SBJ/20090727/Offseason Report

Renewal efforts among executives’ top priorities

With NBA and NHL teams in the midst of the offseason, we asked top team executives what sits atop their respective to-do lists this summer as they look ahead to the 2009-10 season. We will feature a number of the responses over the next few weeks in SportsBusiness Journal. Comments were edited for clarity and brevity.

John McDonough
President
Chicago Blackhawks

“First, we’re concentrating on getting much better. Nobody is satisfied that we made it to the final four. We’re taking a very objective look at our players and making important decisions about the team for next year.

“While we had 52 sellouts, we continue to be innovative. We’re focused on finding new revenue streams and growing existing ones. We’re in that stage now where this [turnaround in Chicago] has to be more than two years. We have a 96 percent renewal rate and 5,000 people on our wait list who we are developing opportunities to tap into for tickets and events and to generally stay involved. We’re not taking any of this for granted. We’re asking: Are there other opportunities we’re missing?”


Luc Robitaille
President, business operations
Los Angeles Kings

“We’ve been very focused on renewals. We started working on them earlier than ever before, in January. We’re now at 84 percent. We made sure we were going to do it right, and so far we’re happy and confident we’ll get to 90 percent or above.

“Our goal is to add 1,700 new season tickets, too. We worked last season on marketing to reach core fans. We took time to teach the fans that we were in a rebuilding process. We drew a line in the sand and we said, ‘This year, we’re going to be a lot better.’ We’re talking playoffs.

“Another thing we’re doing is redoing our locker rooms. Every stall was the Kings colors, but now it will be wood and it will be shaped like an oval. You want the players to be proud of everything around the Kings. That makes an impact when you recruit.”


Randy Rigby
President
Utah Jazz

“Negotiations with our players is this summer’s biggest project. We have eight players, and three of our top players, whose contracts or options are up this summer. This has been one of the most significant offseasons in player transactions in our history.

“Secondly is that our ticket renewal is now at 76 percent and about 80 percent in terms of dollars, which is a good number, but we’d like to see if we can’t improve that number and get it higher. We are interacting more with season-ticket holders, but we are also trying to be more on top of all the ways we not only entertain fans, but how we communicate with them, be it during pregame, in-game or after the games.”

Editor’s note: Since this comment, the Jazz matched an offer on restricted free agent Paul Millsap, keeping the forward in Utah with a new deal.

Larry Quinn
Managing partner, minority owner
Buffalo Sabres

“We have a small capital means investment of $1 million to improve our team store and concessions. We’re also looking to improve our TV production. We’re going to sit down and review NBC’s broadcasts from this year. We really like what they do and want to incorporate it into our broadcasts.

“We’re seeing a little softness in individual ticket sales at the window, so we’re trying to increase our season and mini-pack ticket base from 15,000 to 15,800 or 16,000. We’re spending a lot of time selling our TV inventory. If there is softness anywhere, that’s where we’ll see it.

Health care is strong, and it turns out in Buffalo our auto dealers are strong, so we don’t have the problems others are facing. But I’m paying more attention to our customers than in the past. We’re also spending more time looking to bring new people [sponsors] in.”


Larry Miller
President
Portland Trail Blazers

“First and foremost this summer is to make sure we have a fiscally responsible model here. It’s tough for small-market teams, and [Blazers owner Paul Allen] has lost a lot of money over the years, so our goal now is to at least break even. I’d love to give Paul at least one dollar at the end of the year, and we’ve made some good progress getting there.

“We’ve had 71 consecutive sellouts, but we are also focusing on managing our expenses and driving revenue. Even with a ticket-price increase, our retention rate will be in the 90th percentile. At one point, the organization got away from what the Blazers brand represents, and we are doing things right now. We don’t have to win every game, we have to have a team fans are proud of and we have done that. We have to continue to stay hungry and humble.”


Compiled by staff writers
John Lombardo and Tripp Mickle
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