SBJ/August 6-12, 2012/Franchises

Stars’ sales stirring after shake-up

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The uncertainty of the NHL’s labor negotiations has not stopped the forward momentum of the Dallas Stars.

Under new owner Tom Gaglardi, the franchise’s front office has undergone a major overhaul during the past eight months that is already showing results.

The Stars had hit rock bottom, with only 6,000 season-ticket holders, at the end of last season. This summer, more than 90 percent of those subscribers renewed, the team has sold more than 1,000 new season tickets since the signing of free agents Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney in early July, and revenue from new corporate partnerships has increased by more than $4 million.

Jim Lites (left) says Stars owner Tom Gaglardi’s passion for hockey can revitalize the club.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
“What’s the best way to dig yourself out of a hole?” said Jim Lites, who was hired upon the closing of Gaglardi’s purchase last November for his third tenure as team president. “Stop digging.”

What Lites did was make several changes at the top of the executive directory. Last December, his first hire was Mike McCall, who was president and general manager of Minor League Baseball’s Class AA Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders, as executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

“The goal was to make the Stars relevant again and to deliver players to the marketplace like never before,” McCall said. “With the success of the Mavericks and the Rangers, and the Cowboys being the Cowboys, it’s a steep challenge, but Tom Gaglardi and Jim Lites are putting us in position to succeed.”

This summer, Lites brought back Brad Alberts as executive vice president of corporate development. Alberts had 15 years of sports experience in the Dallas area selling tickets, suites, premium seats and sponsorships for the Stars, MLB Rangers, and Legends Sales and Marketing, owned by the Cowboys and New York Yankees. Following Alberts were Grady Raskin as vice president of corporate partnerships and Matt Bowman as vice president of ticket sales. For the previous three years, Raskin, a former salesman for the Stars, had been a sponsorship sales vice president with the Texas Rangers while Bowman had been with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“To turn this around, we needed experienced people in the region who would bring credibility,” Raskin said.

The culture change started with Lites. When Gaglardi, a Canadian businessman who owned the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, bought the Stars from Tom Hicks, he hired arguably the most experienced person in the region. Lites, who was Stars president from 1993 to 2002 and 2003 to ’07, was managing the New York Giants’ personal seat license program at MetLife Stadium and had worked with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on a bid to buy the Stars. When Gaglardi emerged as the league’s choice, Lites called him to say the Cuban group would not formally make a bid. Soon after, Gaglardi invited Lites to a meeting.

“Tom had two main questions,” Lites said. “‘Do you have the energy to do this? Do you have the desire to do this?’”

Lites said he did, but only because he recognized what Gaglardi’s passion for hockey would mean to the revitalization of the dormant Stars in the Dallas market.

“He is the owner of a junior club in Canada,” Lites said. “He breathes hockey and he is committed to this area. I saw him as a man that we could overcome our failures and celebrate big successes with.”

The optimism that flows throughout Dr Pepper Arena started with the arrival of Gaglardi. He has invested money in the roster and calmed fears that he bought the club to move it. He ended the prior regime’s policy of “papering the house” each game with hundreds of free tickets, which devalued the product and angered loyal season-ticket holders. Gaglardi lowered ticket prices, creating sections in the mezzanine with price points of $25 and $9. Most crucially, he has been earnest in communicating with fans.

“We’ve had to reforge the bonds that were broken between the team and the community,” Gaglardi said. “We have fewer season-ticket holders than we’ve had in quite some time. We’ve got to go back and capture their imagination and build those emotional bonds that are required for a fan to buy a season ticket.”

Gaglardi’s first converts were his new executives.

Said Farris, “This market doesn’t yet know how good it has it with this owner.”

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