—The arrival of single-game wagering in Canada has produced a wave of banal advertising, but Craig Redmond is inspired by an “underdog” ad out of the UK—
When Conn Smythe finally ran out of money while building his Maple Leaf Gardens dream, he paid off the few remaining contractors with the only assets he had left—season tickets in the nosebleed greys.
One of those contractor carpenters was my great uncle Walt. And so, every Saturday night, Walt would go to Fran’s on College St. for a steak dinner, and then to the shrine he helped build to watch his beloved blue and white heroes.
Years later, he would take a young man fresh off the boat from Scotland to the Leafs’ season opener with him, where the 48th Highlanders would march up the ice ceremoniously, as they did, and still do, every year.
And old Walt would have to console his companion, who was reduced to tears by those homesickness-inducing pipes and drums, pining for the wife and daughter he left behind in the hopes of finding a job and the promise of a better life for his new family in Canada.
That weeping young man was my dad.
Dad would later inherit that coveted pair of greys, and for years afterwards, continued the tradition by taking my sister, and later me, to some of the greatest hockey games in history—albeit none of them sanctified with a sip from the Stanley Grail.
But needless to say, I grew up bleeding Walt’s beloved blue and white. So, while moving back to Toronto after 15 years in Vancouver comes with the blessing of reuniting with our daughter and starting a wonderful new job, it also means spending a little more quality time with my beloved Buds.
That means no more evil, Gary Bettman-enforced western blackouts. Just me, a 55-year Cup drought, and three uncensored televised games a week to feed my unrequited love.
Only one problem.
It also means watching all those dreaded sports betting ads that suddenly began polluting the airwaves after single-game, online wagering was legalized in Canada just over a year ago.
You know the ones: Wayne Gretzky, parting the Bellagio fountain sea and stumbling his woodenly way between giant ice statues of false sports gods. Then that stupid lion-headed Leo Vegas and all his tacky tomfoolery. And of course, the omnisciently omni-present Broken Badly one, Aaron Paul, in our faces every single commercial break trying to intimidate us into joining the world’s favourite sportsbook.
That’s not to mention at least another half-dozen even less desirable bookmaker brand ads, violating our eyeballs and insulting our eardrums. The work’s banality is matched only by its ubiquity.
And that’s shocking, considering that the lucky agencies that landed these online gambling brands have won the trifecta of marketing’s lottery: A category that every demographic imaginable is bonkers passionate about, a decades long pent-up gaming demand suddenly un-dammed and deluging forth with biblical force, and clients with bottomless budgets, insatiable appetites and a burning, blind ambition to pad their pay-dirt. How could you make such bad advertising with that winning formula?
Well, you only have to look overseas to see how not to mess it up so badly. And while Paddy Power and other European gaming groups have done great stuff, the brand that seems to really capture the passion for sport and best puts that budgetary bonanza to work is none other than British oddsmaker Ladbrokes.
Whether it’s by championing our instinctively human competitive nature with an innocent little game of keepy-uppy, or the palpable anticipation of a spanking new season, a soul restoring do-over, and the totally clean slate of its wagering potential, Ladbrokes always manages to uncork all the adrenalin that bubbles over with the thrill of sports-betting, but at the same time absolves our individual guilt for committing the sin of gambling by celebrating that We All Play Together.
And it has done it again with this latest, ultimate bandwagon onboarding of cinema’s ultimate underdog moment, which is so unlike all that other festering dross I mentioned earlier that just makes me want to have a shower after enduring.
Truth is, I don’t bet on sports. I won’t even join an office hockey pool. Because it would require me to invest emotionally in teams other than the Leafs. Which would be sacrilege against God’s Team, and I fear, would have Great Uncle Walt turning over in his grave… almost as quickly as if he knew that the sacred Shrine of Maple Leaf Gardens he helped erect, has been shamelessly converted into a Loblaws supermarket.
Argh. Sorry Walter.