With the preseason wrapped up and the regular season just underway, NashvillePredators.com sat down with Preds CEO Jeff Cogen to talk about his first month with the organization and how things are shaping up for the ’10-11 season.
NashvillePredators.com:You’re now one month into the job; what is your initial observation of the staff and marketplace? Jeff Cogen: Generally speaking, I think things are going really well. I love the hockey operations department. I’ve had a chance to meet a couple of the players. I think they’re committed to winning. I think they’re committed to community. They want to assist us in forging a brand. It’s all a breath of fresh air, and it’s very exciting. Interacting with the front office, I think we have a great group of people - a tremendous infrastructure. I think things are generally going ok. I think we’re going to fill the building. I think we’re going to keep adding sponsors. And I think we’re going to win some hockey games. If you ask me what my concern is, it’s kind of what I don’t know. I think what I do know is going great. If there’s any concern, it’s what don’t I know.
NP.com:What is it like working with David Poile? Cogen: He’s a really savvy, organized, meticulous hockey executive, and we’re going to make a great team.
NP.com:Over your first month on the job, what’s been the biggest surprise? Cogen: I’ve never seen a community, at large, be more welcoming and engaging. Southern hospitality is exactly that.
NP.com:How has Nashville changed since you were last working in the market? Cogen: I’d say it’s a more sophisticated city, yet has maintained its small town feel. The facilities are newer; I used to deal with Municipal Auditorium, now I deal with Bridgestone Arena. Everybody I interacted with has gotten older, I guess I have too. I don’t see any significant changes. I think as though it’s still the embracing, warm big-town small-town community all wrapped into one.
NP.com:How are things going on the ticket front? Are they where you would like for this time of the season? Cogen: I say sales are going pretty well. Am I comfortable? I’m never comfortable. Until you sell out, drive a season ticket base, and have the assurance of having 15-16-17,000 people coming to every game, I’m never comfortable. But I’m optimistic. I think (Executive Vice President, Chief Sales Officer) Chris Parker’s group and (Vice President of Ticket Sales) Nat Harden and (Director of Ticket Sales) Marty Mulford do a tremendous job. I think Sean (Henry) and I can deal in the fringes and take 15,000 to 15,200/15,500. Keep improving our base, that’s our goal.
NP.com:The ticketing group met season ticket renewal goals this summer. How important a milestone was that toward what the organization is trying to accomplish? Cogen: I put things in buckets from tactical and strategic. We talk about 15,000 people in the building, the story behind the story is there are X amount of full season ticket holders, X amount of mini plan-season ticket holders, X amount of group ticket holders, and X amount of individual game ticket purchasers. As a sub-group of individuals, some walked up, some bought online. We deal in all those matrices to drive the attendance. Renewing our past ticket holders is the first step; if we don’t hit the renewal number, we miss the first one and start in the penalty box. So, we have the first check box and we need to get through the next ones.
NP.com:While you were there the Dallas Stars were held as the standard bearer for grassroots/youth hockey in new NHL markets. What can you take from your successes there as you settle in here in Nashville? Cogen: If you can put a stick in a kid’s hand or skates on a kid’s feet early, you create a brand attachment that lasts a lifetime. In Dallas, they’re now in the second generation of that initiative. Seventeen years ago, the kids that we gave sticks at 7-years-old are now buying season tickets and having kids. What do I hope to learn from that experience? We need to create those same types of initiative here. We do not have the same kinds of resources immediately that we had in Dallas, such as sheets of ice. But we didn’t (have all those resources) there on Day One either, and it took us time to build those 17 sheets of ice in Dallas; it was a decade-long process. Me, (team President/COO) Sean Henry and the rest of our management group are starting that process.
NP.com:During Training Camp the Preds hosted their annual Preds Fest. How did Preds Fest go? What did you take out of Preds Fest? Cogen: Preds Fest was a series of great events over the first weekend of preseason games. I think we did a pretty good job of filling the building for those games and introducing new fans to our great product. Now the challenge is to convince them that we’re worth an investment; and the ticket sales group is doing that as we speak.
I think the free tickets to the first preseason game was genius. I can’t take credit for it. That plan existed before I got here, but it plays right into my plans and initiatives. All I do is try and take that vision and add some degree of finesse and expertise to it given my 30 years, but the plan was in pretty good shape before I got here.
NP.com:You’ve been here now for four home games (three preseason games and the regular season opener). How does the crowd and arena experience match up with what you’re used to? Cogen: I’ve never seen hockey fans act like college football fans in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of National Hockey League games in a lot of different markets. It’s refreshing, it’s exciting. They’re a passionate group. I say we have a great, passionate group of fans, but they’re just a little small.
NP.com:You’ve also been here for several big events in the building. How are things going on the building side of the business? Cogen: I leave the majority of that to my partner, Sean Henry. He does keep me up to speed. The shows have been great. The shows have been first-rate by the event staff. I know that we’ve been interacting with concession partners Levy and Sports Services to maybe expand some offerings and speed up some service times and things like that. Generally, I’d give us a 7.5 on our way to a 10.
The big events coming to the Arena, like the SEC Basketball Championships, those give us a tremendous credibility and relevance in the region and the nation. Our goal is to be a preeminent sport and entertainment facility in the United States – not in the Mid-South, not in Nashville, not in Tennessee – in the United States. And when you get these accolades, like the ACM Venue of the Year Award, and these accolades are reinforced by awarding of significant, high-profile events, it is very rewarding. It is a checkbox, if you will, and what we have to do is take that programming and accolades and impress upon corporate Nashville that this is the place and compel them to join us in our efforts. We’re working on that, too.
You put a first-class product on the ice. You service your fans with unparalleled amenities and benefits. You grow that fan-base. You grow the television ratings. Then you go to corporate Tennessee, Nashville, or even further out nationally and you say, “Look at our passionate fan-base, and look at how our passionate fan-base has grown. Our passionate fan-base plans to switch phone service. Our passionate fan-base tends to buy cars. Our passionate fan-base eats out four times a month. Why can’t they go to your restaurant? Why can’t they buy your car? Why can’t they use your phone service? And our sponsorship group has it and they are on top of it. I think you’re going to see us announce some new partners in the near future that reaffirm some of these initiatives.