George: The circus is back in town

Monday, August 16, 2010 at 12:31am

“Without promotion something terrible happens — nothing.” —P.T. Barnum

Last week, Nashville Predators Chairman Tom Cigarran announced the upheaval of his team’s front office, offering the rationale that for the past five months he’d run the team on his own common sense, which was conspicuously bereft of pro-sports acumen or savvy.

“Common sense … is always a good thing, but it’s not enough in this industry, and I was making decisions based on nothing but common sense,” Cigarran said.

It was a monumental moment as far as professional sports franchises go. The long-running joke is that the only matchless egos in the business world belong to newspaper publishers and the owners of pro teams. Absent a profit, what’s left?

Uncharacteristically, the guy in charge admitted he wasn’t cutting it, so he hired two people — both from Stanley Cup-winning teams — who he believes can, relegating himself and the rest of the ownership group to a proper board-of-directors role. It was the conclusion of a search that began in March and signals the departure of team president Ed Lang, the longest-serving Predator. Given last week’s developments, it’s fair to say he didn’t turn out to be exactly the leadership figure he was heralded to be when he ascended to that post in 2007. Yet Lang, who will stay on during the transition, also perhaps wasn’t given a shot at anything other than minding a ship cutting the tumultuous waters of a schizoid ownership group.

But that mess, as has been said before, we can for now put behind us.

New CEO Jeff Cogen comes from the Dallas Stars, where he served with distinction as president, helping grow the Stars’ fan base and extend the team’s visibility (not to mention hoist the Cup). The Stars are for sale, and according to the Dallas Morning News, the front office is working without contracts in anticipation of a new owner. Although he apparently likes Texas — Cogen came on with the Stars when they moved from Minnesota in 1993, leading the marketing of the new franchise, and after two years in charge of the Florida Panthers, he shuffled back to the Lone Star State as CEO of Major League Baseball’s Rangers, before returning to the Stars three years ago — Cogen decided against sticking around through such uncertainty when he’d been offered a new gig.

Cogen’s partner atop the heap is Sean Henry. The new chief operating officer arrives from Tampa Bay, where he was COO of the Lightning, overseeing both a growing fan base and, again, a hoisting of the Cup. Henry also ran the arena side, which has everything to do with the deticate crafting of the “fan experience.”

It’s a fantastic strategy on Cigarran’s part, bringing two experienced front-office guys from Southern, traditionally hockey-averse markets where the teams compete against popular NFL franchises. The announcement caused a flurry of anticipation in the Preds’ blogosphere and among fans thirsty for some good news less than two months before the opener.

At last week’s press announcement, Cogen revealed his six-point strategy for turning things around — not for the team, which has been pretty decent, but for all us weary fans who fund it. All six points involve reaching out to the community, making the fan experience more engaging, tweaking the arena to be a little more fan-friendly and bolstering the Preds’ brand in a town where the vital Titans stamp obscures much else.

In short, more butts need to be in the seats, because on average, something like 3,000 were empty per game last season. That put the Preds dangerously close to slipping under the 14,000 average the NHL requires for profit-sharing.

The message from the new brass is basically the same as what former president David Freeman told The Tennessean in 2007, in the afterglow of a similar “new day” vibe: “You will see us focus our time and energy and enthusiasm … on the sales and marketing front.”

Up to that point, the Preds’ owners had lost some $70 million, according to what outgoing owner Craig Leipold said. Wonder what that figure is now.

But enough with past doom. This is a new day, right?

“I believe the Nashville situation is a lot like what we faced in Dallas when we first started, and I’m excited about the chance to make a real impact there,” he told the Dallas Morning News.

It is certainly curious, Cogen comparing his new team — out of the NHL gate a full 13 seasons now — to a newly relocated team (and one small step from expansion team). Whether his approach will be such remains to be seen, but if last week’s presser — with Cogen’s championship-ring-flashing circus act to GM David Poile and his assurance to “plan a good parade” — is any indication, fans ought to set up for something a little more energetic from our hockey club.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and foes, lovers and loved: The circus is back in town! Or at least one hopes. 

Filed under: City Voices

4 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 8/16/10 at 5:47

Another Hooray for the Metro Taxpayers. Your subsidy doesn't go down but
now you have some new names to memorize to go with the bill!

By: Loner on 8/16/10 at 7:09

The PT Barnum quote is most apt.

The Predators are receiving tax monies from Nashville's taxpayers? That's panem et circum - Southern style, I suppose. The taxpayer's provide the bread for the circus....isn't that special?

Public financing of eductaion meets with stiff resistance; but Bucks for Pucks slides across the ice and into the least you folks got yer priorities right. Bread and Circus! Yee Haw!

By: Loner on 8/16/10 at 7:11

Typo: "eductaion" s/h/b "education" bad.

By: bfra on 8/16/10 at 7:35

Loner - This town has been a circus ever since we got a clown for mayor!