In articles this season on the Islanders' vastly improved attendance, effective marketing initiatives and creative fan interactions, the name of Chris Dey, the franchise's Senior VP of Sales, Marketing and Operations routinely comes up. After all, Dey is the man behind the Islanders' moves off the ice.
So it's only fair for Islanders fans to ask: who is Chris Dey and how did he get here?
Dey, who has just completed his first season with the Islanders, is the son-in-law of Islanders owner Charles B. Wang. But make no mistake: he is not new to the business of sports, nor is he new to the challenge of building an organization.
In fact, the only relatively new aspect for the 41-year old Dey was Long Island, where he had been a regular visitor but not a resident before this season. Nevertheless, it didn't take long for him to personally address what mattered most to him.
"It appeared to me that there had been a disconnect between the Islanders and the community," Dey told the trade publication Hockey Business News for a recent article entitled "New Dey Dawning." He continued: "We have put some things in place to reconnect with the community here on Long Island."
Among Dey's many first-year programs:
Islanders Business Club:
A year round business development program for businesses and business executives utilizing the Islanders as a platform to do better business together that Dey plans to grow from 100 members this season to more than 1,000 members next season.
"Chris created the entire concept of the IBC last summer and now he's the force behind expanding it in huge numbers heading into next season," said Mike Bossy, the Islanders Hall of Famer and the Executive Director of the Islanders Business Club. "Chris recognized that this is a program that doesn't just benefit the Islanders but area businesses. He's been proven correct by the enthusiastic response of our new business partners. Chris is a thousand ideas a day. He's brought so much innovation to our franchise this season, and I know he's just getting started." Rexcorp Islanders Inspire:
Providing tickets and transportation to charitable youth organizations, the Islanders hosted more than 12,000 at home games this season. "Some of us take for granted that for many children the chance to attend one game can create a memory for a lifetime. RexCorp Islanders Inspire provides children with that chance. It' a program that means a great deal to me," said Dey.
"I had just signed with the Islanders and I was told about an idea Chris Dey had to host children that face challenges to attend a major sporting event," said Islanders captain Bill Guerin. "Mike Comrie and I signed on almost immediately because we liked that the program provided transportation when needed, besides the tickets. Many of our teammates also joined in. Thanks to our sponsors and the work of Chris Dey and his staff, Rexcorp Islanders Inspire turned into a major success we're very proud of."
Joining the innovative Islanders TV in '07-08 as the Islanders in Dey's words "flexed our muscle on the technology side," were the introduction of the NYI Blog Box and the development of a partnership with the fan message board Islandermania.
"He's aggressive, enthusiastic and goal-oriented," Islanders Media Relations VP Chris Botta said of Dey in the Hockey Business News. "I'm sure deep down a lot of us at our meetings last summer were like, 'Geez, you think?' but Chris has proven that we can."
"Chris is an exceptional sports marketer," said David Wilson, who worked on several projects with Dey as Principal of McNeil Wilson Communications, one of the largest public relations agencies in Hawaii. "It's no surprise he has done extremely well on Long Island."
The results of Dey's first season are remarkable. With 12 sellouts, the Islanders doubled their amount from the '06-07 season. The team set a franchise record for corporate sponsorships. The Islanders were top-3 in increased average paid attendance and in group sales. The list of accomplishments goes on.
But again, back to Dey. What prepared Dey for life on this Island?
|Chris Dey |
Like all of the most creative executives, Dey is at heart an entrepreneur. He began his sports business career as the Associate Executive Director of the Hula Bowl All-Star Football Classic, managing nearly every aspect of the event including sponsorship, game operations, and ticket promotions. In 1995, he joined Team Unlimited, a sports television and event marketing company in Honolulu. As vice president, Dey produced and managed more than 25 sports and adventure shows annually for ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN International, Outdoor Life Network and Fox Sports, including ESPN's 1998 Telly Award-winning production of XTERRA. The Nissan XTERRA Sports Utility Vehicle is named after the XTERRA Offroad Triathlon that was created by Dey and his associates at TEAM Unlimited in Honolulu, Hawaii.
From 2000 to 2003, Dey was president and co-founder of the Telly-winning Hawaii Sports Network (HSN). Dey successfully negotiated the first statewide television package of Hawaii High School State Championships. HSN was honored with a 2001 Pono Tech Award for their use of technology in small business with the development of two highly successful websites: HawaiiSportsNetwork.com and RainbowSportsNetwork.com.
