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One-on-One with ... Predators President of Business Operations Ed Lang

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators
With the World Championships wrapped up and the Stanley Cup Finals just under way, sat down with Team President of Business Operations Ed Lang to discuss the state of the team heading into the off-season. This is the start of the first offseason with the local ownership group. What’s the status of the franchise in Nashville?
Ed Lang: Well it’s very solid, particularly with the new lease agreement with the city and Sports Authority. That ensures that the Predators will be around for a long time. Having the local ownership group ensures stability. So I think going in to this summer we’re now focused on growing and building the franchise versus dealing with all that uncertainty that was created last summer. How hands-on have the new owners been?
EL: They’ve been, David Freeman in particular, very involved. We have an executive team that is comprised of David Poile and myself, Executive Vice President of Finance Mark Floyd and Sommet Center General Manager Hugh Lombardi and David (Freeman). We meet on a regular basis and update David Freeman. But David Freeman ultimately relies upon myself and David Poile to run the day-to-day operations. He has been involved in terms of learning the business and helping us look at things a little bit differently. In general what have been the biggest changes over the last 12 months?
EL: Number one is that we now have a stable ownership group; new ownership group, local people. We have an amended lease agreement that ensures that the team will be here for a long time. We have a restructured management team that the new owners have put in place. So we will now have more consistency in our organization. On ice, David Poile is past the sell-off of players that we had last summer and he’s focused on growing and developing the team. And we have a lot of good young players to build around. We finished strong last season and made the playoffs. I think having that stability within the organization and the ability for David Poile to have the opportunity to take this team, develop it, and add to it when and where necessary, I think gives us a lot of comfort that we’re going to be a competitive team. The team was able to offer big contracts for Legwand, Dumont, Erat. That wasn’t something the team was able to give out last summer. Is that a function of the new ownership group or stabilizing the business model or both?
EL: It’s really a combination of both. It’s having the new ownership group come in. It’s stabilizing the business. It’s a function of our new lease agreement where we have the ability to create new revenue streams. So it’s going to allow us to build the franchise and build the team with some good quality players. Our focus is to keep our core players and David Poile has done a very good job of getting the Legwand, Dumont, Erat contracts done. And those are the type of players we’re going to build the organization around. There is some concern among fans that with contracts signed by those three that the team may not have money spend elsewhere on the roster?
EL: Our focus is to build the team the way David Poile has been building it, using the draft as our foundation and at the time that it’s appropriate to add players where needed. The plan is still to work on signing (defensemen Ryan) Suter and (Shea) Weber. I know David Poile is in that process. It’s going to take time to work those through.

