“To live through an impossible situation, you don’t need the reflexes of a Grand Prix driver, the muscles of a Hercules, the mind of an Einstein. You simply need to know what to do,” Anthony Greenbank, The Book of Survival.
If you have a mental map of the way the world works, you can do thought experiments like Einstein. Canucks think that Brits or Yanks are better than us. Inferiority holds us back. Confidence, that’s what we all need more of…
People need People
Did anyone see the film Into the Wild? It was directed by Sean Penn and starred Emile Hirsch playing true life Christopher McCandless who went into the hinterlands of Alaska to live life close to nature. He died there—cut off from a return to civilization by raging floodwaters. He starved to death not realizing that just a few klicks in the other direction was a wire rope bridge hunters used to get out during floods. Without skill sharing and a mentor/a partner to verbalize good (and bad) ideas to, we are all dead.
Give People a Reason to Believe
People are most alive when they feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. It’s a shame that for most people they hark back to high school days or their college days when last they felt like this.
Bring Back the Senators
That was our rallying cry. This was a team that last played in the NHL in 1933 before pressure from the Great Depression forced a move to St Louis where they played for a year before folding. I was asked why use that old name? Well, after Montreal and Toronto, who has won the most Stanley Cups? It’s the Sens with 9 (last one in 1927).
A Simple Plan
Our real estate company went from getting $18 per sf per yr for our space to $6. Move up food chain. Buy 600 acres at $12k per acre. Put a NHL team and a NHL-calibre arena in the middle. Drive up values to $112k per acre. Sell extra 500 acres. Make a profit of $50m. Put that in Brinks trucks. Take to Park Avenue. Give money to NHL. Get NHL franchise. This is typical entrepreneur-style thinking—each project is, in effect, self funded.
What went Wrong?
Everything. We needed three things from Ontario—1. priority review and approval of rezoning to allow us to build the Palladium (now Canadian Tire Centre), 2. private money buys franchise/builds new arena (this is not another SKY Dome where Ontario lost $450 million) but province builds new Palladium interchange at a cost of $30 million, 3. premier to come to Palm Beach in December and tell NHL that Ontario is a great place to invest in. Chain smoking, deal making liberal premier David Peterson says, “Yes” to all three requests then calls a summer election, two and a half years early, which he loses via nearly perfect vote splitting to Bob Rae and the NDP. I said to my team, “Don’t worry, jobs are just as important to the NDP as Libs.” No word from Bob in September or October. On November 29th just seven days before NHL’s winter meeting, Mr Rae writes me a letter.
We held a news conference. We made Mr Rae’s letter public knowing that if we don’t, they would. Everyone expected we would fold but we had collected 15,000 PRNs (season ticket registrations at $25 each) from the public, we had 500 corporate sponsors at $500 each and 31 original corporate partners at $15k each as well as bought lands for $7.2 million and spent another $2 million on the bid itself—there was no going back. We told the folks in Ottawa and the news media that we would go to Palm Beach, win a franchise and then beat our own government at the OMB where all the appointees were appointed by Libs or PCs.
Turning Disadvantages into Advantages
Mr Rae and his inner cabinet were asked by the Hamilton caucus to torpedo Ottawa’s bid. NDP was very strong in Hamilton Wentworth but had only one member of the legislature in Ottawa—Evelyn Gigantes who called the Palladium “a playpen for the rich.” Then Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington later said, “I’ll be damned if we should let some socialist premier tell us where to put our teams.” Hamilton bidder Ron Joyce held forth that they already had an NHL-calibre arena in Copps Coliseum but in fact Gino Rossetti (architect for the Palace of Auburn Hills where the Detroit Pistons play and the Palladium) had revolutionized stadium design so not having yet built an arena turned into an Ottawa advantage.
We were competing not only against Hamilton but also St Petersburg, Tampa, Houston, Milwaukee, Seattle, Portland… The Ottawa Citizen planned to go (an in fact did) with headline… “The Winners are Milwaukee and Seattle.”
Lydia Leeder’s Call
“It’s like Canada versus Russia in 1972!” Now that’s pressure.
“Mr Firestone, there’s just one thing I want to say: you will never, ever get a team in Ottawa.”
Phil Esposito and Bruce Firestone lobbying Board of Governors next morning. Where are the other bidders?
Bruce goes for a job. On his return, one of his staff says, “The NHL has made a decision.” “What decision?” :I don’t know.”
Basement of the Breakers Hotel
“It doesn’t look good. If we have lost, we’ll thank the NHL and then hold our own press conference.”
The NHL is Pleased and Proud to Announce
The NHL is pleased and proud to announce that conditional memberships have been awarded to the cities of Ottawa… and Tampa.”
What was the Vote?
“What was the vote, John?” “It was unanimous.
A Strange Call
Three weeks later, Bruce gets a telephone call.
They don’t actually give NHL franchises to cities; they give them to people.
The Florida Governor calls Phil to congratulate him. In Ontario, the Sens get a lawsuit from their provincial government.
At the OMB
2 and ½ days on the stand. The offer that Bruce makes against all advice.
Trust is the no. 1 thing in life. That to get anywhere in life, requires passion and commitment. S/he who loses her/his temper first, loses. It’s bootstrapped entrepreneurs for the most part who are shaping a sustainable future for communities across the planet.
1. It’s a question that a lot of entrepreneurs are asked. Why you? And what made you think of founding an NHL team in Ottawa.
2. How can anyone really know what to do in a difficult situation especially if it’s the first time they’ve ever faced it?
3. If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?
4. What was the best hockey advice you ever got?
5. How are the Sens going to do this year and who is better—the Sens, Leafs or Habs?
6. What was the lowest point in your effort to Bring Back the Senators?
7. You were the leader of the Bring Back the Sens effort. What makes a good leader?
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