The Summer of Ovi
As Alex Ovechkin collected the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in Las Vegas on June 7, his bushy brown beard could not hide his enthusiasm or his gap-toothed smile.
While the team took turns passing the Cup around on the ice at T-Mobile Arena, Ovechkin’s longtime agent — and lifetime Capitals fan — David Abrutyn headed onto the ice and relayed a message to his client: Don’t shave.
A few days earlier, Abrutyn, a partner at Bruin Sports Capital, had reached out to Greg Via, the global head of sports, esports and entertainment marketing and partnerships for Procter & Gamble and Gillette, about a potential opportunity for the company to do something with Ovechkin if the Capitals were to win the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin had a partnership with Gillette from 2010 to 2014, in which he appeared in several commercials, as well as Russian-specific campaigns.
Wins Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy. Parties in Las Vegas before returning to Washington, D.C., with the Capitals the next day
Throws out first pitch at Washington Nationals game
Heads to New York City, appears on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”
Capitals championship parade
Does Gillette activation, shaves beard
Attends NHL awards show in Las Vegas
Travels to Russia
Stanley Cup arrives in Russia for Ovechkin’s allotted two-day celebration with it. He takes the Cup to Moscow to the FIFA Fan Fest for the World Cup and to his childhood rink, where he celebrates with his father.
Private hockey game with Russian government officials. Takes the Cup with his family to the grave of his older brother. Takes Cup to Red Square.
Films content for his Nike and CCM sponsorships in Russia
Returns to the U.S., where he and his wife will stay at their apartment in Miami for a vacation. Will take part in sponsor obligations related to his Fanatics partnership.
Wife due with their first child; will take part in Upper Deck-related marketing for the upcoming season.
Capitals training camp begins
Abrutyn knew he had to act quickly that night. “Some of the guys who showed up at the postgame family party at the hotel had already shaved,” he said. He planted the idea in Ovechkin’s ear, and roughly a week later, a Gillette campaign spread across social media that documented Ovechkin shaving his beard off in his Northern Virginia home.
That night marked the start of what could be called the summer of Ovi, and it was the first of many business decisions the newly crowned champion has had to face. From Vegas nightclubs to a hero’s welcome in D.C. to talk shows in New York to the World Cup in his native Russia, Ovechkin has never been far from the Cup, or the spotlight, and he has caught the attention of companies around the globe.
Ovechkin, 32, has been one of the NHL’s most visible players since his debut in 2005, his gregarious personality and prolific goal-scoring prowess making him an instant standout in a league that has few big stars. But his fame has reached a new level, and he now has plenty of partners wanting their own moment with Ovi.
“I do arguably think he’s the most globally recognized hockey player for a variety of reasons, one of which is his unique personality and his charisma,” Abrutyn said. “Certainly, the celebration that has followed and the unbridled joy of the moment that has carried throughout the city and in some cases around the world has opened up even more doors.”
Almost instantly after the Capitals won the Cup, the inquiries regarding the opportunity to partner with Ovechkin started to flood in, Abrutyn said. Those requests spanned from North American NHL league-level sponsors looking to see if it was possible to work on something before the start of next season, to Russian companies that were hoping to capitalize on undoubtedly the most recognizable athlete in the country. There’s also been some heavy discussions around literary, television and digital content projects.
Currently, Ovechkin has partnerships with Nike, Beats by Dre and CCM. He has a global relationship with Fanatics and Upper Deck and is an investor in Papa John’s in Russia, as well as the company’s face in that country.
While Ovi has been partying anywhere and everywhere with the Cup, Abrutyn has been working hard behind the scenes. He joined his client in Russia earlier this month, pitching Ovechkin ideas and updating him on the progress of new deals.
In fact, one sponsorship contract was effectively struck while Abrutyn was in the country, with Ovechkin finding a day in his schedule this month or next to take part in a production for it. Abrutyn declined to comment on who the partnership was with as the deal has not been fully finalized.
Abrutyn said he’s in discussions with companies in about eight to 10 different categories, with some of the deepest conversations thus far having come with brands in the beverage, auto and watch categories. He declined to provide further information because the discussions are ongoing.
Part of the balance for Abrutyn is dealing with the shortened offseason Ovechkin has — the Capitals return to training camp on Sept. 14 — as well as Ovechkin’s desire to have fewer partners in exchange for signing long-term, expansive deals. For example, Ovechkin’s relationship with Nike dates back nearly nine years, and he’s currently playing on a 13-year contract with the Capitals that expires after the 2021 season.
When you look at a moment like this where people see his personality transcending beyond the ice, it’s going to create some incredible opportunities for him.
Still, the core tenants of what Ovechkin can mean for a brand that he partners with have not changed.
“If you think about what his brand was before — enthusiasm, excitement and authenticity — and you layer on his brilliance in the sport as well as his leadership, loyalty and success in a place that he now calls his second home, that’s what he stands for,” Abrutyn said.
Monumental Sports and Entertainment Chief Commercial Officer Jim Van Stone said that while the organization won’t be changing its approach with commercial opportunities for its biggest star, he is already seeing heavy interest from potential partners who want to try to harness it. While some of those partnerships have included companies from the Washington, D.C., area, Van Stone also said they’ve seen an uptick in outreach from companies based across Europe, where Ovechkin’s profile is perhaps even higher.
“There’s a new level of notoriety of the Cup itself that will open up some more avenues and greater conversations on the commercial front,” Van Stone said. “When you look at a moment like this where people see his personality transcending beyond the ice, it’s going to create some incredible opportunities for him.”
There are already plans for Ovechkin to shoot promotional footage and photos for his existing partnerships, with some windows of time blocked out if he adds more in the interim.
Of course, Ovechkin must find time for his personal life, too. He and his wife, Nastya, are expecting their first child in August, and they are heading to Miami in a couple weeks for a much-needed vacation. From there they’ll travel back and forth between Miami and their home in Northern Virginia. Some of his partners already are understanding of his time crunch — his relationship with Papa John’s typically sees him travel to Moscow to fulfill that obligation, which they’ll likely now travel to the U.S. to do with him.
Despite Ovechkin’s increased celebrity and the demands on his time, Abrutyn is sure the wondrous winger will remain as committed to his day job as he’s always been.
“The celebration will continue, but I can already see the fire in his eyes,” Abrutyn said. “I know he’s already excited to come back and do it all again.”