Irwin Simon is founderand chief executive office of Hain Celestial Group, a company specializing mostly in organic foods and with sales reaching above $4 billion annually.
But on Saturday night at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, it was tales of a different kind of product that were attracting his attention.
The Glace Bay, N.S.-born, New York-based Simon is the major partner in the ownership group of the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge and was in town for a one-night visit to see the suddenly successful team and for face-to-face meetings with some of the franchise’s principles.
He also had time for a short interview, during which time he expressed a growing appreciation for Newfoundland fostered in part by his seeing the Broadway musical “Come From Away,” discussed what he saw as good fortune in the team being able to bring Newfoundland star Carl English to the roster and insisted the expansion team was well on its way to raising a championship trophy at the end of the season.
In short, Simon was saying all the right things. After all, that’s part of being a successful salesman.
But it’s also about the sales and that’s still at his very core.
Shortly before Saturday night’s game between St. John’s and the visiting KW Titans, Simon got the attention of an Edge front office employee, wondering what could be done to reduce the length of the lines of people at the register at a busy Edgewear, the Mile One store selling the team’s branded merchandise.
Whether it's hoodies, ticket sales or points in the standings, busin
ess is very good right now for the Edge — they have the NBLC’s second-best record and own the 10-team league’s second-highest average attendance.
This team is on a roll and Simon says he's determined to keep it that way.
He won’t concede he is surprised by the success of the team “because when you put a good product out there for anything, you’re going to get support.”
He will admit to being surprised the product became so good, so fast.
After back-to-back wins over the Titans — 120-113 Friday and 109-99 Saturday — the Edge are 7-1 at Mile One.
People are noticing … and are paying to do so.
Through their first eight home games, the Edge are averaging better than 3,200 fans per game, which is about 1,300 over the median for the 10-team NBL Canada.
On Saturday, less than three weeks after Christmas, announced attendance was 4,649, or about 150 short of a basketball full house at Mile One.
“The thing I was surprised at is how quickly we’ve been able to pull a competitive team together, plus I feel lucky we were able to get Carl, being a local and being the professional he is,” said Simon about the Edge scoring leader.
Basketball wasn’t even part of the original plan. Simon’s first interest in St. John’s was as a place for a potential hockey franchise.
“I was approached to do a hockey team here, a hockey team elsewhere, but this year, a hockey team was not available.
“The idea of a basketball team came up and they came to me in August and said ‘Let’s do it … the season starts in November.’
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me … how do we come up with a coach, a team, the infrastructure we need in that time?’ But it happened.”
He referenced the pre-game traffic snarl on New Gower Street in front of Mile One and the spin-off the Edge are generating in downtown St. John's.
“Bars and restaurants are filled. It’s a Saturday night in the middle of January and this building would be dark otherwise,” he said.
“People are excited about basketball. With that, I’ve become excited about the basketball, about the people and about other opportunities.”
The latter is certainly in reference to his group’s ongoing pursuit of a hockey team. But it’s clear the Edge is a team that is gaining more and more of his attention.
“In December before Christmas, I had all these people at my house, and you know what we’re doing? We’re watching (the streaming feed of the) team playing a game,” said Simon.
“And I’m always talking to people here … I probably speak to this man more than my wife, “ he added, nodding toward English.
“But I’m going to try to get to see as many games live as possible.
“I’ve become a fan, too.”