL Centre Ice package.' " (The current annual price of that service is about $200.)

Besides, there's plenty of other stuff about the hockey business to keep a young executive awake at night. In 2001, an economist from the Université du Québec à Montréal predicted, given a 63-cent loonie, that the Canadiens wouldn't be able to survive in the city for more than five years. That forecast may seem irrelevant now, but the threat of a sliding dollar is still very real. If the loonie were to suddenly depreciate, the team's $59.4 million (U.S.) annual salary bill would be paid for out of revenues earned in slumping Canadian dollars.

Then there's the state of the league. The NHL is heavily subsidized by the six Canadian teams, which contribute tens of millions to revenue sharing. The league has had to bail out one of its Sunbelt teams (Phoenix), while several others (Atlanta, Nashville) are floundering amid tumbling attendance and sponsorship revenues, and still others (Florida, Dallas) have had to find, or search for, new owners.

But the Molsons have what those teams don't, and what only the Toronto Maple Leafs also have on a comparable basis: full control over their building, booming ancillary revenues, an unassailable brand and-most crucially-a rabid fan base that will shell out as much as $8,459 for a prime season's ticket.

But those fans need courting. The Habs are known to become a political football, as in September, when Parti Québécois language critic Pierre Curzi accused the team, which has a seemingly ever-declining francophone roster, of having become a federalist tool. (The public response from Molson, who is smoothly bilingual, was simple: "We are in the hockey business and not into politics.")

The flak aside, most owners would kill for the sort of passion Quebeckers have for their team. And there is a new hopeful sign for Molson: Last spring, the Habs made their deepest playoff run since 1993, reaching the conference final and playing eight home dates. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest those games grossed roughly $3 million each.

Could it really be that the merest of family touches will restore the aura of Geoff Molson's childhood memories of the musty Forum, where "you could practically smell the air and you knew they were going to win"?

"We haven't reached the ultimate, of where you walk into the building and you can sort of smell victory. But we're a step closer to that this year than we were last year," he says.

"So now the pressure's on to replicate."

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