Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 2


While waiting for the NHL lockout to end, Buffalo Sabres executives have been taking the time to educate each other, literally.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays this month, team staffers are attending what’s being called Sabres University. It’s a program that has Sabres employees acting as teachers for their colleagues, with courses ranging from “Salary Cap and Player Transactions” and “Media Buying” to “Fitness and Nutrition” and “Photoshop for Beginners.”

Buffalo GM Darcy Regier teaches a course on scouting to Sabres front-office staffers.
Sabres University was created in response to team owner Terry Pegula’s mandate to use the downtime during the lockout to become better as an organization. Sabres staffers have not sustained any layoffs or pay cuts as a result of the lockout.

“Terry told us to use this time wisely and find ways to improve how we do business,” said Sabres President Ted Black, who is joining general manager Darcy Regier as the “professors” of a class in public speaking. “We figured this program fits in with the culture here to make this a destination for players and employees.”

The idea was hatched after Brent Rossi, the team’s vice president of marketing, returned from a social media symposium in New York last month. Rossi told Black it might be instructive to pass along what he learned at the seminar. The two executives decided they should not stop there. After a few weeks of planning, the curriculum of Sabres University included more than 30 courses.

“Everyone has a binder, a class schedule, everything you’d expect from a school,” said Rossi, who is leading the class on media buying and one on social media. “There’s a buzz around the organization and everyone’s really into it. When we took the idea to the staff, there wasn’t a shortage of ideas for subjects or volunteers to teach.”

The program involves the Sabres’ full front-office staff of more than 100 employees. Each class is between 45 minutes and 60 minutes in length, and all sessions are held during business hours at the team’s First Niagara Center home, where the Sabres’ offices are.

Some courses, including “Customer Service Training,” “Risk Management” and “History of the Sabres,” are mandatory for all employees. Others, including “The Scouting Process” and “Putting the Ice in Hockey” (ice installation), are electives, available for those interested.

Each course is three credits, and employees must earn 30 credits to “pass” the November semester.

“I don’t foresee anyone not graduating,” Black said. “The classes filled up right away.” Then he joked, “It seems the higher the ‘professor’ is in the executive directory, the more popular his or her classes are.”

For example, 50 “students” are expected to fill each of two 45-minute sessions on Thursday this week for a course titled “What Ownership Means.” The class is taught by Kim Pegula, Terry’s wife. According to the curriculum, the course will “reinforce the Sabres’ organizational philosophy, and the mission of the company and our ownership as a whole.”

Among other courses, “Strength Training” is being taught by Sabres assistant conditioning coach J.T. Allaire; “Media Training” by longtime public relations vice president Michael Gilbert; “Behind the Scenes of a Sabres Broadcast” by announcer Brian Duff and others; and “The Evolution of Sports Sponsorship and Its Impact on Our Organization” by John Livsey, vice president of sales and business development.

Management has already decided that the adult education will be an annual staple. There are plans to conduct sessions next summer.

And the students are not the only beneficiaries of Sabres University. Said Black: “We’re finding that the opportunity to stand in front of your colleagues and teach what you do is very empowering.”

The Houston Rockets are becoming a magnet for international sponsors again, with the club’s offseason addition of Jeremy Lin fueling new foreign interest in the club.

Already well-known in Asia thanks to Yao Ming’s eight seasons in Houston, the Rockets currently count five companies doing business in China as team sponsors. Rockets CEO Tad Brown said the team is nearing additional deals with Asia-based companies in the telecommunications, financial services and apparel sponsorship categories.

Jeremy Lin has replaced Yao Ming as the Rockets’ resident international star.
The Taiwanese-American Lin, who stormed the NBA with the New York Knicks last season, signed with the Rockets as a free agent this summer.

“Jeremy is unique, and people are interested in him as a person and as a player, and we are seeing significant interest again from the Chinese market,” said Brown, who joined the Rockets in 2002, the same year Yao was drafted by the team. When Yao retired in 2011, the Rockets for that season had in their sponsor lineup eight companies that did business in China.

The Rockets so far this year have signed deals with Taiwan-based Maxxis Tires, which was a Knicks sponsor when Lin played in New York, and with Kenda Tires. Other Asia-related partnerships newly signed this year are with East West Bank and MetroBank; both have deep business interests throughout Asia. China-based shoe apparel company Peak is on board as a longtime team sponsor, as well.

The deals being negotiated would come in addition to these existing deals.
Brown said total team sponsorship revenue is up 20 percent, though he declined to disclose specifics.

The Rockets also are benefiting at the gate from the addition of Lin as well as from the trade for James Harden from Oklahoma City on the eve of the season’s start. Full-season-ticket sales are up 25 percent to date over last year, and the team has a 90 percent season-ticket renewal rate. For their home opener on Nov. 3, the Rockets posted record gate revenue, though Brown did not provide specific revenue figures.

Gains are being seen in the group and premium-ticket areas as well. All but eight of the 400 floor seats ringing the Toyota Center have been sold, and group sales are tracking on a record pace.

“We have put a lot of effort in our premium areas and we are in the top four in the league in group sales and should have our highest production ever,” said Gretchen Sheirr, vice president of ticket sales and service for the Rockets.