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Q&A with Darren Abbott, Part One

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Darren Abbott is heading into his second season as the president of Washington’s ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays. Prior to that, he spent six seasons as the play-by-play voice of the team. Last March, Abbott sat down with us in his office near the North Charleston Coliseum. He spent more than 30 minutes giving us an inside look at the business operations of a minor league hockey club.

Mike Vogel: You’ve been part of a lot of accomplishments down here. This franchise has been a success pretty much since Day 1. How long have you been here and what are some of the changes you’ve seen?

Darren Abbott: “I came in 1996 when I was the public address announcer and I did PR. Then I had to go elsewhere to get my radio start, to Roanoke, Virginia, for two years. I came back in 1999. From 1999 through this past year [2005-06] I was the radio broadcaster. That’s quite a few years to be with one organization. I’ve seen almost every aspect of it now.

South Carolina Stingrays 15th Anniversary logo
“The team is blessed. It’s a great city. The building when [the franchise] first came in in 1993, was brand new and hockey in the south was brand new. There were 10,000 people there every single night. There was a honeymoon period and now what we’ve had to do is put a lot more resources into selling: selling tickets, selling group tickets and being more aggressive with it. We used to put more money into marketing and hockey. Because people were coming out, we just needed to let people know, ‘Hey, there’s a neat hockey team out here. Come see them.’ And people were coming. Now you have to aggressively get out there and sell season tickets and sell group tickets.

“What we’re having a tremendous amount of success with this year is group ticket sales. We’re way up in those numbers, and the reason is we’ve never put this much focus on it as a staff. We’ve basically tripled our sales staff, our ticket sales staff, so there are more phone calls and more face-to-face. And that is bringing the groups in. From those groups you develop your data base and hopefully get people to buy mini-plans and season tickets and things like that.”

“We’ve really transformed over the last few years as to what we’ve done. We’ve gone younger on the ice. In some ways it’s more exciting and in some ways it’s not. Our fans are pretty spoiled here. We were sort of like the New York Yankees for the first 10 years in that we finished first place every year, we won two championships, and we were always right there. Now that attendance plateaued at a level or has gone down to a certain level, we have had to put more into business. We have had to rely more on our affiliation. We’ve had to rely on younger players and recruiting.

“I think even at the major league level, if you’re not the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox you have to do that. If you go into the Washington Capitals offices, I’m sure there are a bunch of people trying to sell tickets. That’s what you have to do, so we had to change some of our focus. It’s been good because we’ve been able to stay competitive on the ice and move forward from a business standpoint.

Q&A with Darren Abbott, Part 1, Page 2
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