Everyone knows we will sell this building out no matter what we do. If nothing else in the last 10 years, we’ve proven that point. And so, fine, some people will accept that and say, I don’t have to do any better than what I’m doing now. And some people won’t. And what we need to do here is find an organization—our coaches, our general manager and his team, our players—who won’t accept that. The message we’re trying to send to the players is that it should anger us that we’ve got to rely on the past so much. Not because we haven’t had a great past. It’s unbelievable to walk into an arena and see 11 Stanley Cups (11). I only have one (12). But we have to stop hiding. All we’re trying to do is shake everybody up.
A few of your public comments—like the one about having the Stanley Cup parade route planned—have drawn criticism. Do you regret them?
People made fun of the parade thing. It had nothing to do with the parade route. It had everything to do with, we’ve got to want to taste it so bad that we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it. And I just don’t think we’ve had that yet. I think we’re getting there now. And when you get that kind of character and culture in an organization, those are the ones that win.
Toronto isn’t used to hearing a sports executive—or any CEO, for that matter—talk this way.
I probably underestimated that. I’m straight-ahead. I’m very energetic. I know all the commissioners have commented on my energy and passion. I’ve had one commissioner say I’m the bull in the china shop. I’ve had another say I’m the Energizer Bunny. They’re comparing me to animals a lot—I don’t know if that should make me nervous. But I’m a bull, I admit it. I want to succeed. And sometimes I get ahead of people. We’ve had people in this organization who didn’t love it, and some of them are no longer here, and I’m okay with that. My guess is, there’s probably people in this organization who don’t love it now. Do I put undue pressure on the players and the coaches by setting this standard? If you don’t want pressure, don’t come here. I’m trying to tone it down a little bit. But we have the ability to do it—our resources are better here than anywhere I’ve ever seen. It angers me that we haven’t rewarded the fans.
You have other problems to fix too. Increasingly at Raptors games, if it’s not the Heat or the Lakers playing, the middle-centre of the stadium—the higher-priced tickets—is a wasteland. What message does that send to you?
The fact is, there is a market here. Those seats used to be full. We just got bad. That’s what it tells me. The people and companies that can afford those seats have been here before, and will come back again, but because of the price we charge them—and we are expensive (13) —they’re going to be the first ones to go. God bless those who sit upstairs, because they’ve been much more patient with us. But we are expensive. I think that’s the delicate balancing act. If people think we’re going to reduce our prices, that’s not going to happen. Because we will spend whatever it takes to win here.
What is your relationship with the owners: Bell, Rogers and chairman Larry Tanenbaum?
With Bell and Rogers, they know where I’m headed. George (14), probably more than anyone, gets exactly where I’m going, because he’s gone through this with Bell. He got rid of a lot of people, changed the culture there and changed the way they operate as a company. And by the way, I don’t bother them a lot and they don’t bother me a lot. I get what they want me to do. We need to win here, and that’s what they expect me to do. I think they’ve got my back. Larry’s the same, except it’s a little personal for Larry, because he knows everybody here. He was friends with a lot of people I let go. But I think Larry, more than anybody, deserves the right to win here. And when we do win, it will be the greatest day in his life. So I keep that in mind every day when he occasionally gets mad and says, “You said what?”