Q&A is a bi-weekly feature where Sports Business Canada sits down with someone involved with the sports industry in Canada. This week, we chat with Jack Brodsky, President and Governor of the Saskatoon Blades as the team prepares to host the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup from May 17-26.
Sports Business Canada: You’ve been a co-owner of the Saskatoon Blades since 1976. What inspired you to become a major junior hockey team owner?
Jack Brodksy: My dad actually bought the team in 1976. We’d had some pretty good success with our construction company. We love sports and the opportunity came to buy the Saskatoon Blades and it was kind of my dad’s way of giving back to the community and being a part of that.
SBC: You’ve been the team’s President and Governor since 1992. What keeps you motivated in your job after all of these years?
JB: I love the game. I love the people involved in the game, and the people that we’ve worked with over the years. And I love being in business. I love business and the challenges that surround that.
SBC: I’m sure there’s been many, but what have been some of the top highlights during your time with the Blades?
JB: I look back at the Memorial Cup in 1989 when we lost in the Final against the Swift Current Broncos. That was probably a highlight, and a low light, but that was certainly a highlight for us. When I first got involved with the team in the spring of 1992, we went to the Final that year and lost in Game Seven, and then two years later we did the same thing. Those were obviously highlights, and low-lights, because the closer you get to winning a championship, when you don’t win it, the more it hurts. And then, honestly, over the years, probably the biggest thing for me is the people. And the people that I’ve gotten to know and become friendly with both in the hockey world and in the Saskatoon business community. I know when our family got out of the construction business, I’ve had people ask me if I missed the construction business and you know, you miss the work and you miss the business a little bit but what you miss mostly is the people. So you realize that those relationships are probably the most important thing is anything that you do. So that would be the biggest highlight for me. Just the people that I’ve gotten to know in the hockey world and in the business community here.
SBC: What have been some of the struggles in operating a major junior team out of Saskatoon?
JB: Well, it’s hard to win. It is. It’s a very competitive thing and we certainly have had some challenges and we’ve had some successes on the ice. We haven’t won that elusive championship yet but the other thing is we’ve always had a building that’s maybe a little larger than what was ideal for us. So there were some challenges there. And I think a little bit because of that, Saskatoon has become a bit of an event city. So we’ve had some challenges with that but you work with what you have to work with and we’ve managed to make that work for us.
SBC: Keeping on the stadium topic, the Credit Union Centre has a capacity of 15,190 – a number that’s large by major junior standards. You mentioned that this has presented its challenges. How have these challenges been overcome?
JB: We’ve worked really hard at selling tickets and we work hard at putting on real good promotions that become sort of mini events. And we’ve worked really hard in the community as well to become a good community partner and be involved in the community and just trying to become a part of the fabric of life in Saskatoon. I think we’ve done a fairly good job of that. And then we’ve also been involved with things like when the World Juniors come to town or we have a chance to get them, we become a part of that bid committee and a part of that event. We’ve hosted the Top Prospects game here. We’ve got the Memorial Cup coming up so whenever those kinds of things happen we try to get involved in that as well.
SBC: Was building size a factor in winning the Memorial Cup bid for 2013?
JB: Oh sure, without a doubt. The capacity we have here and the opportunity that we have to generate revenue; no question that was a part of it. The other part of it is that we get such great support from our city, from our province, and from the corporate community. When we put our bid in for the Memorial Cup, Ken Cheveldayoff, who is one of the MLAs in Saskatoon, was a part of our bid committee and came to be part of the presentation. The mayor came along in support of the presentation, and my coach here for the Memorial Cup is Tim Gitzel, who is the CEO of Cameco – the uranium mining company, and he was there as part of the presentation as well so that kind of support, as well as the size of the building, is why we were successful.
SBC: Moving in a different direction, in recent years, social media has made sports teams and athletes more accessible to fans than ever before. Players of the Blades can be as young as 16-years old. Internally, how have the Blades handled social media use amongst players and has it been an issue for the team?
JB: We created a policy real early on and then the League developed a policy shortly after that or kind of concurrently. It’s no different in the hockey world or sports world than it is in any other world. People sometimes think they can say whatever they want on there and nobody’s reading it or nobody knows or cares. We just tried really early to make sure that we got that message across that everything you say and do on social media will be available to millions of people for years and years and years to come. And we haven’t had any monster problems over the years but there’s been a few pranks, a few little things have happened but we’ve been fortunate. But we’ve really tried to make that message clear to them that you’re not invisible when you’re on social media.
