SBJ/Nov. 18-24, 2013/In Depth

The Building Managers: Bob Hunter

Executive vice president of venues and entertainment, Air Canada Centre, BMO Field, Ricoh Coliseum, General Motors Centre

Bob Hunter’s plan was to work in sports medicine, but his internship when he was a graduate student at the University of Washington was an eye-opener.

“I realized that I really did not want to work with athletes,” he said.

So Hunter started his career at Ontario Place, a 96-acre entertainment complex in Toronto. “I was not a mascot, although that would have been a much more fun job considering all the hours I was working,” he said.

Hunter’s boss was friends with Harry Renaud, the former Montreal Expos chief financial officer and current general manager at BC Place, the $126 million, 60,000-seat stadium that was being developed for the CFL BC Lions and NASL Vancouver Whitecaps. In 1982, Hunter accepted Renaud’s offer to run the new venue.

In early 1987, Hunter was recruited to oversee the development of the $500 million SkyDome (now Rogers Centre),
Photo by: MLSE
which would serve as home to the Toronto Blue Jays. It was here that he met some of his biggest in-the-trenches challenges.

“One night back in 2001, we hosted the Backstreet Boys, when they were the unbelievably hot commodity,” Hunter said. “We totally lost control of the floor seating early in the night. It took us an hour and a half to get it back. I was fighting with screaming, fighting kids — teenage girls mostly. And at one point I looked around and asked myself, ‘Why exactly am I in this business. Is this my future?’ But in this business you have a tendency to forget the bad. A lot of people don’t last because it really is a different, difficult lifestyle. I mean, you work when other people don’t.”
Hunter took a hiatus from the sports world in 1994 to launch a real estate investment consulting firm. But in January 1998, he returned to the sports and entertainment industry.

“Richard Peddie, my former boss, tricked me into coming back. He said ‘We’re opening this new arena for the Raptors and we’d really love to have you on the team.’ So I came back and five weeks later we were bought by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the whole design of my role and the arena and everything really became more hockey-centric rather than basketball-centric. And now — scary thought — I’ve been here almost 15 years after getting tricked.”

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