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They shoot! They score!

The business of sports is a big one
October 18, 2019
By Sean Farrell

Thérèse Brisson Thérèse Brisson won a gold medal in women’s hockey in 2002 and now serves on the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Concordia alumni have scaled a variety of summits on the fields and in the arenas of the sporting world, but they have also played significant roles in the business side of sports. 

Their careers have taken them to the Olympics, the World Series and the Super Bowl, and they have made their marks on the Stanley Cup, the Grey Cup and the Clarkson Cup. And the business of sports can be quite different than other business ventures, but very close to other forms of entertainment. 

Concordia lecturer Moshe Lander touches on one of the key reasons why, when he references the central point of a 1956 article by economist Simon Rottenberg that essentially launched the study of the economics of sports: “He (Rottenberg) basically said that anybody who’s buying sports is buying the uncertainty of outcome,” Lander says. “So it’s not totally different from other forms of entertainment, movies, television, that if you know how the episode or how the movie is going to end it takes out some of the enjoyment.” 

This feature looks at a number of former Concordia students who continue to make their marks in this unique business arena.

‘I got real-life experience in a good, solid studio setting.’

Greg Kwizak, BA 06

Greg Kwizak, BA 06, is a major player at “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” which is the actual registered trademark of New York’s Madison Square Garden. 

As a senior vice-president at the Madison Square Garden Company, Kwizak is responsible for Event Production and Back of House Operations for all sporting events and concerts at the company’s venues, including MSG Arena, Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theatre and the Hulu Theater at MSG. 

Prior to taking on this new role over the summer, Kwizak had served as senior vice-president of Event Presentation for the New York Rangers of the NHL and the New York Knicks of the NBA. Regarding his previous role he says, “We work in sports, but we work in entertainment and it is the fan experience. 

“I work with an incredibly talented team that oversees Rangers and Knicks event presentation, and all areas of programming and day-to-day operations for in-arena activity. It all ties back to fan engagement and the experience that fans should get, when they come to a game. It’s this complex, dynamic experience that’s really set against the sport of the night. You can’t control how the team is doing, but we program every iota in and around what’s happening on the ice or on the court.” 

In addition to running the scoreboard, public address system, videos and music, ads, promotions and animation, the MSG team is responsible for everything that goes into the production of special ceremonies, such as jersey-retirement nights. Kwizak is particularly proud of the work the team did prior to a game in February 2019 when he directed the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup. 

“Concordia just gave me a good foundation and supplied me the tools so that I can create,” Kwizak says. “I remember in my last year, there was a TV-production class and our teacher was Liz Miller, and we were really charged with putting together a short television show, and everybody had a role and I was a co-executive producer. “And I just got real-life experience in a good, solid studio setting and the resources were well supplied at the time.”

Concordia teaches real things, not just textbook examples.

Mark Weightman, BComm 96

Mark Weightman, BComm 96, is the vice-president of development and operations for the Laval Rocket and Place Bell at Groupe CH, the company that owns the Montreal Canadiens. 

Weightman, who was previously president of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, oversees all commercial and business operations for the Rocket, an American Hockey League franchise that is the Canadiens’ top farm team, and manages the Laval arena complex that includes a 10,000-seat rink. 

“It’s not true that minor-league sports have minor-league venues anymore, because it’s still the same person spending the same Canadian currency to come see a show,” Weightman says. “And so you’re seeing more and more AHL venues, minor league baseball venues, that are sometimes every bit as modern with the creature comforts of a Bell Centre that you will find here even at Place Bell.” 

Weightman praises Concordia’s “real education for the real world” ethos. 

“That says everything you need to know about Concordia,” Weightman says. “I was very fortunate to have one professor in particular, a marketing teacher, Bryan Barbieri, who was a big sports fan. He would often use sports as a parallel to everything that we would talk about in our marketing classes. I was very lucky just to happen to fall into having him as a teacher. That helped join my two passions of marketing and sports. 

“I like learning and experiencing things that are real, not just examples from a textbook. And I felt that in my time at Concordia, they did a great job of that. We had a lot of professors who also worked in the industry who would come back and teach. To me, it made it relevant.” 

First female NHL scout

Cammi Granato

Concordia Stingers star Cammi Granato has a long history of staking a place for women in the hockey world. This fall, she broke new ground as the first woman named as a professional scout in the history of the National Hockey League, having been hired on September 24, 2019, by the Seattle expansion team that will begin playing in the 2021-22 season.

“What a time in sports right now, seeing all sorts of ceilings shattered by women,” Granato says on the as-yet unnamed team’s official website. “If I can inspire someone to become a scout or work in an NHL front office, that's amazing.”

In 2010, she and Angela James became the first women players in the Hockey Hall of Fame. She is also a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame (2008), the United States Hockey Hall of Fame (2008) and the Concordia Sports Hall of Fame (2009), both as an individual and as a member of the 1995-96 Stingers women’s hockey team.

Named Concordia Female Athlete of the Year in 1995, Granato had 179 goals and 330 points in 125 games during her three seasons with the Stingers from 1994-97.

“Cammi’s not just there to fiddle with the dials,” says TV hockey analyst Craig Button, who also has experience as an NHL scout and executive. “The thing about great players, the thing about Hall of Fame players, they’re interested in being great. They want to be the best at everything they do and Cammi fits that to a T.”

The greatest scorer in American women’s hockey history, Granato was captain of the U.S. team that captured the gold medal in the first Olympic women’s hockey tournament in 1998 and carried the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies in Nagano, Japan. Seattle general manager Ron Francis is a fellow Hall of Fame player who played with Granato’s husband, Ray Ferraro, for the Hartford Whalers.

