Burke barks on about the business of hockey

By David Scott
March 13, 2014

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Burke1Gabe Ramos, Special to Western News
Brian Burke, acting general manager and president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames, brought his trademarked straight-shooting self to the Ivey Business School last week in support of You Can Play, a charity dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.

Known for his gruffness, Brian Burke didn’t disappoint the audience last week at the BMO Financial Group Auditorium at Ivey Business School. After a thorough introduction, that included his achievements in hockey and his law degree from Harvard, his first words were:

“You know when you have an introduction that takes that long, you can’t keep a goddamn job.”

On invitation of the Western Sport Business Club, Burke spoke about entering the highly competitive world of professional sports.




Currently acting general manager and president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames, Burke has held a number of pro hockey posts in the past with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. He also served as GM for the U.S. Men’s National Team on three occasions and was recently with the team at the Sochi Olympics as director of player personnel.

Every time Burke leaves a team – and he has left a lot – he gets rid of every piece of gear that has that team’s logo on it. “My neighbours are always happy,” he says as he never throws away any team merchandise, but gives it away.

Burke claimed to be on the lookout for new talent 365 days a year (players and staff). There are certain things he looks for on a resume, like diversity of experience and especially community service. Burke’s three rules to success in the world of sports are:

1)      Make sure you have another skill (a backup plan);

2)      Have good grades and a strong work ethic; and  

3)      Give back to your community.

In speaking about being a GM in the NHL, Burke said it’s a small industry. “There’s a high casualty rate. If you envision some kind of life for yourself (outside of work), don’t do this.

“I work my ass off at everything I do.”

There is no clear entry into the business. But not wanting to discourage the crowd, Burke said more opportunities are available on the business side, rather than the talent side of any professional sports organization. “The business needs bright young people.”

Like any big business, there are opportunities in sports for human resources staff, IT workers, accountants, etc. Burke said there is a banking industry built around buying and selling teams, and offering financing and credit for existing teams. As well, there are hundreds involved in the agent side of the business.

Burke also spoke of the big business of television contracts and pro sports. “The only things you need to watch live on TV are elections and pro sports. Everything else you can PVR.”

 Burke’s other pearls of wisdom included:

  • “If you don’t work hard, you’re going to get outworked.”
  • “This industry can absorb good people.”
  • “I haven’t fired a coach I hired yet.”
  • “Don’t ever promise your kid life will be fair.”

And then there was perhaps the most Burkian piece of advice: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what people think of me.”

All proceeds of the ticketed event were donated to the You Can Play Project, youcanplayproject.org, a charity created in honour of Burke’s late son, Brendan, and co-founded by his son, Patrick. You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect, and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.


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