When local businessman Ron Toigo was awarded the rights to a Western Hockey League expansion franchise more than a decade ago, he pledged to bring more than junior hockey to town. Toigo made it clear that he wanted to stage any and all of junior hockey’s biggest events in Vancouver.
And by landing—and successfully delivering—the CHL Top Prospects Game in 2005, the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2006, and the Memorial Cup in 2007, Toigo made good on his promise.
But those are all just memories now. Good memories, certainly, but memories that are starting to fade. And it’s clear to those who know him that Toigo is itching to start the cycle all over again, starting with the right to host the Memorial Cup in 2016, when it will be the West’s turn to host the venerable tournament. Toigo’s track record speaks for itself when it comes to preparing bids and making convincing presentations.
Although junior-hockey success is cyclical and hard to predict, Toigo believes the Giants have assembled a roster of young players designed to contend for a championship in three years. Now he’s got to find a way to win in the boardroom, too, when WHL governors vote on the 2016 host city a year from now.
“We like to think we’re confident, but we know that there are lots of good organizations out there and we know it’s become a very competitive bidding process,” Toigo told the Georgia Straight at a news conference in one of his White Spot restaurants. “At the end of the day, you have to get the votes. We’ll have the team that can succeed in 2016, so the Western Hockey League has to feel comfortable that it’ll be a team that can win the Memorial Cup. And with the entertainment package that we can put together, it’ll be hard to match. But at the end of the day, you need 11 votes [from the WHL board of governors], and we’ll work on that over the next year.”
In his effort to land the big prize, Toigo has a number of factors working in his favour. This year’s tournament is in Saskatoon; before that, the last time the Memorial Cup was hosted by a WHL team was in 2010 (Brandon). So 2016 will likely be time to move the junior championship back to a Western Conference city.
And for those who think it might be too soon to return to Vancouver, consider that the Ontario Hockey League this month awarded next year’s Memorial Cup tournament to the London Knights, who also played host to the 2005 tournament. So there is recent precedent for going back to a city within 10 years.
Most importantly, the Giants are the main tenants in a 16,000-seat facility and have demonstrated an ability to sell out the building for big events. Toigo doesn’t yet know which other franchises plan to throw their hats into the hosting ring, but he still believes no one will be able to top the Giants’ proposal.
“We’ll put a package together that, if you look at it objectively, will be difficult to turn down,” he said. “But there are others that will feel the same way, and there are a lot of other organizations in the WHL that are capable of putting on a good show. But we’ll do our best. The bar keeps getting raised for every one of these events, and the demands are put on them to be more entertaining than the last one. When we hosted back in ’07, we did a very good job, and by most accounts, it’s still one of the best Memorial Cups ever, and we have to be better the next time around when we go after it.”
To enhance his proposal, Toigo recently brought his long-time friend and high-profile talent agent Bruce Allen into his ownership group. Toigo knows that events like the Memorial Cup are centred around hockey but involve much more than the on-ice product alone.
From technical issues like sound and lighting to enhance the game experience to bringing in big-name acts to perform during tournament week, Toigo is excited about the strategic partnership with Allen.
“It’s all about the value the fans get from their entertainment dollar, and everybody is competing for that same entertainment dollar,” he said. “We really like to think our ratio for value to entertainment is the highest in the city. We always push that envelope and we always want to be the best we can, and having Bruce onboard to help us out on that side of the equation is huge, and it’s something that no one else has.”
For his part, the outspoken Allen—a huge sports fan—is looking forward to taking all that he’s learned in his many years in the entertainment industry and applying it to the way the Giants do business.
“There are always events around the event, and that’s where I step in,” Allen explained at the news conference. “I just ask, ‘What can I do to help Ron make an event better?’ It’s fun to be involved in sports and to share the wins. That’s enjoyable for me. In the entertainment business, my whole career has been based on the public taste. In sports, it’s just based on your wins and losses. You win, you’re great; you lose, you’re not. The idea is to go out there and win.”
It’s clear Allen has been brought into the fold to help the Giants win the right to host the 2016 Memorial Cup and, beyond that, another world junior championship, likely in 2019.
Toigo feels that he’s been sitting on the sidelines long enough and it’s time to get back into the hosting game. And it’s pretty clear, based on his track record, that Toigo usually gets what he’s looking for.
With that in mind, the rest of the junior-hockey world should probably start making plans to be in Vancouver three years from now.