I think everybody – the ownership group and everybody here – has all the confidence in the world that David (Poile) will make the right decisions. But his focus is really to build with our core players. Add some of our young up-and-coming players into the mix when they are ready. We have another two first round and two second round picks in this summer's draft. And when there’s an opportunity to add a key player down the road, then we’ll certainly take a look at that and take advantage of that. From a business standpoint, what has the local ownership been able to bring that the past ownership wasn’t able to do?
EL: I think the local owners are very involved in the community. They all have been here for a long time. They know a lot of people in Nashville and they’ve been very helpful in making new contacts for us, helping us with relationships that perhaps we had not had with people in the past. So really from a business perspective, they’ve made new contacts for us and helped us branch out to new customers. Sponsors and group ticket sales and suite sales, they’ve opened the door in all those avenues. I just think the fact that we have local people who have a connection to this community has clearly opened doors for us in all facets of our business. How important was the late season playoff run toward the franchise’s financial viability?
EL: I look at that stretch run not so much from a financial standpoint, but more of a platform to build off the excitement that we’re all about. The last seven out of 11 games were sellouts. The St. Louis game and the playoff games, the fan excitement was so unbelievable and so exciting that it gives us something to build off of for next year. People came away out of those games and thought, “what an exciting atmosphere it was at the Sommet Center.” The moment in the St. Louis game where the fans were cheering and willed the team to win that game, was just something we’ve never seen before. It was unbelievable. It was a response we never expected from the fans. That atmosphere along with that carrying over into the playoffs, is what we need to build upon. How is the team progressing with its ticket goals for next season?
EL: Well we feel very confident that we will exceed the goals of the NHL revenue sharing, but our focus is really going to be on filling the building every night. I don’t want to get into a game-to-game tracking of how we’re doing toward the revenue sharing, because our main goal is to fill the building every night. And selling out every game. Will that happen right away? Probably not, but the focus will be, "Lets fill the building with 17,000 fans every night." If we do that, we’ll hit all of our goals that we need to hit. How is the ticket renewal process going?
EL: Renewals are going well. They are tracking on par with last year. We feel real positive with the new ticket sales. It’s a little early right now, but we’re in good shape in terms of our overall process. We still have a lot of work to do this summer. A lot of the partial plans don’t renew until once the schedule comes out. So we’re in good shape right now, but it’s still real early in the process. We've had some special events such as Select-A-Seat that have helped. And we're developing other off-season events like our Draft Party on June 20 that will also bring some opportunities for us. How does the new lease agreement help the organization?
EL: What it really does, is to provide incentive to Powers Management and the Predators to bring more events into the building. There’s a bonus or incentive plan based on the more events that we bring in here to Sommet Center. At the most basic, the new lease provides financial incentive that allows us to operate the building more efficiently and to bring in more events which will help the downtown community which in turn will provide more security for the Predators organization and help to grow the economic development locally. So the new lease provides incentive for us to help drive more events to the building. And that’s also good for our sponsors; good for our suiteholders and other people who attend events at Sommet Center. One thing that’s important to note is the new lease took away that out clause -- the 14,000 paid attendance -- that was in the old agreement. So it ensures that the owners have no out over the next few years. You mentioned earlier the management team being solidified. Can you talk about the new hires and what they bring to the organization?
EL: Probably the area that we lost the most in during the transition was in the sponsorship and in the premium seating areas. We hired Chris Parker as Senior Vice President of Corporate Development about two months ago. Chris brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in terms of sponsorship sales and suite sales. He spent 10 years with the San Jose organization doing that. And he’s really put together a staff to focus on premium seating, which includes the suites. He’s building a staff in the sponsorship area. That’s an area where we really needed to focus our attention. Now having Chris on board, I think we’ll really make a lot of strides in those areas.

On the marketing side of things, in February we brought in a new ad agency, Gish, Sherwood & Friends. They’ve done a tremendous amount of work and recently presented us with an overall marketing strategy and plan for next season, which we’re very excited about. They have some unique things in there. They’ve brought a new creative element to our marketing plans, so we’re excited to have them on board. Throughout the summer we’ll be putting together the plan, the executional plan that we’ll be rolling out next season. Toward the end of the season we ran a lot of ads on TV which we traditionally hadn’t done in the past. Some of the print advertising that we ran towards the end of the season was their work as well. Really, as we get into July, August, and September, that’s when you’ll begin to see more of our 2008-09 marketing campaign get into high gear. Any new elements that we’re planning to introduce this year that we haven’t done as much of in the past?
EL: We go through an extensive review process process during the off-season of all of our customer touch points to determine where we can be more efficient, more fan friendly. We think we already have one of the best game exeriences in professional sports, but we're always looking for ways to make it better so our fans leave the building each night having had a great experience.

The league is heavily focused on the network, especially video content on the web. They’re really focused on developing their own content on the internet. So I think that will play an important part moving into next season. It will give us an important way to get our message out, to do player profiles, to do some off-beat types of things; perhaps get our players out in front of our fans even more than perhaps we’ve been able to in the past. I think this is an opportunity to do some creative things with our players and with our organization to get our message out.

From the league’s perspective they want to do more like the Winter Classic. More to promote the game. Next year four teams are going over to Europe to open the season. In our third season we played in Japan, we played two regular season games in Japan. I know we have an interest in doing something like that again in the future and we’ve expressed that to the league. I think that would be another exciting facet that Nashville could certainly benefit from, to see our team playing in Europe or in a Winter Classic game.

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