SBJ/June 23-29, 2014/Franchises

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  • ‘We want fans feeling that something special is about to happen’

    Montreal Canadiens Chief Operating Officer Kevin Gilmore is one of the rare hockey executives to have worked on both sides of the coin. From 1999 to 2006, he was the director of hockey operations for the Los Angeles Kings while serving as general manager of the team’s AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Before joining the Canadiens in 2011, he spent three years as a senior vice president of strategic planning and corporate development for the Kings’ parent company, AEG.

    Photo by: CHRISTOPHER BOTTA / STAFF

    Staff writer Christopher Botta caught up with Gilmore at the 2014 Veritix Sports Facilities & Franchises conference earlier this month in Pittsburgh.

     As a former VP of hockey operations with the Kings now serving as COO of the Canadiens, have you had success getting the hockey and business divisions of the Habs to work together?

    GILMORE: It’s essential that we do. [Canadiens general manager] Marc Bergevin and I work well together. Being on both the business and hockey operation side in my career, what I’ve found is that when you do bang heads on an issue, it’s because at least one of the sides doesn’t understand why it’s important for the organization. So I work hard at explaining why we need certain cooperation, certain access, but I also respect that there are some areas of the locker room or of the team where we just don’t have to go there.

     The Canadiens have been justly praised for your superior game entertainment, especially the buildup to your playoff games this year in the Bell Centre. How did that come together?

    GILMORE: Hockey is a religion in Montreal, and we see the pregame as a big part of the ritual. Starting with 30 minutes before the game, we want fans feeling that something special is about to happen.

    For this year’s playoffs, we worked with Yves Aucoin and his company, 4U2C, which is based in Quebec. Yves is the

    The Canadiens’ playoff pregame included projected effects that put their rink in motion.

    master behind the production of Celine Dion’s shows. He’s a lifelong Canadiens fan, so this became a passion project for him to work on. 4U2C was behind the 3-D lighting effects on the ice before and during the introductions. From the stands and on TV, it looked like the ice, which served as a screen for graphics, was flipping around and moving up and down. We need to be innovative in everything we do. I have to give a lot of credit to Yves’ group and our marketing team for such an incredible game presentation.

     With a season-ticket waiting list of more than 4,000 names, what can a COO and his staff do when hockey is already so popular in Montreal, TV ratings are big, and the seats are already sold?

    GILMORE: I address that issue when I speak at business and community functions: What do you do when you have to grow revenue but there’s nothing left to sell? When the Molson family bought the team in 2009, the team was close to the top of the league in tickets and sponsorship revenue. The challenge we gave ourselves was expanding the consumer base for our traditional revenue streams and allowing our global fans to also be customers.

    We’ve been around for 105 years. As I said, the game is a religion here. We’re not in the business of selling the sport itself; we sell moments, and we sell memories that surround the sport. With our 24 Stanley Cups and numerous hall of famers, we are on our fifth generation of fans that draw on these moments, heroes and memories, and these fans are from all over the world. But those global fans can’t all be consumers. How can we help them be a “near” fan? We’re looking at ways of getting them engaged.

     Is there any reason for the Canadiens to create a loyalty program, as many teams are now doing?

    GILMORE: We’re on the verge of starting one. Our program isn’t going to be just about buying tickets and merchandise. We will reward fan behavior outside of the arena that constitute “acts of loyalty.” If you’re a fan in Sweden and you’re streaming our radio broadcast, you’ll get points for that. Follow us on Instagram, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, you’ll be rewarded. Go to a bar in Paris that’s designated as a Habs bar, you’ll get points for that. Those points will be redeemable for anything from apparel to tickets to unique experiences around the team.

     What can a COO for the Canadiens learn from an industry conference?

    GILMORE: A lot, which is why I attend a lot of these events. If you see me, I’m constantly jotting down notes and ideas on my tablet. I learned that a few soccer teams in Europe have tunnel cams, showing their players just as they hit the pitch. It’s a great idea, so we will immediately look into doing it so our fans can live that moment as the Canadiens step on the ice at Bell Centre. I want to learn what other teams in other sports and other countries are doing to better connect with their fan base.

