Breakfast with the Commish

July 13, 2014

It’s been two weeks since the event, but I didn’t want my copious note-taking to be in vain. As a result of my year’s service as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers Fan Advisory Board, I was invited to breakfast and panel with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. I chose as my companion a Tweep and delightful person LauraTheActiveStick, who also has a blog at Of course, I added a little extra stress to our morning by having her meet me at the wrong Sheraton (Society Hill) in Philadelphia. But after a Keystone Cops-y taxi trip, we arrived at the correct Sheraton (Downtown).

The Commish didn’t arrive for breakfast until it was nearly over, having spent, I surmise, that hour with prospects and their families at the cleverly named “Prospects and Families” breakfast. But after he stopped in to look at the crispy bacon, we (a few Flyers season ticket holders and quite a few men in suits who didn’t look like anyone I’d ever seen before, so we don’t think they were media and it seems unlikely they were front office people, who who likely would have been busy in draft war rooms, so we’ll assume they were representatives of marketing partners and advertisers) all decamped to the panel across the hall.

The panel comprised Commissioner Bettman, new Flyers President Paul Holmgren, Flyers Chief Operating Officer Shawn Tilger, Flyers Captain Claude Giroux, and Flyers starting goaltender Steve Mason. No questions were taken but an NHL communications staffer served to tee up topics.

The commissioner, to my surprise, is charming, funny, and self-effacing. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him one-on-one, but I hope he would not have remembered me from my telling him in passing on West 53rd street during the most recent lockout that I hated him for destroying my game. At the time, the look of stunned dismay on his clearly exhausted face was satisfying. After spending time with him on draft day, I’m very sorry about that.

State of the Game

Mr. Bettman started off talking about the state of the game. He believes the NHL has never been better, with the best athletes, the best game, the best competition. Never faster or more entertaining. Arenas were at 96% capacity during the regular season and more-than 100% capacity for the playoffs. And because of the NBC deal, for the first time every playoff game was shown on national television.

The league is also available on more digital platforms and continuously working to develop more and better use of new technologies to watch and follow the game. He believes current ways to access the game are the right foundations; the system is fair and makes sense, enabling fans to connect in more ways.

Winter Classic

At this point, newly appointed Flyers President and former General Manager Paul Holmgren spoke. He began by saying “In my mind the league is where it is today because of Commissioner Bettman’s leadership.” He also discussed the potential for a future Winter Classic involving the Flyers. Because the Flyers have been involved in two Classics so far, to the delight of the players, fans, and organization, and the Flyers “would absolutely love to do it again.” Mr. Bettman interjected that the initial plan was not to have a Winter Classic every year, but the league believes it has turned out to be a great annual event.

Shawn Tilger

The Flyers organization is focused on generating a new generation of fans. Coming up to the team’s fiftieth anniversary in 2017, a focus of customer service is to grow the sport, increase consumption (through television, radio, attendance), invest time and resources in youth hockey. The Flyers never have to sell passion to knowledgeable fans that the organization respects. Although there is often the idea that there are 19,000 Flyers fans, the team realizes that most tickets are shared between multiple fans. This year the Flyers had 820,000 fans at home games, clearly not all repeat customers.

The organization is begging the league for another Winter Classic, stadium games, and an All-Star game.


As the goalie representative on the panel, Steve Mason was asked to address the shootout. Although not his favorite thing, he recognizes that the fans seem to love it, although he has mixed emotions himself. But fans look forward to the atmosphere.

Claude Giroux added that the team has a love/hate relationship with the shootout. If you win it’s the greatest idea ever, but when you lose…

But there is change in the air. Commissioner Bettman brought up that although the shootout ha been a success, they would like more games to end at least in overtime without a shootout being necessary. In order to improve the number of overtimes ending in a winner they will be switching ends at the beginning of overtime, resulting in a long change on shifts. The hope is that the increase in goals scored that is achieved in second periods with the long change will be reflected in overtime scoring. Also, instead of a 1-minute break between regulation and overtime, there will be a 4 ½-minute break for a dry scrape to improve ice conditions for overtime.

However, to make the shootout even more interesting if it is necessary, coaches will not have to submit a list of shooters. They’ll have the flexibility to use individual players more than once in the shootout. They also want to get rid of the spinorama, which is not a real in-game hockey move, but the NHLPA has not agreed to that. The NHL Players’ Association says that they are unanimously against getting rid of the spinorama, but a goalie on the committee said, “I don’t remember voting on that.”