SBC: When the team last hosted the Memorial Cup back in 1989, you were not serving as the team’s President and Governor. Have you been more involved in the bidding process and preparations for next month’s Memorial Cup compared to ‘89?
JB: I was not involved in the bid process the first time around. My brother Rick was the Governor of the team at the time. We had a (WHL) Board of Governors meeting in town in early February of ’88 when the building (Credit Union Centre) was just finished and I don’t even know if there was a real presentation other than him standing up and saying ‘guys we want to do this, we want to do a great job’. I’m sure there was a bit of a presentation involved but it was a lot more like that back then. I think it was pretty well unanimous that it would be in Saskatoon. Then for this last one here there was actually a bit of a screening process early where everybody that was interested sent submissions into the League office and they had a committee there that reviewed a lot of stuff in the submission, including the projection for what the team would look like. Then it got down to a shortlist and so there was Kelowna, Red Deer and ourselves that were shortlisted and we were the ones that made the presentation, ultimately, to the Board of Governors.
SBC: In the past decade, the Memorial Cup has grown to be one of the premiere Canadian hockey events of the year. From your previous comments, it seems as if the bidding process has changed dramatically during that period.
JB: Yes, the process is different and the event itself. I think back then (1989), only the Final or the Semi-Finals were on TV. Now all of the games are broadcasted on TV and certainly that exposure has helped to grow the event. The other thing is we do a whole lot of stuff now around the Fan Fest, school programs and things like that so we try to make it much broader than what it was in the past as well. So it’s going that way as well.
SBC: You were President of the Bid Committee and subsequently President of the Host Organizing Committee for the 2010 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship held in Saskatoon. How does that process compare to hosting the Memorial Cup?
JB: The thing now is that you always put a bid committee in the community together rather than just a club doing it itself. But we certainly learned a lot (from hosting the 2010 IIHF World Junior Hockey Champshionship). We hosted (the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship) sometime before in ’91 I think, but I hadn’t been a part of it. But we had put some bids in a few times prior to us winning the right to host here. I hadn’t chaired those but I’d been a part of them and then I was President of the Bid Committee for 2010. We had a great group of volunteers and a lot of experience that came around the table and that was very successful for us. We all learned an awful lot about putting on hockey tournaments. The Memorial Cup is a little different and maybe not quite the same magnitude but there’s still a lot of things that we did learn from that that we carried over, for sure.
SBC: When bidding to host the Memorial Cup, it’s critical that the host team ices a contender. Did you have much involvement with the hockey operations staff leading up to hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup?
No, I look after the business stuff. I’m the President of the Saskatoon Blades and I have a hockey General Manager who looks after that side, Lorne Mollekan. We talk a lot but I’m not a hockey guy. He’s a hockey guy. We talk a lot and converse a lot about stuff but ultimately he makes decisions in terms of what we do with the hockey club.
SBC: How do you carry the momentum of hosting this year’s tournament into 2013-14 and beyond?
JB: Well, we know that we did sell some season tickets and did have some excitement around the hockey club because of the Memorial Cup. I think we also did a great job this year with our promotions. Our attendance was up over a thousand people a game. But the biggest thing is retention. You just go to work on retaining those fans and certainly if we happen to win the Memorial Cup that’s going to help us as we go through this. But you just want to continue to provide entertainment and be good community partners and we’ll be working with our ticket base to do everything we can to retain them as we head into the future.
SBC: And finally, who’s your pick to win this year’s Memorial Cup (and be honest!)?
JB: Well, I know you said to be realistic or be honest. All I know is this: there’s going to be three League champions here who will all be very, very good teams, but I believe that we also are a very good team and our plan is to win the Memorial Cup. We didn’t come into this to lose it so I’m not going to pick a winner but I’m going to tell you that we’re going to do everything we can to win it.
For more info on the Saskatoon Blades and the 2013 Memorial Cup, visit saskatoonblades.com and http://mastercardmemorialcup.ca/. This year’s MasterCard Memorial Cup will take place in Saskatoon from May 17-26, 2013.