Faces are unknown, but impact is felt
Wednesday, December 27, 2000
Of all the folk in the sport world who affect what we see and do -- and where we spend our money, the ones with the greatest impact may be those whose names we've never heard, whose faces we've never seen.
At the top of this behind-the-scenes list are about a dozen souls across Canada -- on whose word we take hundreds of millions of dollars from our pockets each year. They are the anonymous folk who set the lines on sports betting games such as Pro Line.
In the absence of real names, let's just say they all have a traditional tout's middle name of The -- as in Jimmy The Greek, Louie The Weasel or Sammy The Snake.
There are five official lottery agencies across the country with sports operations teams who set betting lines, said Don Pister, spokesman for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission. The Ontario commission has about 40 per cent of the national market and rakes in $200-million a year -- about $1.5-billion since Ontario's Sport Select wagering was launched in 1992. Since then, more than $840-million has gone back out in prizes.
Similar games are operated by lottery corporations in British Columbia, Western Canada (the three Prairie provinces), Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
"All those lines are set independently," Pister said. "We just refer to our guys as the sports operations team. There are about four day-to-day odds-setters and we've never named them publicly -- otherwise people would be calling up endlessly to argue with them.
"They're sports fans and good stats people. They research constantly, keeping an eye on the Internet, staying abreast of the sport news, all the major betting lines and we subscribe to some of the U.S. services. They know their stuff."
While the setters of the betting lines have a demonstrably direct effect on the public, there are many others out there whose unseen activities affect the sport fanatic's viewing habits or sport policy or the state of our national game.
More behind-the-scenes heroes:
2. Keith Pelley, The Sports Network's senior vice-president of programming and futurist. Pelley sets the menu for Canada's sports appetite on the tube. He predicted to The Globe and Mail's Bill Houston that in the next century there will be no more sport on conventional TV networks. Games will be played in arenas that are just big TV studios and cameramen will all be replaced by robotics. Now if they can just replace some of the curling.
3. Colin Campbell, the National Hockey League's executive vice-president. Campbell is raising the bar on discipline in the NHL. A 20-game suspension to Phoenix Coyotes' Brad May for a slash to the face of Columbus's Steve Heinze was the longest in NHL history without the commissioner's involvement. Campbell also backs a crackdown on diving and is a velvet glove to commissioner Gary Bettman's ham-handed treatment of the hockey media.
4. Joel Darling, head producer of Hockey Night in Canada, replacing John Shannon. He calls the shots on Canada's most-watched regular TV fixture and also headed up the highly acclaimed coverage of CBC's Sydney Olympics broadcasts. His shows get the advertising dollars that underwrite the Corp's "serious" programming.
5. Kerry Moynihan, chief executive officer of Calgary-based Alpine Canada. He has the once-floundering team on the verge of a breakthrough by finding big corporate dollars and spending them wisely. Instead of whining about government support, he's raised 85 per cent of a $7.8-million budget by smart marketing. There's 250 hours of skiing on Canadian TV networks this winter.
6. Dave Branch, president of the Canadian Hockey League. He's trying to clean up the national game at the junior level, taking a hard disciplinary line on nonsense such as London Knights' co-owner Dave Hunter sending players out to fight. Under Branch's leadership, attendance and sponsorship revenues for the CHL have increased dramatically.
7. Stacey Allaster, Tennis Canada's vice-president corporate sales and marketing. Allaster was the central figure in finding replacement funding to the tune of approximately $8-million annually for the men's and women's international tournaments. With Imperial Tobacco Ltd. out of the sponsorship game, Allaster negotiated a tidy package with ISL Worldwide for the sponsorship and media rights to the Tennis Masters Series-Canada men's event. She then brought together AT&T Canada and Rogers AT&T Wireless to share title sponsorship of the women's event.
8. Lori Johnstone, special adviser to Denis Coderre, Secretary of State for Amateur Sport. The former racquetball champion from New Brunswick and past chair of the athlete association Athletes Can is Coderre's right-hand assistant in remaking a national sport program that is athlete-centred.
9. Doug Hamilton, vice-president of sport and venues for Toronto's 2008 Olympic bid. The pitch for an athletes-first Games weighs heavily on what kind of facilities Toronto can offer and their location and Hamilton's work is considered one of the strong technical points of Toronto's bid.
10. Ron Bremner, president of the NHL's Calgary Flames. Bremner oversaw a reorganization of a sinking Calgary franchise, including a save-the-team ticket campaign, securing Pengrowth Management Limited as a naming sponsor of the Saddledome and the hiring of a new general manager and coach. If only he could skate and score for the flagging Flames.
Canada's sports leaders
Saturday: The leaders and losers
Yesterday: The athletes
Today: The unsung heroes
Tomorrow: The media stars
Friday: Ten to watch in 2001
Follow the series at globeandmail.com/sports and make your pick for Canada's Sports Leader in 2000.