In 2003, under Dey's direction as the executive director and general manager, the Hawaiian Islanders, was selected as the top marketing organization in the arenafootball2 league. The Islanders were also the 2003 Western Division champions.
Among his honors as a businessman in Hawaii, Dey was recognized by Pacific Business News as a member of their 2001 40 under 40, and was selected as a Pacific Century Fellow in 2003.
Dey came to Long Island with a history of deep commitment to the community that he has already begun to match in his new home. Since 2004, Dey has been a Board member for the Special Olympics Hawaii and is the current vice-chairman. As vice chairman, he leads the site task force and capital campaign for the development of the new 20,000 square foot Special Olympics Hawaii Facility. He has been a volunteer with Special Olympics since 1993.
It is that same community spirit he has brought to Long Island and the Islanders.
"I've always believed that if you are a true business leader – whether you are a corporation or a major professional sports franchise – one of your top goals must be giving back to your community," said Dey, who was born in New Jersey and is a graduate of the University of Virginia.
"Chris Dey and the Islanders have been terrific partners with our University on community efforts, including the game the Islanders hosted in honor of the Town of Brookhaven," said Dr. Shirley Strum Kenny, President of Stony Brook University. "So many people associated with Brookhaven got involved, the game was a sellout and we raised $23,000 for the Stony Brook Fund. This passion for civic responsibility is what makes Chris and his team such a success."
In total the Islanders helped raise more than $250,000 for community-based non-profit organizations through their game night promotions.
Besides his role with the Islanders, Dey is extensively involved as Senior VP of all of Charles Wang's sports properties: the New York Dragons (AFL), Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL), Islanders Iceworks, Islanders Children's Foundation, the Charles B. Wang Ice Hockey Project Hope in China and the planning of the Coliseum as part of The Lighthouse at Long Island. He is also President of the Honolulu-based technology firm, Hawaii IPTV, LLC.
Despite his crowded plate, Dey understands what the Islanders mean to their fans and says the work has only just begun.
"I'm proud that we made a lot of strides this season bringing our team closer to our fans and seeing positive results off the ice: selling more tickets, creating more corporate partnerships, garnering better TV ratings," said Dey. "But no one should confuse that with being satisfied. There is still plenty of work to be done for us to meet our goals – 10,000 season ticketholders, 1,000 Islanders Business Club members and double our sellouts again next season, to name just a few. People ask me why 10,000 season tickets. 10,000 is a tipping point for us. Once we reach 10,000 season tickets we are poised to sell out nearly every game when coupled with our group and individual game ticket sales. We will reach our goals. We will continue to work hard, keep our promises and stick to a plan. As an entrepreneur you spend a lot of time listening to people tell you all of the reasons why something won't work. But persistence, planning, passion and clear communication starts to create a lot of believers and that's when great things happen."
It is that vision that Dey, general manager Garth Snow and head coach Ted Nolan will take to the public in a summer-long tour of speaking engagements that Newsday called "extraordinary."
"In my heart, I just believe that our fans want to hear about our plan. How can we expect them to become even bigger fans if they don't know what we're trying to accomplish? They want to support us with everything they have, they just need to know what direction we are going so they can follow. Garth will detail his plan to make our team a consistent contender. It's my opinion that we have to be a top-8 team in the league year in and year out in order to have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup. When you are consistently one of the top 8 teams then it breeds a winning mentality so as guys come into the system they expect to win and believe in the system. Ted Nolan will share his insights on team chemistry and how he always gets the most out of his teams, and I will discuss our business and civic goals and how we will get there.
"One thing that I've learned over the years in business and in life is that people can tell you a lot about what they are going to do, but you can generally see it in their eyes if they have the passion, desire and commitment to make it happen. We need to go out and see our fans so that they can see it in our eyes.
"This is an important time for the organization, and the strength of a professional sports team comes from the 'emotional ownership' the fans take. It's what separates the sports business from every other business. It's that strength that will give us the courage to stick to a plan that may take a few years but that will ultimately lead us to our collective goal. What's unique about the sports business is that although privately owned business the fans almost expect you to operate as a publicly owned company – that's the 'emotional ownership' piece that they feel. We can only expect to get their support if we tell them our goal and share our plan to get there. Experience shows us that few things can galvanize a community like a professional sports team. The Islanders are Long Island's team. Together we can accomplish great things, memorable things. I'm certain of it."