With training camp set to open in just under a month, NashvillePredators.com sat down with Predators President of Business Operations Ed Lang to get an update on the organization’s off-ice progress this summer.
NashvillePredators.com: Now that the schedule is released, can you discuss a little more of the schedule process and the ticketing packages? Specifically there appear to be a lot of Thursday and Saturday home games this season, was that something the organization requested to the league? Ed Lang: Scheduling is very complicated. I really don’t envy those at the league who have to make those calls; looking at building schedules, 30 teams that you’re trying to schedule with and everyone has their own unique situations. But, every year when we’re working with the NHL on scheduling, we always push for as many Thursday/Saturday games as we can. This year I think it fell in our favor and we were able to get a few more weekend games (15 Saturday home games, 1 Friday, 12 Thursday) than the past few years.
NP.com: The home schedule looks to be back-loaded with a lot of road games early in the season and more home games later in the season. Was that by request? EL: A good chunk of that had to do with our building situation. In November we have the CMA Awards Show here and basically they use the building for almost two weeks. It’s great to have the CMA Awards Show here and that’s huge for Nashville and our building, but by having no home games those two weeks it has naturally pushed some more home dates to the later part of the season.
NP.com: Were there any particular dates that you specifically requested from the league? Any that you particularly wanted to avoid? Why? EL: One of the dates we actually requested to have this year is a January 1 game (vs. Vancouver, 7 pm start). We didn’t have it last year, but in the past it’s always been a fun game to have on New Year’s Day and a well attended game, too. We didn’t request it last year, so we didn’t get it. But we’re back to requesting it again this year, because we think January 1 is a great time to have a game.
NP.com: With the new scheduling process, how were the three Eastern Conference home-and-home opponents selected for each team? EL: I wasn’t as involved in this part of the process as some others in the organization, but each team submitted kind of a ranking of the teams from the opposite conference that they would like to play for the home-and-home scenario. Very short description of the process; the league compared the requests from all 30 teams and tried to match requests as best they could. Washington, for example, was one of the teams high on our list; we thought they would be an exciting game for our fans. There were several other teams we requested, but it was a factor of which teams we were interested in seeing come to Nashville, the demand for those teams from the other Western Conference teams, and which teams in the Eastern Conference requested us. My guess is there was a high demand for Pittsburgh with the Stanley Cup Finals appearance and Sidney Crosby, so the league probably had to make some tough decisions to match their three opponents. But we feel very good about the three teams that we have. Each has a good tie-in for us; Florida with Tomas Vokoun, Washington and the match-up against Ovechkin, Atlanta and the proximity between the two cities – by distance Atlanta is the closest NHL city to us, so it might be nice to start growing another rivalry there.
NP.com: With the release of the schedule, the team also released its partial season ticket plans. Can you talk about this year’s plans and the thought process behind which games were selected for them? EL: Starting with our 23-game plan, it’s our half season package. It’s very heavy with holiday and weekend games; 12 Friday or Saturday games. So it’s a package more designed for people who can’t come to all the games, but are still avid fans. By buying that package, fans are guaranteed the same seat location for all 23 games. That’s a big benefit to a lot of our fans. It also locks you in for the Home Opener and the Regular Season Home Finale, which are traditionally tough tickets to find, two of the three games against Detroit, Sidney Crosby's visit (Pittsburgh, January 8).
The 13-game plan is another smaller pre-packaged plan. Again it’s loaded with weekend and holiday games and includes the Home Opener and Regular Season Home Finale. Seven of the 13 games are on Saturdays, plus the January 1 game vs. Vancouver and the March 10 re-match against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. The 13-game plan also reserves the same seating location for all of the games. Similar benefits to the 23-game plan, just a little smaller.
Those two plans we’ve always offered, but new this year is our 10-game pick your own plan; any 10 games, you get to pick what you want. You can pick different seating locations, different combinations. It’s a very flexible plan. It’s geared to fans who may have some time constraints; may only be able to make it to a limited number of games. You can pick all weekend games if you want to or if it's tickets for a company, they can be all midweek games. It’s also a good plan to use to check out the feel from different areas of the arena; from game-to-game you can switch between lower bowl seats, upper bowl seats, sideline, attack zone. It was created to be very flexible for fans.
NP.com: How are ticket sales going this summer? EL: Ticket sales are ahead of last year. We’re still fairly early in the process. About two weeks ago we started a direct mail campaign to 50,000 businesses, so we have a big push going on there. We’re almost ready to send out a 90,000 piece campaign directed more at individuals, so for the next 5-6 weeks we are going to be pushing our full and partial season ticket packages pretty hard. Both of those campaigns have a MAPCO gas card incentive tied in to them. We recognize that everybody is dealing with the higher gas prices, so we found a way to partner up with MAPCO to put together an incentive plan that can help people out a little, ranging from $50 - $200.
