"Wayne Gretzky, Kanada."
That is often the only address on a letter mailed in Europe that makes its way to Gretzky's office in Edmonton's Lemarchand Mansion, a genuine historical landmark featuring marble, oak and polished brass that dates to 1912. Some day, undoubtedly, the marker outside will include the information that "Wayne Gretzky worked here."
Work he does, individually signing each color photograph that is sent in reply to mail that averages 5,000 pieces a month. Four women--led by Sophie Moss, the mother of Gretzky's girlfriend, Vicki--handle the mail, much of it sent over from Northlands Coliseum in green trash bags.
Gretzky's office is one of several in the suite occupied by CorpSport International, which serves as the marketing arm for No. 99. It is an arm with considerable pull, since the endorsements it generates for Gretzky gross about $2 million a year.
"Unless a company wants to acknowledge a fee, we don't either, but $2 million is reasonably accurate," said Mike Barnett, the CorpSport president whose desk was covered with presentations from about 35 more companies desiring to add to that figure.
Gretzky's endorsements include all the hockey equipment he uses, soft drinks, insurance, candy bars, dolls, video games, sporting-goods stores, jeans, watches, wallpaper, bedsheets, lunch boxes and cereal.
Mattel pays the hefty postage for all those pictures that go to Gretzky's fans, because they bear its trademark. Mattel became involved in the Gretzky gold rush when a survey of Gretzky's mail conducted by the University of Alberta revealed that 70 percent of those writing him were girls between 4 and 14.
"They obviously weren't buying sticks, so we went to the toy companies to see what they would buy," Barnett said. "The result was Mattel's Wayne Gretzky doll."
A recent university survey disclosed information of possibly greater economic import. Sixty-six percent of Gretzky's mail arrives from the United States, where the hockey star's only previous commercial involvement was with 7-Up. Barnett expects to take advantage of growing U.S. interest in Gretzky very quickly.
"Step one was to capitalize in Canada, because it's here that Wayne is most popular," Barnett said. "That is just about done, except for isolated cases. The timing is perfect to go into the States, because in most people's eyes Wayne is now the premier athlete in the world and his popularity transcends hockey.
"The Sports Illustrated and Wide World of Sports awards have helped us immeasurably. Right now our entire thrust is toward attaching Wayne to one or two major corporations in the U.S. The requests are coming in and we will decide on the one or two that will best fit Wayne's image.
"Those corporations are due for a surprise if they think they're getting an ordinary 22-year-old jock. Wayne is a seasoned veteran of mixed advertising and acting skills. He's been representing companies since he was 16 and he's not shy in front of the camera. He's capable of carrying a long script."
Gretzky will do just that this summer, during a scheduled six-week visit to Los Angeles. He will play himself in segments of several prime-time shows, as well as appear with Johnny Carson and others.
Gretzky also will spend two weeks at Wimbledon, but that is pleasure. It is something he wants to do.
"Wayne has so many corporate responsibilities, it could tend to make us lose sight of the fact that he's only 22," Barnett said. "We want him to enjoy what a normal 22-year-old does and, of course, he is in a financial position to enjoy whatever he wishes."
When Gretzky visits his office, which is just a block away from the condominium where he lives, he has other tasks than just signing those pictures. On his desk are three folders, prepared by Barnett, separating pertinent material into "read and discuss," "read only" and "sign only."
After Barnett negotiates details with each prospective client, he and Gretzky sit down and discuss the deal with Gus Badali, Gretzky's agent, and Gretzky's father Walter. It is no rubber-stamp situation, because Gretzky's income is so high already, there is no need to be involved in anything questionable.
An example of a rejection was a proposed endorsement of a baseball glove, originally inspired because Gretzky was an accomplished player as a youngster and often performs in celebrity softball games.
"The company was significant, the product was quality, the fee was substantial and the term was long enough," Barnett said. "But it didn't fit with our game plan. I asked Wayne how he'd feel if Pete Rose endorsed a hockey stick and he turned it down.
"Wayne is making so much money at this point in time, as far as marketing and personal necessity go, that it is a minor factor in the choice of endorsements."
An important item is the length of a contract, with anything less than two years ruled out and most in the three- to five-year range.
"We wouldn't want him jumping from lily pad to lily pad promoting competing products," Barnett said. "A long-term agreement gives him a chance to work with the company--and he takes a very keen interest--and often new products will result."
For several years, Gretzky has been identified with Neilson's Mr. Big chocolate bar, so closely in fact that Stan Obodiac, the Toronto public relations man, once ripped down a Gretzky banner titled Mr. Big in Maple Leaf Gardens because "We could get a thousand dollars for that space."
Perhaps the best example of the magic of the Gretzky name can be provided by Titan, which ranked 12th in the world in hockey stick sales when it hooked up with Gretzky 3 1/2 years ago. It now stands No. 1.
Pirating has been a problem, since the number 99 is public domain. It can be found on all kinds of apparel, from cheap T-shirts to relatively expensive pajamas bearing such incongruous lettering as Notre Dame and University of Texas.
"If Wayne had chosen 6 or 8 or 10, I wouldn't have half the headaches," Barnett said. "What bothered us most was that so many products were inferior, and kids were made to assume Wayne Gretzky authorized them.
"When we realized that some companies were making significant profits with this stuff, we decided to be competitive and force them out of the marketplace. We offered manufacturers authentic versions and we also got to the retail buyers and promised to find them authorized products. It's helped to reduce a lot of it."
At the CorpSport office, the phone rarely stops ringing long enough for Joan Kindrachuk, cousin of ex-Capital Orest, to type a letter. When a visitor wonders whether Gretzky's phone rings that often, Kindrachuk says, "If it does, I pity him."
"Wayne is a close friend of Ray Leonard, and we've studied the philosophy and procedures of his management company," Barnett said. "We decided we didn't need to go to New York or L.A. We felt they would come to us, as they did to Ray."
The constant shrillness of the phone and the bags of mail confirm that the world indeed has found the way to "Wayne Gretzky, Kanada."