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Katz Group Lands ‘Superstar Free Agent’ to Help Run New Company

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

‘Vision’ was the buzz word today at the Katz Group’s press conference, which announced the launch of the Oilers Entertainment Group and the hiring of former Hockey Canada President and CEO Bob Nicholson as Vice-Chairman.

“I’m excited,” Nicholson said.”I left a great position with Hockey Canada, but I honestly think that when I roll into this position that there’s a vision here from Daryl (Katz) that could be special. It might be the only job that has a vision like this for sport and entertainment in this country and maybe in North America.”

Photo by Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers

Oilers Entertainment Group is the new sports and entertainment company that will manage the Katz Group’s growing family of sports and entertainment assets. That family already consists of the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, Bakersfield Condors, Oklahoma City Barons and Aquilla Productions. In addition, the organization will operate the new, state-of-the-art Rogers Place arena and plan to seek out more acquisitions over time.

The four positions that were confirmed on Friday at the news conference were Nicholson, as well as Kevin Lowe in another Vice-Chairman role, Oilers owner Daryl Katz as Chairman and Patrick LaForge as President and Chief Operating Officer.

“The reality is that after knowing Bob for 14 years and having a great relationship with him on the hockey side, I think that his addition to this organization is going to go a long way to strengthening the hockey product and I really look forward to that,” Lowe said.

The highly sought after Nicholson is the savvy executive that the Katz Group has chosen to help execute the vision for the future of Oilers Entertainment Group and growing the business.

“I think Bob is a facilitator of progress and process and he’s a CEO and a leader,” LaForge said. “Certainly, Kevin and I have great relationships with Bob. There’s respect with all three of us, we’ve worked together many years and we understand each other’s decision process. The way I see it is it’s almost a team approach on every major strategic idea we’re going to take a run at and everybody will have a contribution and somebody will have accountability if it’s business or hockey or other sports. It’s the ultimate shared responsibility I think.”

LaForge likened Nicholson, who led the Hockey Canada program since 1998, to a prized free agent signing.

“I would characterize Bob as a superstar free agent in the world of sport, especially in international sport and entertainment. Our organization is going to grow with great people and Bob is just a terrific, terrific acquisition. I’m really please that he chose Edmonton for his next venture. He’s a super guy and a great leader and so we’re really glad to have him.”

In addition to the business side of things, Nicholson will be a voice in every facet of the organization including hockey operations with the Oilers and the other teams involved with Oilers Entertainment Group. Lowe says that Nicholson’s experience and fearlessness in the face of asking the tough questions is something the company will lean on early and often.

“I’ve asked Bob to, right from the get-go, to assess our organization from top to bottom,” Lowe said. “That’s what you do when you haven’t had success. However, we do run four hockey operations in this organization now. We’ve had good success with other organizations but we’re going to continue to try to improve and enhance those organizations as well as our main focus, which is the Oilers.”

“I think we’re going to have a great relationship,” Nicholson said of working with LaForge and Lowe. “We’re going to have good debates but we’re really going to pull this team together. That team is the off-ice team on the business side, the communications side, the event side and the hockey team. We’ve got a lot of different teams here, we’re going to pull it all into one and we’re going to have some great moments for fans here in Edmonton.”

In his position with Hockey Canada, Nicholson oversaw all operations for international competitions that Canada participated in. On his watch, Canada took home 76 medals in those competitions - 44 of them were gold.

It was Katz’s vision and the people he would work with that eventually lured Nicholson into his newest role.

“This position was really attractive for me because of Daryl Katz, Kevin Lowe and Patrick LaForge and the people first and foremost,” Nicholson said. “Then the opportunity, the new building and Daryl’s vision which I’m just starting to get pieces of and trying to put that in place. That’s what got me excited about coming here to Edmonton.”

Hiring Nicholson was just the first step in launching a sports and entertainment powerhouse that won’t reside in a “big city”, but will instead operate right here in Edmonton and help continue to push the city forward with progress.

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