Interview with Barry Firby

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by Sheridan Jewell

During a fax interview with Barry Firby, I asked him the following questions:

1. How did you come up with the idea?

For several years, a number of my friends and I had a local hockey draft, much the same as the Kenaston Hotel Draft of today. I also knew that small drafts of “officepools” were happening across Canada. During the spring of 1984, while seeding and having lots of time to think, I envisioned an expanded ‘hockey draft’ with invited participants from several towns – maybe 20-30 hockey nuts! As I thought more about it, I realized that the idea might have even greater scope, to include hockey fans from across Saskatchewan, and perhaps Canada. At the same time a Kenaston Swimming pool project was happening, and requiring fundraising. So I thought, can the hockey draft be a mechanism to raise money But how?

2. How did you get the idea off the ground?

My greatest apprehension, and that of others was how can several participants select a team that will have different players Won’t everyone want the same NHL players? So, I did a marketing study using 5 years of previous NHL scoring statistics. A remarkable result develops when you are asked to predict 30 players as opposed to 20, 25 or 40. From season to season there were about 10-15 repeat top scorers. Another 5 or so players would repeat every year or two, and the balance, 10 or so, would change year to year. In addition, usually 1 or 2 rookies would make the top 30. If you used 20 or 25 selections, it would tend to be similar predictions. If you used 40 selections, more repeat selections would appear. So now we have a format, what next?

3. I realize the draft started in 1984, but what was the time span from when you thought of the idea to when it started?

I discussed the idea initially with Don George and we took the concept to the Kenaston Lions Club, realizing it would require the backing of an organization to become a reality. We secured a sponsor in year #1, LaBatt’s Brewery, Saskatoon. They sponsored the initial posters (there is a framed copy in the Super Draft Office), and an advertising budget. I designed a logo, which was copyrighted. This has become the icon for hockey pools, much the same as “Kleenex” for tissue paper. The Kenaston Lions Club backed additional expenses to move forward. We went to Regina to secure proper gaming licensing. Remarkably, no other such project had ever been proposed, so there were no rules! We were granted a “raffle license” as if we were raffling a blanket. OK, now we have a contest, but how do we let people know?

4. What kind of process did you/the Lions Club have to go through to make the idea work?

Well, as mentioned in #3, we covered the bases to make it a reality. We decided that it was best to let hockey fans see a little NHL before they made their selections, plus the fact was with harvest, we felt it was too early to promote it in September, hence the October 31st deadline that is still in place today. Now it was about promotion. There were a number of marketing tools that were used to promote the contest.

  • We called it Super Draft, Saskatchewan Hockey Pool Championship, offering $1000 cash and a championship jacket to appeal to their competitiveness.
  • Lions members sent posters to family and friends.
  • We set up booths in shopping malls in Saskatchewan cities.
  • We offered a complimentary entry ($10) to people who would tell their friends, kind of a crude pyramid marketing scheme.
  • There was a sports radio show in Saskatoon, the Dane McKinnon Sports Talk, where I spoke as a regular to talk about drafts and Super Draft.
  • In subsequent years, we had promotions with NHL clubs. A number of times I was a guest on Oiler radio broadcasts.

Perhaps the greatest boom was in 1986 – year 3 of the draft, when I brokered a deal with The Hockey News with full page ads across North America. This put us out in front as the world’s largest hockey draft, gaining us international status and securing a broad base that continues to be the core of the draft.

5. Any other interesting information……

Super Draft proves that anything can be accomplished with the vision and a well calculated plan. The draft has provided employment, pride and a legacy for the community, not to mention the finances which have built the swimming pool, arena renovations, Kenaston Place and several other projects. In addition, there have been countless charities that we’ve supported over the years.

(Next Page – Story with Don George)