“I want to stress that Cammi's résumé is why she got the job,” Francis says on the team website. “She knows the pro game and its players. When we talked about the role and how it is going to work, I mentioned the organization’s overall commitment to diversity.”

The business of wrestling

Cammi Granato Tamara Medwidsky (right), here with fellow Stingers wrestler Martine Dugrenier, was inducted into Concordia's Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

Tamara Medwidsky, GrDip 00, MBA 03, acquired a wealth of real-world experience at Concordia that is relevant to her position as executive director of Wrestling Canada Lutte.

Medwidsky participated in a variety of sports growing up, yet she only discovered the one she truly excelled at during her senior year at the University of Toronto, where she completed her bachelor of science degree.

“I don’t really know what would have happened if I hadn’t started wrestling,” Medwidsky says. “Would I have ended up at Concordia? Who knows?” Medwidsky became an elite wrestler while continuing her studies at Concordia, all the while shifting her field of concentration to business.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Medwidsky says. “I don’t think many individuals have that opportunity. Working in the sport that I had my athletic career in has been tremendous, but not without its challenges.”

One of the biggest challenges her sport has faced occurred in 2013, when the International Olympic Committee voted to drop wrestling from their program less than 10 years after women began competing in Olympic wrestling in Athens. A campaign to reinstate wrestling was successful and more women’s events were added for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“Over the last, you know, five, six years since that we’ve definitely raised the profile of the sport from a marketing and communication standpoint,” Medwidsky says. “It’s actually been really great. So I think that whole situation actually strengthened wrestling and really brought us back together.”

Thérèse Brisson, BSc 89 Thérèse Brisson on the cover of the Winter 2010 Concordia University Magazine

In 2016, Tamara Medwidsky was inducted into the Concordia Sports Hall of Fame, which also counts Thérèse Brisson (inducted in 1997) and Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux (inducted in 2018) among its members. Both Stingers hockey greats are still involved in sports in their respective professional lives.

Brisson, BSc 89, a six-time International Ice Hockey Federation world champion and Olympic silver (1998) and gold medal (2002) winner, is a member of the board of directors of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

“What we do with the Canadian Olympic team is a nation-building project,” Brisson says. “A nation that is inspired by the performance and the passion of the Canadian Olympic team. I don’t know of anything that inspires excellence not just in sport, but through sport – and unites our country in the same way. We don’t see Canadians come together as much as we do when we’re cheering on our national team at the highest levels. People don’t paint the maple leaf on their faces to go the opera, they just don’t – right? But they do for Team Canada at the Olympics.”

Brisson has been a marketing executive for the past 15 years, first with P&G Canada and now with Kimberly-Clark. “As an athlete, I had a lot of interest and passion for people’s health and fitness,” Brisson says. “I learned a lot about that while I was at Concordia, and while working toward that B.Sc. in Exercise Science, I played varsity hockey. I think that everything I do today leading teams, people and businesses, I learned in playing hockey where it’s all about building high-performance teams to achieve high-performance goals.

“There were many lessons learned on the journey from Concordia to the Canadian Olympic team, where I had the opportunity to perform on the highest stage, where one in five Canadians are watching. Everything I do today is about real passion for building high-performance teams and championing people development. Evidence-based decision making is also important. We did all of that as athletes. For me, that started at Concordia, where I played hockey, and did my first formal training as a scientist.”

Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, BA 04 Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux hopes women’s professional hockey returns to Canada.

Breton-Lebreux, BA 04, the Stingers’ strength and conditioning coordinator, finds her position as assistant coach of Les Canadiennes women’s hockey team in limbo. Professional women’s hockey is at a crucial crossroads with the spring 2019 demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which Breton-Lebreux had co-founded in 2007.

“This came as a shock, where the sports and the league and our team in Montreal is at the highest point of everything,” Breton-Lebreux says. “I’m really proud of how we started and where we took it, and no one will take that away from me, ever. And I hope that it will continue. But it’s really sad. I’m really sad.”

The way forward is unclear in the wake of the CWHL’s failed attempt to pursue a not-for-profit business plan, in contrast to the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League.

“That is the basic tenet of business, that it has to be for profit,” business lecturer Moshe Lander says. “What you do with the profits is up to you. But you have to be in it to win it. The guiding principle is that if you have investors and stakeholders and you’re telling them that the objective here is a return on investment, or that there’s a return on assets — whatever the return is, there’s got to be a return for it.

“So even Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, if they want to get behind this product, they have to be in it for the purpose of making a profit. Otherwise, you’re not going to be around long — you can’t function in a scenario where you’re not trying to maximize earnings.”

Fingers are crossed that women’s professional hockey will find the right business model in order to prosper in the sports world, which offers a unique product to its consumers, the fans.

“It’s unscripted entertainment and so leagues will fall over themselves to try and ensure that the outcome is not predictable,” Lander says. “So whenever you see competition committees reviewing rules, or changing free agency or salary caps, the entire aim is, at least publicly, to try and assure the public that what you’re watching is not professional wrestling. It’s not pre-determined and that’s how you get fans to pay.

“It’s that you want to be on the edge of your seat, and this is exciting, and it’s going to a second overtime. You get invested in it because you want your team to win. But even there, the euphoria of the win, and the catastrophe of the loss is what you’re signing up for. It’s not fun to sign up for something where you know you’re going to win. And vice-versa. It’s not fun to sign up for something where you know you’re going to lose.”

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