Wayne Gretzky Is Still Passionate About Hockey, His Blackberry and Newspapers

The Great One reflects on NHL history


Specs
Name Wayne Gretzky
Age 55
Claim to Fame Widely believed to be the greatest hockey player of all time
Base Los Angeles
Twitter @OfficialGretzky

Adweek: What's the first information you consume in the morning?
Wayne Gretzky: Well, we get up early at our house. We're sort of a.m. people, 5 a.m. 5:30 a.m. We put the coffee on and then turn the TV on and watch the news. Or, if the Oilers played the night before, usually I watch a little bit of the NHL Network just to watch the highlights and everything from the night before. And then [I do] the same thing I've done my whole life—open the newspaper and read the L.A. Times and USA Today.

Do you use social media?
Not a whole lot. I'm still old-school. I still use a Blackberry. I always tease my older kid that, you know, this world has changed, but I still like getting up in the morning wherever I am and having a cup of coffee and reading the paper. They always tell me that they've read all the news from the night before on the internet. And so I'm sort of old-school that way. I still get my information from TV, radio and the newspaper.

You mentioned the NHL network. Where else do you turn for sports news?
Usually ESPN, you know? They cover all sports, and we're a sports family, so obviously we follow [son-in-law and pro golfer Dustin Johnson] quite a bit. So if we're not watching ESPN, we're watching the Golf Channel or the NHL Network. But ESPN does an extensive job of covering the NHL with [commentator] Barry Melrose—so they're pretty informative.

So you've done it all in hockey, and you've seen everything. Do you still often watch live hockey?
Oh, I love it. I think the league—starting at the grass-roots level with youth hockey in the United States, youth hockey in Canada—has gotten much better. I believe over the last 20 to 25 years—probably beginning with the '80 Olympic team winning the gold medal—United States hockey has been going in a strong direction with so many good athletes. The Canadian players today … there's so much more depth in Canada you would think that maybe in some ways other countries might catch us or compete at a different level against us. But that hasn't been the case over the last few Olympic games, with two gold medals and, of course, the World Cup in September.

You mentioned how hockey has evolved in the United States over the last three decades. What does the NHL have to do to get better TV ratings?
Well, you know, I say this and I mean this with a great deal of respect because I'm obviously biased towards the game of hockey. But for whatever reason, our game is more suited to watch live. I know so many people in California that have said, "I just went to my first hockey game, and I can't believe how much fun it was and how good it was and how great the athletes are." And it's tough for us to show some of those same aspects on TV. If you understand the game, it's easier to watch on TV. We've come a long way, and the NHL has done everything it possibly can do to make the game more fan-friendly. Having more speed in the game, having more offense in the game, more scoring chances in the game. And yet there's still a physical component that goes with being an NHL player. You have to be physically tough and mentally strong.

I know you mentioned Dustin briefly earlier.  Aside from hockey and golf, what sports would you most likely tune into on TV?
Well, you know, I grew up in a sports house. I participated in lacrosse, and I played a lot of youth baseball as a kid and soccer at school. So I played everything. Therefore, when there's a sporting event on—whether it's the FA Cup or the Super Bowl or the Olympic games—I'm often watching it.

Let's change topics for a second here. What TV shows do you watch?
I like watching fun shows. For me to sit down and enjoy a show that can make me laugh and kind of giggle at is always a thing that I've been drawn to. I'd much rather watch a comedy than see a thriller or a drama.

You just wrapped up a guest appearance on The Simpsons. Are you a fan of that show?
Well, I've watched it. Have I been a huge fan? No, but I respect the show. They asked me to come on and be part of it, and I live here in L.A. and know a lot of the people involved in the show—whether it's some of the writers and producers and such. They are Canadians, and when they asked me if I wanted to do it, I thought it was a big honor, and I was more than willing to do it. It took me an hour-and-a-half to drive there, and I had one line. It took me 10 seconds, and then it was an hour-and-a-half drive to get home. So this was a real big favor. (Laughs.)

Ha, that's funny.
A friend of mine in Canada, a media guy, called me and he said. "Hey, I want you to get on the radio and talk about your starring role with The Simpsons." And I said, "Starring role? I had one line."

You recently published your book, 99: Stories of the Game. Tell me about it. 
Well, you know, we're coming up here on some wonderful milestones in the National Hockey League, the 100th anniversary of our game starts Jan. 1. Everything about the game I always loved, whether it was watching it on TV as a kid or going to my first game with my grandmother in Toronto to watch the Maple Leafs play. I just wanted to write a book about some of the great history of our game, whether it be the arenas that we play in or the teams that were formed early on, to the great stars and great players that we had in our game. So it's my perspective of how much fun the National Hockey League is and how great it is, from the time I was a kid or before I was even born. [I also write about] being a child and growing up and watching all the games on TV and idolizing guys like Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull.