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.”]


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.)

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Last Minute Tickets a Bargain

October 9, 2008

Even when I still had Phillies Season Tickets, the purchase of post-season seats included minor annoyances. I’ll never understand charging season ticket holders a fee for buying their season tickets, or for buying post-season tickets. Incorporate the cost of doing business in the ticket, for heaven’s sake.

But now that I have not even a Six-Pack plan, I had decided that the post-season was out of reach. I’d seen the ticket prices on Stub Hub and knew I couldn’t afford to go.

Today, I was jonesing big time for tickets for tonight’s game between the Phillies and the Dodgers. A post season without me? I couldn’t imagine it. But I went to Stub Hub again, to remind myself that the tickets were beyond me. What did I see but a set of three tickets behind the plate in the Hall of Fame Club at an unbelievably low price. I called the agency, asked them if the seller would consider selling a single (leaving them with a very easy-to-sell pair). They called the seller. He said yes. And I’m going to the Phillies game tonight. Read the rest of this entry »

Drop the Puck?

October 8, 2008

You have got to be kidding me. I wait all summer for the hockey season to start. I spend all this time longing for opening night, with all the hooplah and happiness, and this is what I get?

What genius thought this was a great idea? What brilliant PR person at the Philadelphia Flyers, who usually don’t put a foot wrong, didn’t realize that forcing all of their paying customers to attend what will amount to a pre-election rally for Sarah Palin is not the right thing to do? Since when is politicizing the product (in a largely Democrat city, no less) good for the brand.

Yes, I know Ed Snider is all over the Ayn Rand pseudo-philosophy. But his personal politics are his own business. His business should not be used to be political. And I don’t want to have Sarah Palin shoved down my throat.

On a night when the fans should be welcomed back and charged up to start another run for the cup, the focus will be, not on the Flyers, or their fans, but on a political candidate who’s approval/performance ratings have been falling consistently.

And if I have to hear how sexy she is by wickedly chuckling men (it started immediately) for the next three days, I’ll puke. Please don’t tell me this is a victory for feminism, when the only positive thing people have to say about a woman candidate is how cute she is. Can we have smart, please? There are plenty of women out here who are smart. Lot’s of them are smart AND cute.

What’s That You Said?

August 28, 2008

The LPGA is requiring golfers to achieve a basic level of competence in conversational English in order to continue to play on tour. This has, as you might expect, caused a firestorm of reaction. For a balanced, nuanced view, Ron Sirak looks at reaction from players and agents. Read the rest of this entry »

How Can It Be Memorabilia When There Are No Memories?

August 2, 2008

The FBI has apparently begun a crackdown on the sports memorabilia business.

I’ll admit that I don’t really understand the collection of autographed memorabilia. It isn’t that I don’t have autographed items, but apart from a lithograph that was produced by and for the Flyers Wives Fight for Lives carnival a number of years ago, a couple of gifts the Flyers sent to me as a season ticket holder, and the irreplaceable (don’t laugh too hard, now) Ricky Botallico autographed baseball sent to Phillies season ticketholders after his All-Star season, I don’t own, nor have I ever coveted, an autographed item that was not autographed in my sight by an athlete or former athlete. Read the rest of this entry »

Sports As Business

October 27, 2002

I’m really tired of guys who are talking about the financial decisions of a team (either pro or con) saying “they’re running it like a business.” Of course they are, lemonhead, it IS a business. but a well-run business knows what its capital is worth. and it is willing to spend for value. and it realizes that you can’t make money without spending money.


The Chicago Blackhawks are run like a business–a very very BAD business. And the Colorado Avalanche are run like a business–a really GOOD business.