IMG email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2005-02-10 published
Gerry PATTERSON, Sports Agent 1933-2005
Starting with Jean Beliveau, he managed his clients in the style of big business. Nancy Greene, Guy Lafleur, Gordie Howe, Don Cherry and many others soon followed
By Allison LAWLOR, Special to The Globe and Mail, Thursday, February 10, 2005 - Page S7
Forever the optimist, Gerry PATTERSON set out boldly in the late 1960s to become the Mark McCormack of Canada. Based on the American sports marketing giant's business model, Mr. PATTERSON introduced a daring new way to manage sports stars in Canada. His pioneering idea was to run an athlete in the style of big business. "I am not an agent, but a corporate manager," he once told a reporter.
Mr. PATTERSON decided early that, if he were going to make it in the competitive sports world, he had to start at the top. Like Mr. McCormack, who got his start in 1960 with a young golfer named Arnold Palmer and from there built his IMG empire, Mr. PATTERSON decided he needed a sports icon of his own. He set his sights on Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau.
After a long and difficult courting period that included many days and nights of negotiating around Mr. PATTERSON's dining-room table, he and Mr. Beliveau shook hands in 1969.
"He wouldn't take no for an answer," said Scott PATTERSON, his son. "It's like he just wouldn't go away."
Mr. PATTERSON quit his marketing job at Canadian International Paper in Montreal and was soon following through on his promise to make Mr. Beliveau a lot of money in the marketplace. He worked out deals that saw the hockey legend's face on milk cartons, in General Motors commercials and as the spokesman for Scotiabank. The success was so big that Jean Beliveau Inc. was soon created.
At that time, Mr. PATTERSON also formed his company, Sports Management Inc., which would use the Beliveau model for baseball slugger Rusty Staub, Olympic ski champion Nancy Greene, and hockey greats Guy Lafleur and Gordie Howe. Don Cherry also credits Mr. PATTERSON for getting him on television and radio.
It was a year after signing on Mr. Beliveau that Mr. PATTERSON added Mr. Howe to his growing stable of top athletes. The handshake followed a Saturday night pre-game dinner with Mr. Beliveau, Mr. Howe, Mr. PATTERSON and his business partner, Jerry PETRIE. It was Mr. PATTERSON who would later negotiate the deal that saw Mr. Howe come out of retirement in 1973 to play with his sons Mark and Marty on the World Hockey Association's Houston Aeros.
"He was a giant," said Ralph MELLANBY, former executive producer of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Television's Hockey Night in Canada. "He changed the fabric of sport in Canada."
Born in the Niagara region of Ontario, Gerry PATTERSON was the son of Martha and Herald PATTERSON, an oil-truck deliveryman. The family moved to Windsor, Ontario, when Mr. PATTERSON was still a young boy. A sports enthusiast all his life, he played basketball and baseball as a kid, but didn't have as much luck when it came to football. Mr. MELLANBY, who attended the same high school as Mr. PATTERSON, remembers during a tryout for the junior football team of having his affable friend threaten to become a cheerleader if he didn't beat him. Mr. PATTERSON followed through on his threat and ended up on the school cheerleading team. As luck would have it, he met and married a fellow team member named Wilma.
After high school, Mr. PATTERSON moved to Hamilton, where he took a management training program with Ford Motor Co. Years later, he would be back in Steeltown trying to bring in a National Hockey League franchise. In 1990, after two years of work, Mr. PATTERSON swallowed a bitter rejection pill. His consortium had lost its bid.
In 1962, he moved his family to Montreal. Despite his climb up the management ladder at Canadian International Paper, Mr. PATTERSON itched to follow his dream of marketing athletes. Aside from starting Sports Management Inc., he also co-owned Special Event Television with Mr. MELLANBY. The company produced several shows, including Mr. Cherry's Grapevine, Howie Meeker Pro Tips and Duke Snider's Baseball Pro Tips.
Mr. PATTERSON is credited with starting to market the Grapes nickname by which Mr. Cherry is known to Friends and television fans. The nickname is said to have come from an encounter with the late Eddie Shore, who dismissed an argument over money by saying, "That's just sour grapes."
Mr. PATTERSON and Mr. MELLANBY invented Grapevine and got the Hamilton television show going in the early 1980s. It later moved to national distribution. Mr. PATTERSON also suggested Mr. Cherry's Grapevines restaurant chain, but he dropped out after a two-year search for the right location in Hamilton.
"Gerry took me under his wing when I came [to Ontario] from Colorado," said Mr. Cherry, referring to his return to Canada in 1981 after being fired by the Colorado Rockies after one season.
Before long, he was helping out Mr. Cherry, who was feeling down on his luck, by lining up speaking engagements in small towns across Ontario. In those days, Mr. Cherry didn't draw the crowds he does today. Sometimes, he'd look out at the audience and see only a handful of faces, including that of his short, pudgy, ever-smiling friend, Gerry PATTERSON.
"He'd be the only one laughing," Mr. Cherry said.
One night, while driving to a speaking event together, Mr. Cherry performed a trial run of a new speech he had written. It was 20-minute motivational talk, and Mr. PATTERSON wasn't impressed. "Horseshit," he told Mr. Cherry. "Grapes, people just want to hear you and your stories. People don't want to be lectured on life."
In 1981, Mr. PATTERSON really came through for his friend when he marched into CFRB in Toronto and told the radio executives that he wanted to get Mr. Cherry on a sports talk show. After being told there were 100 guys just like Mr. Cherry vying for the same shot, Mr. PATTERSON pulled out a $91,000 cheque and put it on the table.
"Gerry got me on the radio," Mr. Cherry said. "The first week I said to Gerry, 'Do you think we'll have enough stories for the rest of the week?' "
Today, the syndicated radio talk show is played on more than 100 stations and has nearly one million listeners a week.
Despite his success as a sports agent, Mr. PATTERSON, who also served for a time as executive director of the Canadian Football League's Players Association, didn't stay long in the business. In 1974, just five years after starting Sports Management Inc., he sold his company to Mr. PETRIE.
"Had he stayed with it, he could have been the Mark McCormack of Canada," said Mr. MELLANBY, who thought his friend made a big mistake by leaving the business.
But, according to Mr. MELLANBY, Mr. PATTERSON had aspirations to become president of the National Hockey League and had been told that he first needed experience. In an effort to learn the ropes, he took over as commissioner of the National Lacrosse League. When he left the National Lacrosse League, he moved on to several different things, including director of marketing for CCM Canada, and as a consultant to the Montreal Olympics. He also published a book called Behind the Superstars: The Business Side of Sports.
He had completed another manuscript for a self-help book he meant to bring out under the title "Suxxess" but hadn't published it. Known for his positive sayings, even his car's licence plate had one: UCANXL.
"I never saw Gerry without a smile on his face," Mr. Cherry said.
Gerry PATTERSON was born on August 19, 1933, in Humberstone, Ontario, a community now part of Port Colborne. He died in St. Catharines, Ontario, on January 21 of a heart attack while out walking his dog. He was 71. He is survived by his wife, Trudy, daughters Jill and Myla, sons Scott, Kevin and Kim, sisters Dolores and Carol, and brother Wayne.
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