SBJ/September 3-9, 2012/Franchises

Despite labor uncertainty, Florida Panthers adding to staff

At a time when NHL clubs are more likely to be considering cutbacks in staff or compensation, the Florida Panthers are hiring.

Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, which controls the Panthers and the team’s BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., has reorganized its corporate sponsorship department. As part of the restructuring, six staffers were reassigned to new responsibilities and four new employees were hired.

SSE President Michael Yormark said the uncertainty of a finalized collective-bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association before the deal’s Sept. 15 expiration did not affect his decision to add staff.

“We’re going to activate these [sponsors’] brands with or without hockey games,” Yormark said. “We’re going to activate them around special events, grassroots marketing campaigns, and concerts and shows. My decision to expand this department has nothing to do with what Gary Bettman and Bill Daly [NHL commissioner and deputy commissioner] are negotiating. It has to do with the commitment that we’ve made to our partners to make sure we’re giving them a return on their investment.”

The Panthers’ news comes on the heels of the Calgary Flames, considering the Sept. 15 CBA deadline, announcing recently that they have notified some staffers to expect pay cuts beginning as early as Sept. 16. If no new CBA is reached, more teams are likely to follow suit.

Florida’s revamped corporate sponsorship staff consists of a senior director of brand strategy, four executive directors of strategic partnerships, two directors of new business development, a director of lead generation, a manager of partnership services and a manager of legal services.

Among the staff changes, the Panthers used to rely on the team’s legal counsel to review sponsorship contracts, a system that Yormark said slowed the overall process. He designated Robert Karpeles, a recent law school graduate who had been working for the Panthers as a salesman, as manager of legal services, so the corporate sponsorship team now has a lawyer dedicated to its needs.

Yormark also was impressed by the work ethic of Roman Gorodetskiy, a former intern with the club who became his assistant. Last week, Gorodetskiy was named to the new position of director of lead generation.

“Roman has done a terrific job for us in everything we’ve thrown his way,” Yormark said. “He has a real knack for finding new leads. His role allows our salespeople to stay focused on the process — not chasing leads.”

Despite the threat of a delayed start to the season, the Panthers have had a solid summer off the ice. The business community has responded to the club qualifying for the playoffs last season for the first time since 2000, ending the league’s longest drought. Several partners, including Coca-Cola, MetroPCS and Jet Blue, were signed to multiyear deals. Ford was upsold to a sponsorship of all of the team’s social media initiatives. The automaker signed as a marketing partner in 2010 and has had an increasing role since then.

The success has Yormark considering additional hires.

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