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Inside the Organization: Preds CEO Jeff Cogen

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators
With the NHL season entering the post-All-Star Break push to the playoffs, sat down with Preds CEO Jeff Cogen to get an update on what’s going on “behind the scenes” at 501 Broadway. You’ve now been here for a year and half, what has impressed you most from the business side of the Nashville Predators/Bridgestone Arena operations?
Jeff Cogen: When we came in – and it wasn’t just me, I’ve had a lot of help from my partner (Team President) Sean Henry and our executive team – but when we came it we were on a medium paced train and now we’re on a fast paced train. The biggest reason for that, the first thing that comes to mind, is the buy-in of the organization. Previously, there had been a strong division between Arena employees and Team employees, but we said Arena employees are going to sell Predators tickets, help out on hockey events and Predators employees are going to sell Arena events and work the different shows we bring in. We are taking that one plus one equals three mentality. I know it is the right path. I can bang my fist, send emails, create systems, plans and strategies but if the organization doesn’t buy in then it falls on deaf ears ... but that hasn't been the case here because I know we have the buy-in of all the employees towards our strategic vision. I’m not surprised by it; we have great employees. But we asked them to do something different than they were used to and they’ve run with it. This winter Bridgestone Arena celebrated its 15th Anniversary. What stood out to you most about the 15th Anniversary Celebration?
Cogen: It was humbling to hear so many people reflect on how the area has grown around the Arena over the last 15 years and see how passionate people are for what we’re doing here inside the Arena. But it was surprising to listen to some of the people harkening back to 15 years ago and the debates and challenges to get the Arena built. It seems like a no brainer decision now, especially looking at how Lower Broadway has developed. I never contemplated that it was so difficult to get Bridgestone Arena built. That was the thing that surprised me the most. As we move past the Arena’s 15th Anniversary and you look to the future for the Arena, where do you see things going in the next 3-5 years?
Cogen: It all starts with the hockey team. As our corporate mission statement says, our goal is for Bridgestone Arena to be the No. 1 Sports and Entertainment venue in the country and our goal is to have a Stanley Cup Champion team at the centerpiece of the arena. We’ve created a “one team” organization in the building so I look for the hockey team to grow its season ticket base. I look for the hockey team to consistently sell out games; take the revenue that is created from our sellouts and invest it back into the team and become a cap team. Once you accomplish that, you’ve created a critical mass from which the building can lift upon. You get to that point and when an Arena show goes on sale you have a larger audience to target, TV ratings for our games will go up as well. When we are promoting “don’t miss Drake this Friday” on our broadcast, we are talking to more people. I think if we take care of business with the hockey team and continue to consolidate operations, we will create a one plus one equals three. This summer the team introduced new uniforms including the home Gold jersey and with it a plan for the “Goldenization of Smashville.” How’s the Goldenization gone?
Cogen: (Team Chairman) Tom Cigarran wanted a distinct brand. When we’d go to games in Detroit or Chicago the arena was all decked out in Red. A few other buildings had their own unique aspects; that’s what we want to create with our Goldenization project. We established that unique brand and the building and sponsorship departments have taken this on as a task and married our partners with some of the Goldenization elements in the building. We’ve added vibrancy to the concourse, like the Nissan Atrium, Fifth Third Bank Zone and Delta Dental Kids Zone on the 100-level, the AT&T Fan Relations area with our SMS Loyal Legion wall to recognize our season ticket holders, the Fan Zone on the 300-level that opened up the endzone concourse from 315-320, the PredHead murals we’ve had custom painted for us. The team is playing well, the building looks great driven by the gold – you walk in to the arena for any event and it has a strong, unique personality – and there is still more to come. The playoffs last year with all those Gold towels waving, that caught the attention of people, not just here in Nashville, but nationally. That’s what Mr. Cigarran envisioned. I was standing with him the other night and we looked around the arena and around 30% of the house was in Gold. That is a great improvement, but we are looking to having it 50-70% of the house. We established that unique brand and I think there’s more to come. How have the fans responded to the Goldenization?
Cogen: St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said it the best when he said the arena is like the Coliseum in Rome. The atmosphere inside for games is great. We have consistently had loud, sold out crowds on weekends. And now we’re starting to back into those same crowds on Thursday nights and when get to that point we’ll be able to back into Tuesday nights. But, especially with Arena shows, it’s more art than science. When sales is up for a game or a show – like we saw recently with both the Circus and Monster Jam – we don’t try and figure out why. When the show is down then you start analyzing what went wrong and how can you fix it. I like to think it is the critical mass that we are creating that is driving these events and we are getting better at it. Much of our success is just empowering our marketing and sales department to be aggressive and to be creative. We have some talented people here and they come up with good ideas. That makes a difference. What has been the reaction from the corporate community to the success from the team and the arena?
Cogen: Corporate middle Tennessee is seeing what we’re creating and is participating in it. Bridgestone recently decided to exercise their option on the Arena’s naming rights deal. I don’t want to speak for Bridgestone, but in our conversations with them it was apparent that they liked what they saw. They still had three years left on the original deal, but they liked the near-term opportunity and they decided that there was no time like the present. Having a brand like Bridgestone extend their commitment to us validates a lot of what we are trying to do. For example, we’ve let it be known that we are definitely interested in hosting an All-Star Game; our target date is 2015 and we are aggressively going after that date. Bridgestone, as a partner in several of the league’s big events, wants to help us bring All-Star Weekend to Nashville. You can make the same argument for Nissan in the front lobby and with Dunkin’ Donuts and Yazoo brewery coming in. People are starting to take notice that there is something special going on down at Bridgestone Arena and realizing that they want to be a part of it.

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