Tom Anselmi hire opens doors beyond hockey in Edmonton

Tom Anselmi has been hired as the President, Business Operations and COO for Oilers Entertainment Group. (Chris Young/CP)

EDMONTON — The Oilers Entertainment Group has always wanted to be like MLSE — Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment — or perhaps even bigger.

So it seemed an obvious question when Tom Anselmi, who once guided MLSE and has signed on as the President, Business Operations and COO in Edmonton, was asked, "When are you bringing in an NBA team?"

"Uh, my guess is it’s going to be a little while here. But who knows?" he responded.

We get it – Edmonton is never going to be Toronto, with the Raptors, the Blue Jays, and those constant, nagging National Football League aspirations. But this little prairie berg has always had greater success than Toronto at hosting one-off events like the World Track and Field Championships, World Figure Skating Championships, and games for our national soccer teams.

The dream is to get back to the forefront in Edmonton, so last weekend while in Spain at the UEFA Champions League final, OEG’s Bob Nicholson sat down for a chat with the Chairman of Wanda Group — the Beijing-based, multinational corporation that owns a piece of Atletico Madrid. Wanda also owns the marketing company with the TV rights for all FIFA events from 2015-22 — including two World Cups — and many other valuable sports properties worldwide.

Nicholson, who will pass most of his operational duties to Anselmi’s desk, as he becomes the Oilers’ Chairman, is in charge of getting Edmonton back in the international sporting game, and taking the OEG brand abroad as well.

"There’s UFC. There’s soccer…," Nicholson began. "Everyone knows Daryl Katz, and this will give us a chance to grow that vision again.

"We want to look at what we can do in Edmonton, but make no mistake: We’re looking a lot bigger than Edmonton for where we might take that reach," Nicholson said. "We want to be a global leader in sports and entertainment. It’s about the Oilers — that’s why Daryl got involved — but you can see what he’s done to the city here. Now that he’s starting to see that dream (unfold), he’d like to take it to a much more global vision."

Still, this is a hockey town. So getting the Oilers up off their knees is priority No. 1. New hire Ken Holland is in charge of the on-ice side of that equation, with Anselmi responsible for the rest. His resume includes being the CEO in Toronto, GM of Arena Operations in Vancouver, and opening Rogers Centre where the Blue Jays play.

"I’ve opened a bunch of buildings, and it takes a few years to get the kinks out and figure it out," Anselmi said of Rogers Place, which will open its fourth NHL season in October. "Hopefully we can take where we’re at and make it better. Make the team better, the experience better, the food and beverage better… And while we’re doing that, we can have start thinking about how to grow the business.

"We’re in a league that allows you to share and steal all the best ideas, so we’ve got to make sure we’re doing the best of everything. We’ve got all the technology here to do whatever we want to do."

Think about it.

Edmonton is small, with a metro population of just over a million people. But it’s got the newest major arena in Canada, the best hockey player in Canada, Commonwealth Stadium, and an emerging Ice District with room to host an OEG version of Jurassic Park that is at least twice the size of the area outside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

Meanwhile, the arena in Calgary is well past its due date, and Vancouver is not that far behind.

"Every (concert) tour plays Montreal and Toronto and maybe Vancouver," Anselmi said. "After that, you’ve got to work hard to make yourself be great. We’ve got a great building, so they do want to play here."

You want some pie in the sky ideas?

How about a deal that sees the Raptors here every pre-season? How about a new, domed stadium that seats 35,000? Could OEG help the Eskimos and the CFL? Undoubtedly, they could.

Winnipeg gets an NFL pre-season game this year? Why not here next?

A World Cup of Hockey partially played out West? Why not?

The possibilities are endless, as is Katz’ desire to drive a global brand. But it starts with the hockey team, and as you can see this spring, whatever was wrong with "the water" here, they’re doing everything that can to change out the plumbing.

And the plumbers.

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