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'Next year is a big year for us': Q&A with Brad Alberts

The Stars President and CEO discusses the business side of the organization, what they've learned during the pandemic and what to expect in the years to come

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Brad Alberts was named President of the Dallas Stars in 2018 and added CEO to his title in 2020, so he's been on a whirlwind run the past few years.

The 51-year-old led the way in bringing the Winter Classic to the Cotton Bowl in 2020 and helped USA Hockey when it had to move the IIHF Under 18 World Championship from Michigan to Texas this year.

He also was one of the leaders in bringing fans back intro NHL arenas this year and continues to help drive the business of hockey in North Texas through the pandemic.

Alberts recently took time to answer a few questions on where the Stars are now and in the future.

Q: Is there anything you've learned during the pandemic that'll change things for the operation going forward?

Alberts: A lot of things, really. It's been a tough experience, but I also think it's been good because we've had to push ourselves to do things in a different way, and that's created some new answers. For one, I think we've now gone through the digital transformation of the business. It had already started, but the pandemic and the need to be as hands off as possible has created the need for a paperless business. There will no longer be paper tickets, everything is going to be digital. That'll be the same way for food and beverage, cashless will be at every arena. You'll need to do credit cards or other forms of digital payment, and that's just how the future is going to be. Secondly, the attention to safety and cleanliness that we've embraced, I really feel that'll continue going forward. We want our level of cleaning and safety to be at its highest. I think consumers will expect that going forward. You need to keep that level of germ-fighting at its highest.

Q: Will it be a challenge to convince people it's safe to be at arenas?

Alberts: I don't think so. I think the people who want to go out are going to go out, and people who don't want to be in a crowd are going to choose not to go. It's a personal preference, and I understand both sides, but we feel good about our presentation and our arenas, and I think fans will feel confident coming to our games.

Q: Have you made improvements to your arenas simply because you've had the time during the pandemic?

Alberts: Definitely. Everyone in our organization has tried to use the time to make every improvement we can. We've said from the start, `What do we need to do so that we can get people back in the buildings and get games going again?' and we've addressed that. I definitely think we've done everything we can to make sure everything looks good cosmetically and is ready to go.

Q: It seems like your group for several years has pushed hard to have the right branding, colors and professional feel in your buildings. Is that something that's important to the organization?

Alberts: There's a high level of expectation in this area to have that feeling, so we've always pushed for it. If you look at the Rangers or Cowboys, they have newer facilities and fans come to expect that. We want that same experience. There's a high standard of living we have to uphold, and that's something we're always thinking about.

Q: How have you handled youth leagues during the pandemic, and how do you feel you've advanced over the past decade or so?

Alberts: I love where youth hockey in Dallas is right now. We just came off one of the greatest years in our history. The number of kids playing has to be close to an all-time high. The demand for ice is definitely there, and we're looking to expand there. I love where the sport is at the grassroots level. You saw what we did with the World Championships, and we had a number of additional high level hockey tournaments in Dallas this year. We're going to continue to host these, and I want us to become one of the central areas that's known for youth hockey tournaments in the country, and I think we're well on our way to doing that. It's funny, I keep saying `I need more ice,' which is a good problem to have, but it's also a complicated one, because you can't just snap your fingers and build more rinks. We're working on it, and not only in DFW, but throughout the state of Texas.

Q: How important is it to spread hockey throughout the entire state?

Alberts: I think it's huge. We're the only NHL team in Texas, and I think we have a real opportunity to plant our flag in places like San Antonio, Austin and Houston. That's one of the things we need to focus on in the coming years. Can we get a rink built in the Austin area? I'd love to see one of our Division 1 universities take hockey to a varsity sport. That would be a really cool accomplishment for the growth of hockey in this state.

Q: That leads into maybe the most complication question I have for you. With the TV contract and the issues you're dealing with, how important is it to allow fans throughout the state to be able to watch Stars games on television?

Alberts: The Regional Sports Network equation is going to be one that is front and center for me, and really for every sports team, for some time. Obviously, there's dramatic changes for that business model and how they make money, and how they've been able to deliver the content. How does that evolve for their business, and what is that impact on us? I don't really know right now where things are headed. Our deal with Sinclair/Bally isn't up for a few years, so we have some time, but it's something we all have to study. What are the options for us? What do they want to do? We need to grow our game, grow our franchise, and still make the money that we need to be able to pay players at the level we want to be able to pay them. We're talking about it as a league, and there's a lot of uncertainty surrounding it. Nobody really knows where we are going and what the best solutions might be, and that's something we all have to work together to figure out.

Q: How important is it for you to have the eyeballs of the fans for both financial reasons and for the relevance of the franchise?

Alberts: Extremely important. You can only put so many people in the building, so being able to follow and watch on television is huge for us. I understand the frustration of the fans, and I share the frustration of the fans, because it's so important for us to be able to be in a format where fans can watch us. We want to grow our fan base, that's something we talk about every day. But because of the contracts, we have no leverage, and that's something where we have to trust that Sinclair and Bally also want to solve this and get as many people watching.

Q: Financially, how much has the pandemic hurt the franchise? Is that something you can manage?

Alberts: It's significant, but it's something we can manage. Losing out on the last couple of years has really stung us. We had a great event in the Winter Classic, and we weren't really able to capitalize on that financially. We had a run to the Stanley Cup Final, and we weren't really able to capitalize on that financially. We could've had great momentum, businesswise, and the pandemic slowed that significantly. Not making the playoffs this year didn't help, either. So next year is a big year for us to get ourselves back on the rails again.

Q: There's so many questions out there for every business who might support you. Can they buy suites? Can they advertise? The pandemic has affected a lot of entities out there.

Alberts: This is such a great business environment and our corporate partners have been so great throughout this, so we have great confidence. But, yes, there are still questions and we do have to continue work hard to meet the expectations we've set for ourselves.

Q: Could it affect your payroll or the product on the ice?

Alberts: I don't think so. We want to be prudent, but we would say that no matter what the situation was. We want to do everything we can to put a competitive team on the ice, and that hasn't changed at all. We're a cap team, and I don't see that changing.

Q: You have a mind for big events, and you've been able to do that even during the pandemic. Can you continue to dream big going forward?

Alberts: That's who we are. Our organization wants to be part of the sport's biggest and grandest events, whether that's hosting events like stadium games or going overseas for global games or hosting international tournaments, we want to be considered for all of that. The league has had so much to deal with in terms of bubbles and protocols, and I know they're all whipped, so we need to get back to a more normal way of life. But when it does come and when they do consider new things, they know we want to be a part of it.

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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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