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Geoffrey Molson by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Geoffrey Molson by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

the lunch

Geoff Molson: An entrepreneur with an eye for entertainment Add to ...

The Chicago Blackhawks were to face the Boston Bruins in game three of the Stanley Cup finals that Wednesday, and the keenly fought series was tied. Lunching with the president and CEO of the Montreal Canadiens, it seemed like a given that hockey would be the main course.

Geoff Molson arrives in a hurry at the Grinder, a noisy restaurant in the gentrified neighbourhood of Griffintown, just downhill from the Bell Centre, and to break the ice, I shoot a hockey question. What did he think of the Bruins’ game-two comeback after their crushing defeat in triple overtime?

“I didn’t even watch the game,” he says flatly.

Coming from the guy who eats, sleeps and breathes hockey, this apparent detachment is startling. Mr. Molson gets so quiet and intense when he watches the Canadiens play, intertwining his fingers, rubbing his thumbs, that you could cut the tension with a knife. His passion borders on obsession, and he harbours superstitions he only reluctantly confesses to. He blinks three times when he sees 22 on the clock or on a jersey, the number worn by former left winger Steve Shutt, his favourite player when he grew up, for example.

“We had a great run, but once you’re out, you’re out,” Mr. Molson says of the Canadiens’ disappointing showing in the playoffs after finishing second in the Eastern Conference.

Even more surprising, however, is what kept Geoff Molson from watching that hockey game. On that night, he was at the FrancoFolies. The French music festival was celebrating its 25th anniversary with a show featuring 25 Quebec artists, such as Ariane Moffatt, Loco Locass and Pierre Lapointe. His choice demonstrates how the man best known as owner of the Habs is working to become an entertainment mogul.

Mr. Molson watched the outdoor concert with Alain Simard, the music producer who co-founded the FrancoFolies and the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, the biggest jazz festival in the world. The new men became acquainted two years ago at social functions and realized they shared a passion for Montreal’s cultural economy.

They are now negotiating a deal by which L’Équipe Spectra, the company that oversees the two festivals, would be sold to the Canadiens’ holding company, the CH Group. The talks, news of which leaked in June, are “pretty advanced.”

“This is about ensuring the longevity of the Jazz Festival, [Alain Simard’s] life work,” Mr. Molson says.

Should the deal go through, Spectra would become a sister company to Evenko, the CH Group’s entertainment division, but remain independently managed. The two companies would cut costs by sharing venues, ticketing and food services. They could also increase their revenues by cross-promoting their shows and events through their different channels and partnerships.

Evenko is already an entertainment powerhouse, with revenues roughly equal to those of the Canadiens – although with all the middle-men, producing shows is not as profitable as owning the Sainte-Flanelle, Mr. Molson points out.

Last year, Evenko produced more than 1,000 shows in Quebec and in New Brunswick. It was the world’s eighth-biggest promoter in 2012 by tickets sold, according to the concert tour industry magazine Pollstar. And Evenko keeps on growing: Its Osheaga outdoor music festival, only in its seventh year, sold out with a record 120,000 spectators.

Evenko can book shows in the Bell Centre, the smaller Corona Theatre and the yet-to-be-built Place Bell in Laval, a new 10,000-seat concert hall and arena where the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Canadiens’ farm team, could end up playing when their 3-year contract ends.

The Bell Centre is already the busiest concert hall in North America, and the fifth in the world 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. With Spectra, the CH Group would also control the Metropolis, a mid-size concert hall where close to 40 per cent of the events are currently booked by Evenko. With this acquisition, CH Group would become so big that some commentators wonder if the Competition Bureau should scrutinize the deal.

“This is an opportunity to become a bigger entertainment company that brings more to Montreal,” Mr. Molson says.

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