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Volume 20 No. 42
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NHL team presidents: Time to move forward

As their teams prepared for the start of the abbreviated NHL season this past weekend, five club presidents took the time to share their thoughts on the effect of the new CBA and the post-lockout fallout. Participating were:

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?

Priest: Lots of people will debate whether the revenue-sharing model is improved or not. The reality is, in the NHL, it’s tough to predict how revenues will grow. As a recipient of revenue sharing, the Blue Jackets feel it was solidified in the new deal, or could possibly increase. It’s a positive for us. How much? Time will tell.

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.

Yormark: Ten years of stability means that partners will have the confidence to fall back in love us without a labor issue. It’s a fair deal for the Panthers. It enables us to compete on a level playing field with the other 29 teams. It helps us sign our own players long term and keep them Panthers, potentially, for their entire careers.

What is your team’s approach to selling this abbreviated season and growing your fan base long term?

Morehouse: Let’s get back to what the Penguins do best: trying to meet our fans’ needs and putting the best team we can on the ice. Put the focus on those things, and not on any of the unpleasantness of the past few months.

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.

Luukko: The Flyers’ strategy is we’re back and thanks for your patience. Best way to thank them is by offering great value.

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?

Black: The direction from Terry was to do whatever we need to do to make it right with our partners. Our only challenge is that we sell our own commercials for Sabres broadcasts on MSG Network. We’ll need to work through those make-goods over time.

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.