There’s a line in one of the Sicario movies about what constitutes “rich” today. Two guys are sitting around at dinner discussing an arms deal.
One guy has guns. The other guy has government money. A figure is mentioned – US$150-million, for starters. They clink glasses.
“Congratulations,” says the government guy. “You can afford your own hockey team now.”
The implication is that hockey-team money is a lot, but it’s not rich rich. It’s not tech rich, fashion rich or football rich.
It’s its own sort of rich. Good, but nothing to crow about. Hockey rich is also quiet. It doesn’t want anyone paying attention.
It’s a sharply observed line because it’s true. What’s the thing that NHL owners have most in common? It isn’t money. It’s that they deflect interest.
That would be fine if hockey players were picking up the slack. But they aren’t.
Outside their Canada/Northeast U.S. bubble, hockey players generate interest like weather. An occasional storm will penetrate the public consciousness. But mostly it’s just there.
The point was proved this week by Ryan Reynolds.
How do you get hockey into the mainstream U.S. conversation? Hockey’s been trying to do it with 150 nights of hockey a year for the past half-century, and mostly failing.
Reynolds did it in 30 seconds on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
The Ottawa Senators are for sale. In one of those canned questions, Reynolds was asked if he’s interested in buying. He is. What a coincidence.
“It’s very expensive. I need a partner with really deep pockets,” Reynolds said. “And if that doesn’t work out, I’ll buy a U.S. senator, which anyone can afford.”
Ba doom boom.
On Tuesday, my colleague, Andrew Willis, reported that health care billionaire and Canadiens minority owner Michael Andlauer is the early favourite to acquire the Senators.
I’m sure Andlauer is a lovely guy who wouldn’t dream of missing a quarterly instalment, but is fiscal prudence what the NHL needs most right now? No. What it needs is Ryan Reynolds.
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If the players are going to continue speaking in public like they’ve been pushed in front of the class to talk about their summer vacation, the league needs to find naturally gifted entertainers elsewhere. It doesn’t need more money. It needs more hype.
The NHL couldn’t custom design a better spokesperson than Reynolds. He’s already globally famous. Even better, he’s globally famous for being Canadian. He’s so winsome that every time you see the guy your hands begin unconsciously drifting up to tuck themselves under your chin.
I don’t know Michael Andlauer, but I know selling Reynolds a few points on the NHL package is a great deal for him.
The Ottawa Senators have been in the United States many hundreds of times, and I feel very sure no one would recognize them in an airport down there if they were wearing skates.
But let’s say Ryan Reynolds shows up at Hugh Jackman’s birthday party in an Alex DeBrincat jersey? That’s news. People may even feel inspired to figure out who DeBrincat is.
In fairness, Reynolds should be second on this list. Why doesn’t Drake own part of a hockey team? Are all hockey teams allergic to making money?
If Drake owned 5 per cent of the Calgary Flames, the Flames would be a known commodity from Djibouti to Jaipur. If he owned 2 per cent of the New York Rangers, they would be right up there with the Giants and Knicks.
Just imagine if Drake leaned over the glass in a Battle of Alberta playoff game, jawing with Connor McDavid. It would not happen because, as with every other hockey player, McDavid has no feel for theatre, but just imagine it.
You want to grow the game around the world? You don’t do it by finding the next superstar monosyllabic person from northern Saskatchewan. You do it by figuring out new ways to create content.
If I had a hockey team, I’d give Drake 2 per cent as long as he promised to come to 10 games a year. If he brings Future with him, he can have unlimited rail drinks.
You can run down an easily compilable list of Canadian celebrities who a) like hockey and b) can do some good for the game.
Why doesn’t anyone give Martin Short part of a hockey team? All it costs is money, and then you get to spend a bunch of time with Martin Short. He may be the most charming man alive. If you’re stupidly rich, what sounds like more fun? Another yacht, or Martin Short? There’s only one right answer.
You could understand the NHL’s reticence if the league were a massively profitable, fully contained operation with no systemic issues. But it does have issues. A ton of them. Every week, a new PR crisis pops up. The NHL is the only “top” league trying to figure out how to keep certain club members from going bust.
Imagine if the next time the NHL needed some emergency spokespersoning, or macro-messaging, or help with its global pitch, you had Sarah Polley in the room instead of some lifer who was once GM of the California Golden Seals?
Wouldn’t that be better? Wouldn’t it be more effective? Is the problem that it’s too obvious? Too easy?
The NHL doesn’t need my help. It’s doing a great job of maintaining hockey’s place as a parochial concern that only truly excites Canadians and those Americans who would like to be. But maybe the people who stand to make or lose potential fortunes on these things have a little more aspiration.
Just follow the money. If you’re trying to figure out where things are headed, money points true north.
In the past 10 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ estimated franchise value has increased nearly 300 per cent. That sounds pretty great. Until you consider that the Toronto Raptors’ value has gone up 700 per cent over the same period. It’s like they’re selling two different products.
So yes, the Ottawa Senators need a steady business hand at the tiller. But these days, someone who’s hockey-team rich is easy to find. Someone who’s Ryan-Reynolds famous is not.