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  • Kings cement their success with another title

    Philip Anschutz finally raised the Stanley Cup over his head.

    When the Los Angeles Kings captured their second Stanley Cup in three years — this time, with a five-game final series victory over the New York Rangers earlier this month — the 74-year-old owner of the Kings was able to fully participate in hockey’s most cherished moment.

    In 2012, a back injury had prevented him from raising the Cup. He wasn’t going to miss out this time.

    Kings owner Philip Anschutz lifted the Cup at Staples Center.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

    After the players had their turn skating around Staples Center with the Cup, Kings captain Dustin Brown presented it to Anschutz, who smiled and raised hockey’s Holy Grail above his head triumphantly — and with ease.

    “That was memorable,” said Kelly Cheeseman, COO of AEG Sports, parent company of the Kings. “For Mr. Anschutz and our group, it’s a testament to all the work put in, not just over the last three years, but really the last 15 or more.”

    Anschutz assumed control of the Kings in October 1995. After some lean years, his hiring of general manager Dean Lombardi in 2006 set in motion the development of a consistent contender. The Kings advanced to the Western Conference final each of the last three years and now have two Stanley Cup titles to show for it. The core of the hockey team is young, as well.

    “With Dean in charge of the hockey operations, our expectation is that we’re always going to be good,” Cheeseman said.

    Luc Robitaille, the former Kings left wing who now is the club’s president of business operations, said that a second Stanley Cup means the team has carved its own niche in Los Angeles.

    “We don’t compare ourselves to the Lakers, Dodgers and other teams,” Robitaille said. “I believe in hockey and the impact the game can have around Los Angeles. We saw that a bit when Wayne Gretzky played here in the ’90s, and now we’ve taken it to another level.”

    The Kings have sold out 108 consecutive regular-season and playoff games, a streak that started in December 2011.

    A spokesman for AEG’s global partnerships division said that this year’s Kings’ Cup run brought forth a 23 percent increase in sponsorship revenue over the 2012 playoffs and that year’s Cup win. That sum includes new deals signed for the playoffs, such as postseason “presenting” sponsorships, and extended opportunities for regular-season sponsors during the postseason.

    Cheeseman said the Kings expect to finalize renewals of several sponsorships this summer. The team hosted 30 representatives from sponsors at the team’s 3-0 victory over the Rangers in Game 3 of the final in New York. One of those sponsors, Travel Alberta, extended its sponsorship agreement through 2016 with the Kings during the final. 

    The Kings’ Cup win also comes at a time when the team is looking for a new radio broadcast deal. The team’s past agreement with Clear Channel expired after this season.

    “We’re looking at a few options to see what’s best for us and the fan base,” Cheeseman said. “There’s a lot of interest.”

    As a result of the success on and off the ice, Kings executives gave themselves a few days early last week to enjoy the accomplishment.

    “We’ve been going from the Cup parade to a party to an event, back to another party and then another event,” Cheeseman said with a laugh. “We’re loving every minute of it. We work hard, but we all know how fortunate we are to be part of this.”

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  • Redskins enlist new program to serve military

    The Washington Redskins this week plan to unveil a year-round military club that will include free events, counseling services, and other perks for military members and their families. The club, called Redskins Salute, is being offered in conjunction with the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore.

    Many sports teams have military appreciation days and initiatives. The Redskins are unique in taking the concept beyond the confines of the season and making it a yearlong effort. The team expects to spend at least mid-six figures annually on the program. Washington has hired a marketing manager to run the club and plans to tout Redskins Salute via print, digital, mobile, social media and local TV.

    The team insisted last week the launch of a military appreciation club is not designed to distract from the continued controversy over the franchise’s name (see related story).

