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SBJ/January 21-27, 2013/Franchises
NHL team presidents: Time to move forward
Published January 21, 2013, Page 7
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■ Ted Black, Buffalo Sabres
■ Peter Luukko, Philadelphia Flyers
■ David Morehouse, Pittsburgh Penguins
■ Mike Priest, Columbus Blue Jackets
■ Michael Yormark, Florida Panthers
■ What does the new CBA — with its eventual clawback of revenue to a 50-50 split and contract term limits — mean for your team?
Luukko: It is meaningful for the Flyers and the rest of the league. The new CBA should provide financial stability. This will give more teams an opportunity to compete financially. I really believe that.
Morehouse: After three stoppages in 18 years, the 10-year term will make it easier to work with our corporate partners and fans. It means we don’t have to answer the questions about labor issues for a very long time. For the viability of the franchises that haven’t been as fortunate as the Penguins lately, it helps strengthen them so they can operate at their best. The deal is better for the entire league.
Black: The term is the most important thing. It’s 10 years that we don’t have to go through this again. We can move forward. As for individual economics, we never comment on that.
■ What is your team’s approach to selling this abbreviated season and growing your fan base long term?
Yormark: Be aggressive. We’re going to embrace our fans like we never have before. It’s one of the most aggressive campaigns in our franchise’s history. Our relaunch campaign, “Get It On,” is the Panthers’ call to action. We need to activate the marketplace boldly.
Black: Our approach remains the same since Terry Pegula bought the team [in 2011]. We want the Sabres to be a premier destination for players, and we want to connect with our fans. Every decision we make has those two components in mind.
Priest: We want to thank the fans for putting up with the serious inconvenience of the lockout. But we want to do it all early. It’s crucial that we move forward.
■ What are some of your biggest fan initiatives out of the gate?
Yormark: We’re offering the best deal in the NHL: Season tickets cost as little as $7 per game, plus free parking and a free Panthers jersey. We’re raising a banner to celebrate our fans, “The 7th Man.” We’re dedicating this season to them.
Priest: For our home opener against Detroit, Blue Jackets fans have an offer of 2-for-1 tickets, plus a free T-shirt, schedule magnet, Pepsi, hot dog and popcorn.
Morehouse: We wanted to do as much as we could early. At our first four games, we’re offering 50 percent off on Penguins merchandise, along with a choice of three free concessions.
■ How are you going about making up for the 17 lost regular-season home games with your sponsors?
Priest: We’re taking care of all of them on a case-by-case basis. A few are going to ask for a refund, some want to be credited, others are looking at make-goods. We’re making everyone happy so that they stick by us for a long time.
Yormark: The lockout was an issue of force majeure, so it requires us to make good on our partnerships and the Panthers will, as we always do. The sponsor reaction has been terrific. None of them have been primarily focused on the make-good, but on having their activations ready for the season.
■ What can the NHL do to move past the lockout?
Morehouse: Leaguewide, we need to focus strongly on repairing the NHL brand. We need to take a fresh look at marketing and fan relations. I want to be the best league at it. We need to be the best league at it.
Black: We will begin to benefit when whatever wounds between the NHL and NHLPA begin to heal. I’m not saying it’s incumbent on the league or the union to do that. Everyone has their part to do. As president of the Sabres, I need to do everything I can to make sure that our players are proud to work for this team and be part of this organization and this league.
Yormark: There’s no question that some damage has been done. We need to understand our fans’ and sponsors’ needs and make sure they see the value in partnering with us on a local and national level.
Luukko: The damage in Philadelphia will be minimal, if any. For the markets that are challenged, there’s work to do. Having to sell out the last 500 tickets in a building like ours is obviously a lot different from having to sell out the last 5,000, especially in a short period of time. But as the season progresses, the excitement of a season where every game counts will make for one heck of a sprint.
Priest: I feel strongly that the key is moving on. Make the acknowledgment of what happened these last four months, take care of your customers and then get back to growing the game.
Staff writer Terry Lefton contributed to this report.