A version of this story first appeared in the May 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
Not only do the Los Angeles Kings have a lot of passionate fans in the industry, they even have a few working for them — for perks, not pay. With an assist from its under-the-radar Hollywood Advisory Board, the hockey team is cooking in the NHL playoffs for the first time in years and eyeing its first Stanley Cup in its 45-year history.
“They’re playing fantastic,” says Jerry Bruckheimer, a board member and season-ticket holder since 1988. The group was formed four years ago by Luc Robitaille, the record-setting former Kings left winger who’s now the club’s president of business operations. It meets for a casual dinner before games two or three times a season. Team execs present marketing ideas, in-game footage, music and more for feedback, and the board — whose dozen or so members include Jason Reitman, CAA managing partner (and former Dartmouth hockey player) David “Doc” O’Connor, Sony Pictures Entertainment vice chairman Jeff Blake and South Park supervising producer Frank Agnone — offers suggestions. “They’ve helped us build something special,” says Robitaille.
And they are passionate. Agnone wears a Kings’ Wayne Gretzky-era jacket to games as a good-luck charm, while O’Connor, who says he is “ridiculously superstitious,” dons something he good-naturedly refuses to divulge. “It’s not underwear,” he notes.
So far, something’s working. The AEG-owned team, which began play in 1967, has sold out 41 of 43 home games at Staples Center this season as it prepares to meet the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference finals beginning Sunday.
Says Blake, whose wife, Barbara, wears the No. 19 jersey of little-used Kings enforcer Kevin Westgarth to games and gets angry when he doesn’t play: “My thing has always been to get celebrities back to the game. It’s all about the hockey, but we are in L.A. — we want show business excitement.”
This season, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson delivered a smooch for the arena’s Kiss Cam, while others spotted include Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed, David Beckham with wife and kids, Will Ferrell, Matthew Perry, Pat Sajak, producer Burt Sugarman, Mary Hart, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alyssa Milano, Cory Monteith and Eric Stonestreet. Other industry Kings faithful run from Paramount’s Steve Siskind and ICM’s Leigh Brillstein to Warner Bros. TV president Bruce Rosenblum.
Meanwhile, additional members of the Hollywood board include Chris Lopes at Interscope Records, producers Gabe Sachs (90210) and Barry Josephson (Bones), Priority Records founder Bryan Turner, manager Risa Shapiro of The Schiff Co. and singer-songwriter John Ondrasik (aka Five for Fighting). According to Robitaille, the Kings would not have changed their uniforms (eliminating purple, going full time with an “LA” logo) for this season without consulting them.
Bruckheimer, who describes the NHL as “undervalued,” suggested bringing a cameraman onto the ice for shootouts. Cinderella drummer Fred Coury put together the celebratory “hey, hey, hey” musical montage triggered by every Kings goal at Staples. And Reitman’s idea, explains Robitaille, was to videotape player profiles so fans get to know the “guys behind the helmets” — stars including Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and this season’s big offseason acquisition, Mike Richards.
Agnone is behind the cheeky scoreboard videos that feature South Park’s foul-mouthed Cartman mocking the opponent and exhorting fans to yell, “Go Kings Go!” Staffers on the Comedy Central show have created about 40 spots since 1999 and receive six season tickets in a barter deal.
Most of these industry fan-sultants are members of the first-year Crown Club, which is “designed to be like a country club,” says Kelly Cheeseman, a senior vp at AEG Sports.
For $8,000 (which includes two season tickets at ice level) or $21,000 (four tickets), members receive perks that include entry at Staples into the exclusive Lexus Club or the Hyde Lounge, which offer lobster, lamb and fine wine on the menu. They get to ride the Zamboni or have their photo taken in the penalty box. Cheeseman says the number of members will be capped at 200 (there are 85 now).
The Hollywood faithful have become so deeply involved in part because the Kings are winning (they are 8-1 in the postseason and in the playoffs for a third straight season after an eight-year drought) but mostly out of sheer love of the sport.
“Hockey is a combination of speed, domination, grace and violence,” says Lopes, a 20-year Kings season-ticket holder who played left wing on Brown University’s hockey team and whose two daughters once sat on the Stanley Cup. “It’s just the most exciting game in the world.”
The 120-year-old Stanley Cup visited Los Angeles May 1-2 (but came nowhere near the Kings or Staples Center; it’s considered bad luck for players to touch the championship trophy during the season before they win the NHL title). The 35-pound trophy is on the road for about 300 days a year, and it’s been fawned over in Siberia, steamed in a sauna in Finland and held overhead last summer by Adam Sandler on the Boston-area set of his next movie, That’s My Boy.
In L.A., the Cup stopped by Glee (during filming of the season finale), Bones and the offices of The Hollywood Reporter. Said Glee star and Canada-born Canucks fan Monteith of seeing the shiny silver chalice for the first time, “It’s the same feeling you have when you’re 5 and you meet Ronald McDonald at your friend’s birthday party.”