‘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.
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?
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.
■ 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.