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One-on-One With: Preds Chairman Tom Cigarran

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
On December 7, 2007 the Predators ownership group purchased the franchise. With the three-year anniversary approaching, caught up with Chairman Tom Cigarran to discuss the progress from the past three years and where he sees the growth of the franchise progressing in the short-term and long-term future. There seems to be a lot of energy among the fan base, the front-office staff, coaches and players – excitement for the season – do you notice a different vibe around the team this year than there was at the start of last season?
Tom Cigarran: Absolutely. I think factually we have the best team in terms of players and depth that we’ve had, certainly within the last three years. Anybody who is a real hockey fan sees that. The team itself now believes it is good enough to beat anybody; it’s good enough to win the Stanley Cup. The players believe that – maybe for the first time in Nashville – and what happened in Chicago last year, the painful experience they had there, contributes to that. They know on the ice they were as good as the Blackhawks, and the Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup. They know it, not just think it. That translates into confidence, which translates into success. The people who are around the building who have been around this team – and other teams over the years – notice the difference. Over the last four years the Nashville Hockey Market has seen the purchase finalized, a new lease deal done and the Del Biaggio ownership shares brought back in-house. Are things finally settling into a “normalcy”?
Cigarran: (laughing) We’re way ahead of “normal” for the Predators. As far as the Predators have been, things have never been more normal, calm, or stable as they are now. But we still want to improve. We want to strengthen our local ownership; add more – primarily local – investors so we can pay down debt and have this team in a financial position to be in Nashville forever. Right now the team is doing much better than it was. We’re on a path to our ultimate goal, but there are still a couple of steps that we have to go through. We’re knocking them off one at a time in a calm, orderly fashion. So we’ve never felt more confident about the team’s prospects and the team’s long-term health. What is your vision for the Nashville Predators organization?
Cigarran: Our vision as owners is for Bridgestone Arena to become the No. 1 sports and entertainment venue in the United States, with the centerpiece being a Stanley Cup championship hockey team. To be “No. 1” we have to be superb, not just good. We have to be excellent in everything that we do -- from how we book the acts, to how people are treated when they come in to see an act, to the concession stands and the food, to how quickly we move the concession lines, to the pricing, to the merchandise we sell -- everything has to be superb or else it doesn’t work. We’ve been good for a long time, but being good is not just good enough. We want people to have an unparalleled experience when they come here for any event, whether it’s a hockey game or a concert. There are more complexities in this business than any I’ve ever seen – and I come out of healthcare, which is no simple business. This business really requires a lot of very specific, very detailed knowledge of all the moving pieces. And in (new CEO) Jeff Cogen and (new President/COO) Sean Henry, they’re both people who are experienced in running very successful Top-Five arenas. David Poile and his group have always done a superb job on the hockey operations side. And on the business side, Jeff and Sean have track records of success filling a building, selling advertising, energizing a market to want to participate in the hockey experience. What are the next steps in your vision?
Cigarran: Steady growth in our average attendance. That’s No. 1. We had four sellouts last year and want to have a significantly more this year. Eventually, we want to get to where every hockey game is a sellout. We are confident that we will do that. Not in one year, maybe not in two, but over time we’ll get there. Once we’re sold out on a regular basis, that creates an atmosphere that advertisers are looking for. Advertisers in the building, radio, television; they’re all affected by viewership and support. We have to get our building filled, and we’re going to do that in the next few years. It’s steady growth. During that process, we are confident that we are going to have a very competitive hockey team. We will do everything we can to work with David Poile and the team to make that happen. Can you talk about the relationship you have with David Poile and the role he’s played in your vision for the organization?
Cigarran: The reality is all of the owners have such confidence in David and the job he and his staff have done and are doing, so we spend very little time with Hockey Operations. We (the owners) wouldn’t trade them for anyone else in the League. What we have to do is stay out of their way. We talk about the budget every year; we meet and agree on a number and then it is up to David, his staff, and the coaches; we don’t second guess any of their decisions. Those decisions all come from them and that’s the way it is going to continue. It just doesn’t make and sense for us to meddle in that. We count on them; they have a budget. And it’s up to them to get us to the Stanley Cup. That’s the deal. If you were to look into a crystal ball, how do you see the next 6-8-10 months playing out for the Predators organization?
Cigarran: I think our hockey team is going to do better than anyone thinks. I believe that and the guys in the locker room believe that. I think we’re going to have the highest ticket sales we’ve ever had. I think we’re going to show good growth on the financial end; good improvement. I think we’re going to see more and more businesses wanting to be a part of the Predators/Bridgestone Arena experience. As the economy improves, I think all of the ways you measure whether this team is declining/stable/improving are going to be pointing toward improving. Again we still have a ways to go. We’re very pleased with the way things are going so far, but we’re not there yet. We’re moving along with a plan we have. It’s not glamorous, but all the things you need to put in place to have long-term success, we’re putting in place. So we just feel great about the future.

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