NP.com: One of the goals David Freeman mentioned when he came on board was a desire to further connect with the local business community. How has that progressed? How difficult has that been in the current economy? EL: I think we’ve had a good reception from the business community. A lot of companies have smaller resources available this year and a lot of others are playing “wait and see” to get a read on the economy. But we’ve had a lot of good meetings with local companies and feel good about where we’re positioned. We’re laying a lot of good groundwork within the business community.
As with anything with the economy, though, it’s been a challenge. To address that, we’ve looked at creating programs that give companies flexibility. For example, one of the things we’ve really been focusing on this summer is putting together family nights for companies – a block of tickets a company can buy, invite their employees out to a game, and make it a company night out at a Predators game. That’s a great benefit a company can offer up to its employees. We understand that a lot of companies are dealing with tough economic decisions, but anything you can do for your employees really goes a long way. We’ve had some good success this summer selling that concept to local businesses and focusing on group sales with companies. I think we’ll do really well with that as we move into the season.
NP.com: How have things gone on the sponsorship side? EL: We’re beginning to see some momentum in the sponsorship area. We finalized the radio sponsorship deal with The Zone earlier this week and we’re excited to have them back again. That’s an important partnership to us. We’re comfortable with where talks are with several other companies and in the next three to four weeks we think we’ll be able to close several other deals.
NP.com: The team added a pair of new ticketing options this season with the Table Tops Seating in the All Inclusive Zone and the new All You Can Eat section in the upper bowl for group ticketing. How have those been received? EL: The Table Tops concept and the All You Can Eat section have been very well received. We started some of the process at the end of last season where we had VIP-type experiences – offer the opportunity to buy a ticket to the game with a special dinner down on the event level, and a meet-and-greet with a player or member of senior management; experiences that aren’t available every day. The Table Tops concept is an off-shoot of some the VIP experiences. It’s a product very similar to a suite, but at a reduced price point, so it’s more targeted to small-to-medium sized businesses. It’s something we decided to pursue at the start of the summer. Construction is under way and we should have those in place in the next couple of weeks.
We’ve also introduced the All You Can Eat area in the upper level of the arena. We’re targeting that area to groups. It’s a great concept where we can approach a group and offer them the ability to buy the tickets and included in that one price are all you can eat hot dogs, popcorn, soft pretzels, soda. The group can enjoy a night out at the game and not have to deal with food vouchers.
NP.com: Any other additions for this season? EL: We’re doing some upgrades to the suites. We’re changing some things within our concession stands. We’re changing some of the food offerings in a couple of the stands and we’re adding a new credit card system for the concessions to help speed up the processing of the transactions and hopefully help move the lines quicker. We’re looking at potentially putting in a new bar in the FSN zone. We’re doing a lot of painting and other maintenance, so I think when people come in they’ll definitely notice some changes to the building.
NP.com: J.P. Dumont was around Nashville this summer and was very active in the community. Dan Ellis was visible when he came back in to town this summer. The young players were very visible when they were in town in late June/early July. What does it mean to the organization to have players like that on the roster? EL: It’s fantastic to have guys like Dan and J.P. helping promote the Predators, especially with J.P. being around all summer. Not just in the summer, but all year long, it’s impressive how much our players really do behind the scenes, whether it’s a hospital visit or going to a community center or a school or a summer camp. We also have a street hockey program that the players participate in. They are out in the community all the time helping with a lot of charitable events. Dan Hamhuis and his wife, for example, have become active in some local charities not affiliated with the Predators and he’s recruited other players and our Foundation to help with some events for those charities. There are a lot of things that don’t get publicized. Some guys ask us specifically not to play up what they do; they want to contribute for the cause, not for the recognition.
NP.com: When you spoke with NashvillePredators.com back in May, you mentioned the ad agency and how they have helped with branding. How active have they been this summer and what can fans expect to see from the marketing campaign this season? EL: We’re excited about our marketing campaign. About the second week of September, just before training camp, fans will see a lot of advertising from us. We’re going to be using our players a lot more in the campaign for ’08-09. In our spots this season, people will begin to see more of our players and how integrated they are into our community. Players like JP have already begun to be a part of that process. And with JP, having him around early, was a big benefit to us to begin to get the players out in the forefront.
NP.com: How have players responded to Nashville as a city? What reputation is it getting from the players? EL: I think the best way to answer that is with an example from one of our former players, Stu Grimson, a long-time NHL veteran who we had here for only one season. He’s retired now and he and his family moved to Toronto so he could help with the NHLPA. While he was in Nashville, he wrapped up his undergrad degree and then attended the University of Memphis Law School. But he thought so highly of his time in Nashville that he’s decided to move back to the area and start up his law practice. That’s just one example of a player who was only here for a short time, but decided that they wanted to become more permanent members of the community, raise their kids here, send their kids to school here. I think Nashville is a great environment, great community for players. A lot of guys still playing around the league come back to visit. Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen, among others, were around town at times this summer. I think Nashville has a lifestyle that a lot of the players enjoy.