If you’re a television producer and you’re not selling beer, hockey pucks and Christmas ornaments, are you even really trying?
Mark Montefiore is in the offices of his production company, New Metric Media, in the Port Lands studio district in Toronto’s east end. The small space is bulging with merchandise associated with the hit rural-Canadiana sitcom Letterkenny, set to begin its 10th season on Saturday.
“We just got these in,” Montefiore says, holding up a Letterkenny Christmas-tree decoration. There are shelves and shelves of similarly branded T-shirts, hats and hockey jerseys. There are even cans of Puppers Golden Lager, the show’s official beer. Montefiore tries to put on a red flannel Letterkenny button-down over a plaid shirt he’s already wearing. That’s on-brand – flannel over plaid. “The new Canadian tuxedo,” he suggests.
The overshirt he picked out is too small for him, though. One size fits all for the maverick Montefiore? He wouldn’t dream of it.
Carried in Canada by Crave, Letterkenny is New Metric Media’s flagship series. The company is also behind the Netflix/CityTV drama series Bad Blood and the forthcoming CTV comedy series Children Ruin Everything.
At 40 years old, Montefiore, a native of St. Catharines, Ont., is trim and youthful, but his beard scruff is a mix of pepper and salt. He has a reputation as an outside-the-box thinker and obsessively hard worker who makes high-quality off-kilter content on modest budgets. He likes to build brands, meaning he’s constantly on the lookout for ways of producing licensing deals, collectible merchandise and live tours featuring cast members.
“The key is momentum,” he says, explaining the value of off-screen extensions, “and ancillaries drive momentum.” Montefiore’s office is a shrine to his Letterkenny empire building. Among the show-related paraphernalia on display there are backstage passes from Letterkenny tours of Canada and the United States that featured live sketches, stand-up comedy and screenings of clips cut from the show.
The first tour in 2018 included 42 performances, from Halifax to Surrey, B.C., with stops in Sudbury, Ont. (where the show is filmed) and Listowel, Ont., the hometown of the show’s creator, co-star and co-writer Jared Keeso. The fictional quirky community of Letterkenny is loosely based on Listowel.
The collectibles and extracurricular Letterkenny experiences are not offshoots of the show – they’ve always been part of the package. When Montefiore pitched a multiseason partnership with Bell Media and its streaming service Crave a few years ago, he placed Timbit boxes around the boardroom table. Instead of bite-sized morsels of doughnuts, the boxes were filled with hockey pucks emblazoned with shamrocks – a signature Team Letterkenny logo.
Asked about Montefiore’s entrepreneurial flair, Justin Stockman, Bell Media’s vice-president, content development and programming, used the words “innovative” and “intrepid.” “Together we’ve helped bring small-town Ontario to audiences around the world,” he said.
We’ve seen this kind of full-press marketing before, notably in Canada with The Trailer Park Boys. The live tours and associated products are more than a way to make extra money and reach new markets. They also keep viewers invested in a show.
“There’s so much content out there, and it’s not just television,” Montefiore says. “Podcasts are killing it. We’re competing for people’s ears now.”
The job for New Metric Media is to keep fans of its shows engaged and immersed between episodes and between seasons. “We want to give them the Letterkenny experience,” Montefiore says.
With so much investment in the ancillaries, is the Letterkenny cart being put ahead of its horse? “No,” Montefiore says. “It all starts with a great TV show. We’re building brands anchored by television.”
Still, T-shirts helped secure distribution for the show in the United States. After Letterkenny’s first season in Canada in 2016, Montefiore tried to sell it south of the border. He was told the concept was too weird and too Canadian – as if the success of SCTV and The Kids in the Hall had never happened.
But Montefiore knew there was an audience outside of Canada because he was selling T-shirts with Letterkenny catchphrases on them all over the United States. “I had no idea how people knew about the show,” Montefiore says. “But I do know that for every fan that commits to going to our website and buying merchandise, there are hundreds if not thousands of passive fans that love the show as well.”
With that in mind, Montefiore put together a heat map of Letterkenny merchandise sales that showed activity in every state. Armed with that visual data, he was able to find U.S. distribution. Since Hulu acquired the exclusive U.S. streaming rights to Letterkenny in 2018, the show has received high praise from Rolling Stone, the Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times and Forbes, which deemed it ”one of the most endearing and smartest comedies on TV right now.”
High-profile fans include actors Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. In Canada, Letterkenny has racked up 40 Canadian Screen Award nominations, converting a dozen into trophies.
The show’s momentum shows no signs of slowing. Premiering this spring, the Letterkenny spinoff Shoresy is a half-hour hockey-based comedy created and written by Keeso, who also stars as the titular character – a foul-mouthed locker-room chirper whose face is never seen on Letterkenny itself. Letterkenny actor, director, co-writer and co-creator Jacob Tierney will direct.
It is worth noting that while Shoresy is not a main Letterkenny character, he is the top character when it comes to Letterkenny merchandise sales. Also new is a Letterkenny version of the board game Monopoly that’s not on the market yet. Properties on the board include the three MoDean’s taverns from the show.
“We’d like to open up a chain of MoDean’s across Canada,” Montefiore says.
He’s kidding. But is he?
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