Commissioner Bettman said they wouldn’t touch a shootout for the playoffs and Holmgren, in his best intimidator attitude, said “There will never be shootouts in the playoffs.” It felt like a very “over my dead body” statement. And he’s a lot bigger than Bettman.

Draft Day

Claude Giroux spoke about what the day is like for the kids in that other breakfast. He said draft day is really long when you are a prospect. You can’t sleep the night before. The first round of the draft is at night and all day there is nothing to do.

In his draft in 2006, Giroux had talked to both Montreal and the New York Rangers and hoped to be picked 20th or 21st. But he felt he was borderline and was worried. When those two teams did not pick him, he turned to his dad and said he’d be taken on day two. But then the Flyers came up at 22 and Bobby Clarke forgot his name when the selection was made. They went to dinner after the draft.

Commissioner Bettman interjected, “There’s nothing borderline about you.” Then he added that there is a screen with the player the team has informed the league it will draft right on the podium, so for Clarke to forget Giroux’s name was pretty odd.

Steve Mason’s experience was a bit different. “I was going somewhere between grocery worker and 7th round, so I wasn’t at the draft.” He found out on the computer that he was a third-round pick, but it was exciting nonetheless.

According to Bettman, there is always a next season and the draft is the annual rite of renewal. It is always coming up. He is bemused by the fact that 15,000 people show up to watch which is in essence a business meeting. Still, it is nice to feel the embrace of a community.

Paul Holmgren shared that he was drafted by the Flyers in 1975 and didn’t know until about a week later. There had been no contact because he’d already signed with the rival World Hockey Association.

As for the draft that night, Shawn Tilger encouraged everyone to take in the whole event both live and using interactive technology. It is a made for television event, so the digital access will enhance the live experience.

As a final note on the draft from the commissioner, a laughing Bettman said, “It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t boo me tonight. Tell your friends.”

Wrap Up

Commissioner Bettman said that the league is in joint consultation with the players’ association on resurrecting the World Cup of Hockey and that it is an important venture.

In his opinion, the Flyers as an organization represent everything good, compelling, and important about Philadelphia. The heart and soul leadership have propelled the Flyers to their position in the community.

Shawn Tilger said that Philadelphia was recently dubbed “The New Hockeytown” and it is a distinction the city has earned.

And finally, Steve Mason said that the past year has been the best year of his life and part of that is because of the fans of Philadelphia.

[Note: If you heard about the draft, you know the Commissioner was roundly booed, as he is in every public appearance in every city. But unlike early in his tenure, he’s learned to roll with it. He was relaxed and funny and I really believe he meant it when he said, “I love your passion.”]


2013 Flyers Season Ticket Holder Town Hall Part III

September 2, 2013

My group (and the groups appear to be about 70 people per rotation) went on to the Coach Laviolette station for our third session.

Lava started out with some remarks. He said he was happy with the summer the team had and the players acquired. He believes Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit are two good leaders and two dynamic players. To put those players in the lineup without having to give up assets…and then have a good care of youth behind them. Read the rest of this entry »

2013 Flyers Season Ticket Holder Town Hall Part II

August 29, 2013

Second station for the August 12 STH Town Hall for me was General Manager Paul Holmgren. Homer started out by saying missing the playoffs was disappointing. That he still believes anything can happen once you get in.

Mostly he just answered questions about personnel, which makes a great deal more sense than asking President Luukko about personnel.

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2013 Flyers Season Ticket Holder Town Hall Part I

August 25, 2013

Sorry for the delay in bringing you the traditional play by play of the Flyers STH Town Hall. On August 12 Flyers brass met with season ticket holders in a first summer edition of the usually annual Town Hall meeting. As it turns out, the summer is a much better time to have one of these meetings. Unlike the March date that has been the habit, this summer date means the President and GM can actually talk about available players, signings, and trades. It is much more satisfying to hear about what has happened than to have the clueless ask questions that are unanswerable by those bound by anti-tampering rules. I hope the Flyers will continue to hold these meetings in the summer in future.

The first station for my cohort was with President Peter Luukko and COO Shawn Tilger. I’m never really sure why Shawn is there, because no one asks him questions and Peter is the star of the show, but it’s the way they’ve done it all along.

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A Post-Season Town Hall

April 18, 2011

For the past few years the Philadelphia Flyers have hosted an evening each season at which on- and off-ice team management have been made available to season ticket holders for question and answer sessions. Usually this happens in March, before the trade deadline and the stretch run. For some reason this season the so-called “Town Hall Meeting” was held between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs, on Tuesday, April 12.

