Welcome to Yahoo Canada Sports’ 2015 Movers and Shakers – the 25 people who, in the judgment of the Yahoo Canada Sports editorial team along with input from former executives and current insiders, wielded the most influence over Canadian sport this year. We invite you to chime in @YahooCASports or in the comments below. Over the next holiday week, we’ll also present our top 25 Athletes of the Year, 2015’s Unsung Heroes, and a look at the Sports People to Watch in 2016.
5. Gary Bettman
He takes some stick, especially from Canadian fans of the NHL, but the league commissioner is behind the scenes as ever a large figure when it comes to standing up for the interests – and noting the revenue-generating power, even in this age of a depressed loonie – of its seven franchises north of the U.S. border. Witness his close attention to the Rogers-NHL broadcasting deal, including (more stick ahead) a personal push for a central role for George Stroumboulopoulos as part of a bid for a younger (or at least, less greying) audience and presentation. Sometimes, too, it's the absence of controversy that points to Bettman's steady hand at the wheel, as in his go-slow pronouncements on expansion, leaving the PR end of that process to his deputy Bill Daly, and the near complete lack of any negative fallout from the November resignation of league COO John Collins.
4. Alex Anthopoulos
A generation removed from the days when the nee-SkyDome was rocking to successive World Series titles, the Rogers Centre was again a place to be from August to deep into October and Anthopolous was being serenaded by grateful fans. The Blue Jays general manager’s trades and acquisitions over the past year included 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson and midseason blue-chip pickups Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere and David Price, and vaulted the team to a division flag and its first playoff appearance in 22 years. The shock waves continued after the club lost the American League Championship Series to Kansas City: on the same day he was named The Sporting News’ executive of the year, Anthopoulos announced he had turned down a contract extension and was leaving the club.
3. P.K. Subban
“The NHL doesn’t market players – they market teams,” he told Sportsnet’s Shannon Proudfoot. Subban is changing that paradigm one shift and one sound bite at a time, and no hockey player, and indeed few athletes of any stripe can come close to matching his rare combination of personality, flair, and of late, marketing clout and philanthropy. Take Pernell Karl’s wry reaction to a recent call for a more Gallic pronunciation of his titular initials as a f’rinstance: “Just start calling me Denzel, why not?” he said, dousing any possible sparks and skating around Quebec’s tricky language politics. Over 700,000 followers on Twitter would call him much more than that, after a 2015 in which his $10-million donation over the next seven years was hailed by recipients at Montreal Children’s Hospital as the largest commitment ever made by a Canadian sports figure.
2. George Cope
As CEO of Bell Media and BCE, Cope oversaw a number of end-of-year rights deals for the telco’s CTV/TSN/RDS broadcasting family that changes the TV furniture some for Canadian sports fans, including exclusive coverage of Masters golf and tennis’s Grand Slam events, after a year in which TSN scored well with its Women’s World Cup soccer coverage. But it was Cope’s co-purchase of the CFL Argos, and an extension of TSN’s broadcasting deal with the league to 2021 that shook the earth the most. The league almost immediately approved the Argos’ new BMO Field home to host next year’s Grey Cup and one more title game down the road, thus signalling the new owners’ intent to restore some lustre to a forlorn patch of Canadian sports and give the whole league and perhaps even its TV ratings an upgrade - although the ownership stake played no role, November’s Grey Cup did show a boost.
1. Guy Laurence
The Rogers CEO is our No. 1 Mover and Shaker as the steward of the two largest concerns in Canadian sport over the past 12 months. Rogers received mixed returns on the completion last spring of the first year of the network’s outsized NHL broadcasting deal, the good news coming in a “10 per cent profit,” Laurence told the Globe and Mail, and the not so rosy side illustrated by flickering ratings in the country’s biggest TV market of Toronto, and in the playoffs, the lack of any Canadian content beyond the second round. The ratings success of Rogers’ other major property, the Blue Jays, points to the vagaries of live sports deals, even in an era of increased interest in cord-cutting: No matter the packaging or the number of zeroes on the cheques – and Laurence signed off on a few of those that keyed the Jays’ run and rebirth of the country's Major League Baseball franchise as a national treasure (and a rights package for next year’s World Cup of Hockey as well) – winning does tend to be the closest guarantee of a good ROI.
More on Movers and Shakers
Tuesday: Nos. 25-16
Wednesday: Nos. 15-6
Thursday: The Top 5 Movers and Shakers of 2015
Thursday: 2015's Top Athletes in Canadian Sport
Monday (Dec. 28): The Unsung Heroes of 2015
Tuesday (Dec. 29): Who to Watch in 2016