    “I understand why you are asking that question, but for us, we wanted to elevate all these activities,” said Shripal Shah, the team’s chief strategy officer, explaining the genesis of Redskins Salute. The planning began years ago, he said.

    Earlier this month, the Redskins hired Scott McCall, a former communications specialist with the Navy, to oversee the new club as its marketing manager. The club is roughly patterned after the team’s women’s club, Women of the Washington Redskins, which has 78,000 members and started two years ago to give female fans a way to engage with one another all year.

    With more than half a million military members in the Washington, D.C., area, Shah said he expects that Redskins Salute membership will surpass the number of members in the women’s club.

    Redskins Salute will focus on education, family services, health and wellness issues, and post-services job creation. The first major event of the club is a job fair Saturday at FedEx Field.

    The team is making its military program a year-round effort.
    Photo by: AP IMAGES

    For the USO, the affiliation with the Redskins is natural because the NFL, and Washington’s team in particular, is very popular in the ranks, said Elaine Rogers, CEO of USO-Metro.

    Asked about the team name controversy, Rogers described that as outside her purview and said that the USO is thrilled to affiliate with an organization like the Redskins that enables the military group to fulfill its mission of supporting troops. Working with the USO enables the Redskins’ new club to reach onto bases and into airport troop lounges.

    Eligibility for Redskins Salute includes all active duty troops, members of the National Guard and Reserve programs, and veterans from all branches of the U.S. military as well as their family members. There is no charge for the club.

    The Redskins will continue their ongoing military appreciation efforts alongside the new club. Those efforts include ticket giveaways and player visits to military hospitals. Just recently, Rogers said, 150 military members enjoyed an exclusive visit to the team’s offseason training camp.

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  • NFL still standing with franchise on name

    The launch of a club called Redskins Salute arrives at an awkward moment for Washington’s NFL team, just days after a U.S. regulatory tribunal did anything but salute the club’s name, declaring instead the team moniker a slur and removing federal trademark protections.

    The team brushed off last week’s ruling, noting the same agency in 1999 ruled similarly and that the decision was overturned four years later on appeal. And while the team could tie the case up for years on appeal, many asked in response to the decision whether the league, which is so protective of its image, might move to force a team name change.

    “If I am the league, and I lose this battle on the registration, I am really exposed,” said Barry Werbin, a Herrick Feinstein partner who focuses on intellectual property. That exposure would come if the team would have to cite common law to protect its trademark, and, Werbin said, “No one knows where this would come out in common law.”

    “Common law” means the law as handed down by courts over many years and not necessarily codified by federal authority. So, because the Redskins have used their name for eight decades, even if they lack federal protection, they could cite common law in an effort to stop counterfeiters.

    How a state court might rule on the matter is unclear given the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s ruling of the team name as a slur. That uncertainty, in turn, could leave the NFL with a team unprotected from counterfeiters. Because most merchandise and licensing revenue is shared equally among the clubs, that’s something that would hurt all NFL teams, not just the Redskins.

    The league has shown no indication of changing its stance that the name is not a slur and that any decision on the moniker resides with the club. The NFL deferred all comment to the team, and indications were the league still strongly sided with keeping one of its top brand names.

    Nevertheless, the ruling comes at a time when there’s also growing political pressure on the subject, along with the recent firestorm involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

    “This is also of course a big political issue, with the NFL having been pressured last month in a letter signed by some 49 senators to force the team to change its name,” Werbin said. “Considering what happened with Sterling’s racial remarks and the NBA forcing a sale of the Clippers, we probably are moving more and more to zero tolerance within the leagues respecting race and disparagement.”

    Another trademark lawyer downplayed the tribunal’s ruling, saying many in his profession don’t lend much credence to the body.

    “There is very little deference given to the Trademark appeals board,” said Greg Gulia, head of the trademark practice at Duane Morris. On issues like plaintiff standing and rules of evidence, Gulia predicted, a federal court will likely be far more strict than the tribunal.

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