As a season ticket holder I’ve always enjoyed this opportunity to interact with the people who are responsible for our game-day experience and for the construction of the Philadelphia Flyers we see on the ice. And once again, I’m sharing my notes on what was asked and answered.

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The Dawn of a New Line

December 18, 2010

About 2 minutes into today’s Flyers vs. Rangers game, late on its first shift, the Carter/Zherdev/van Riemsdyk line came dashing from the Flyers zone into offensive territory with scary speed. Just three games (I think) together and they are already proving to be effective.

Fans and media are always looking for catchy names for lines. It hit me right then that there is no better one for this line than “The High Speed Line.” It has the advantage of being the name of the New Jersey Transit line that brings so many Flyers fans into Philadelphia for the games.

Since I know it is often hard to determine just where a moniker came from, I want you to know, when you look back on this with fondness, that The High Speed Line was coined right there in seat 103-4-4 at the Vault on December 18, 2010, by me, The Sports Diva.

When Season Ticket Holders Attack!

March 30, 2010

For the third year in a row,  I attended the Philadelphia Flyers  Season Ticket Holder Town Hall meeting. This year, to the inconvenience of all the Jewish STH’s, the meeting was on the first night of Passover. So in addition to serving the folks who usually check in on this annual blog, I hope I’ll be able to provide some insight for those whose observance left them out of the loop.

Luukko and Tilger–Operations

My first stop was with Flyers President Peter Luukko and his right hand, Shawn Tilger (Sr. VP of Business Operations). They started out with a conversation about the Flyers having bid to host the NHL Draft. (When I said I hoped it would be when we actually had draft picks, Tilger did say it was a three-year cycle. I’m pretty sure the underlying agreement with us not having draft picks was not intended.)

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The Better Story

February 17, 2010

Leading up to the Women’s Snowboard Cross final in the Olympics yesterday, all the talk on NBC was about Lindsey Jacobellis and her redemption arc. Telegenic young U.S. athlete making up for the boneheaded hotdog move that caused her to fall and throw away a certain gold in the final in the Torino games four years ago.

But there was a better story right in front of them. A more heartwarming story. Vancouver-area native Maelle Ricker had been in that same final four years ago. And unlike Jacobellis, Ricker didn’t walk away from the hill with egg on her face. Maelle was airlifted off the hill after a scary crash the product of trying too hard to win.

When I finally heard that story last night (belatedly told in midcompetition by NBC talking heads looking for some redemptive quality for the final once their golden girl choice had failed again), I had no trouble cheering for the Canadian snowboarder to take the gold she won with an aggressive but controlled ride.

While Jacobellis post competition was trying to sell herself as having learned a lesson because at least she didn’t just quit in the consolation heat like she normally would (why, how noble of you angelic one!), Ricker was celebrating a home field hard fought victory.

Maybe by the time Jacobellis finds her way to the other side of 30 she’ll have figured out what it means not to take the competition for granted.

Why I’m Rooting for the Blackhawks

April 30, 2009

Now that the hometown Flyers are eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, what keeps me watching? Well, I think I’d watch no matter who was playing. I just love hockey that much. But I’m watching with added excitement this year because I still have a rooting interest. For whom? For the Chicago Blackhawks.

Why? Well that’s easy to answer.

First, I’m from Illinois. Then, it’s the crest on the sweater. The renaissance of a once moribund franchise. It is the determination and execution of a plan by a man who had years to stew about what should be done and finally got to do it (he’s my favorite Rocky!). It’s the long-suffering fans who were desperate for a reason to keep supporting their team and when they finally got an owner who cared about them and cared about winning they came back with open hearts and embraced the team that finally was there to embrace them in return. It’s the young players–Kane, Toews, Byfuglien–and the old ones–Havlat, Khabi–and the in between–Sharpie, who couldn’t be more likeable and turned out to be a heck of a player, Mr. Hitchcock.

So starting tonight it’s yet another chapter in the remarkable rebirth of a legendary hockey franchise. GO HAWKS!

Flyers Town Meeting 2009

April 8, 2009

Last year’s Flyers Season Ticket Holder Town Hall was a revelation. Who knew that a major, big city sports team would, or could, find a way to interact meaningfully at the management level with the fans. But the Flyers have refined their format to fine art. So for the second year in a row, I was able to speak with, question, hear from Flyers brass.

This year again we started with a quick meal in the Lexus Club. Then we moved on to sessions with Peter Luukko and Shawn Tilger, Premium Seating and Parking, Chris Pryor and Don Luce, Paul Holmgren, and John Stevens (who was on the road for the session I attended last year). Read the rest of this entry »