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THE "I" GOES HOLLYWOOD -- SELLING A 3RD HOCKEY TEAM IN L.A.
Published March 3, 1995
Greg McElroy was recently named President of the new IHL club in L.A. McElroy, a native of L.A., has spent the past four seasons as VP of Marketing with the L.A. Kings. Fred Comrie, owner of the IHL San Diego Gulls, will finish out this season in San Diego and then move his team to the L.A. Sports Arena. Yesterday, THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY spoke with McElroy about his plans for the team and his hopes for the league. Excerpts follow: THE DAILY: What enticed you to leave a successful major league franchise like the Kings to do what you are doing now? What attracted you about the IHL? MCELROY: We had really reached the pinnacle at the Kings as far as corporate sponsorships are concerned, maxed out is the way we put it. Our radio was sold out, our signage was sold out, our print was as close to sold out as possible. I needed a new challenge, and I thought what better place to start than in my own hometown where my contacts are, with the ability to start from scratch. ... Also, as a lot of NBA owners have proven by getting involved, it is a league to be with right now as far as growth. I left a very good situation in the NHL because I believe so much in what the IHL has to offer, and I wanted to be part of it. THE DAILY: How will this IHL team fit into the L.A. market? Is the market big enough for three teams? MCELROY: Absolutely, and that was really the biggest question I had about making the transition from the NHL to the IHL. I did a lot of research, I talked to a lot of different people, from sponsors to fans to people on the hockey side, asking 'Can a third team make it?' I think it can. One, hockey is exploding in Southern California. It is no accident that the Ducks are a tremendous success, and I think it has to do with Gretzky. It all started with Wayne coming to town six years ago. Rinks are being built all over Southern California and they are sold out 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People can't get enough of the sport. Second, we all know the prices of a ticket to go to the Ducks and the Kings games. Well, for the lowest price Colonnade (the lowest upper level) seat at the Forum, they can get one of the better seats at our games. A family of four will be able to come to one of our games for the price of one loge ticket at the Forum. It is not only affordable, but it is going to be quality family entertainment as well. THE DAILY: How does the league balance the competing factors of having a major league product with quality players and keeping your prices affordable? MCELROY: One of the reasons why the league has done so well in the last couple of years is that we have controlled expenses. Through player costs and management costs, we have kept it manageable. We don't have to pass on these tremendous jumps in our expenses to our fans. THE DAILY: What do you plan with corporate community? MCELROY: We have received a lot of positive feedback from a variety of sponsors already that are very interested in joining forces with us, primarily because we are going to go after a different market than the Kings and the Ducks. Instead of big corporations owning blocks of tickets, we are going to have families owning those tickets. So, we are going to design campaigns for our sponsors to maximize their exposure to these families and do various programs. THE DAILY: Will the IHL ever compete with the NHL for star players? MCELROY: No, I can't see in the foreseeable future that we compete for the Wayne Gretzky's of the world. That would defeat everything that the IHL has worked so hard to accomplish. The whole thing is to keep ticket prices down, and when you are paying millions of dollars to a player you are going to pass those expenses to the fans and to the sponsors. ... There is a large enough market out there satisfied with seeing our brand of hockey at affordable prices that we don't need to do that. THE DAILY: Will the league be able to survive if the NHL pulls its developmental relationships with the IHL? MCELROY: Absolutely, because I think players want to play in the markets the IHL has teams in, they want to be involved -- especially with all the new owners that are coming into the league. The Detroit Pistons now own a team, the Orlando Magic has just committed to a team for next season. These are some big league owners and we play in big league cities across the country. What player wouldn't want to play in front of 20,000 in Detroit? What player wouldn't want to play in front of 14,000 here in Los Angeles? THE DAILY: How can a pro ice hockey team take advantage of the boom in in-line skating? MCELROY: That is important here in Southern California, and there are a lot of different things we can do. We might want to do a deal with the L.A. Blades and have some of the same players that play for the Blades play for our team, and so fans become accustomed and follow their favorite players.