I just got back from the Sabres Blogger Summit that the team hosted in the executive suite at the arena (I actually wrote that first sentence a few hours ago). It was a very unique experience being able to pick Ted Black’s brain for two hours with a group of other really smart people who write about the team.
It’s tough to say Ted Black didn’t know what he was getting himself into, but even after the Sabres asked those of us in attendance to submit some potential discussion topics, there was really no telling what we could have asked him. And we covered a lot of ground in two hours.
“I’m operating without a net but that’s fine because that’s a part of who we are as an ownership and management group,” Black said. “We want to have a very open and honest and trusting relationship with the fans. Your readers are our fans.”
He took every question in stride and tried to answer each one as fully and honestly as he could. That’s all you could really ask of him.
Some highlights that came out of the Q&A and thoughts I had as things moved along:
–A topic that came up quite a few times is alternative media in the press box. The organization is open to the idea of blogs being credentialed; the tough part is determining who deserves access. Black basically left it in the hands of those in attendance to figure out. “Who’s deserving?” is a pretty strange question. It was an interesting move.
On “Saturday Night Live,” there’s an unwritten rule during the Tuesday read-through that you don’t push for your own sketch. This feels a lot like pushing for your own sketch and that’s probably a big reason why that issue didn’t get solved tonight.
–A very good point Black made against granting blogs access to the locker room had to do with accountability. Mike Harrington and John Vogl have to answer to their editors and could lose their livelihood if they do anything inappropriate. With bloggers, while their credibility would be destroyed (and they’d forever be stuck with the stigma of the term “blogger”), there aren’t many of repercussions for unprofessional behavior.
–Black sees some Sabres blogs as a reason for the mainstream media to step up their game in terms of coverage and analysis. Competition isn’t the right word, but it’s nice to see that he sees some blogs in that light.
–The Twitter-ban on the players is self-imposed. There’s no policy in place by the coaches or the management restricting the players from using it. The players got together on their own and decided against creating profiles.
–Corey pretty much said he was going to dropkick me in the teeth if I didn’t ask Black about the Sabres plans on getting involved in any development projects on the waterfront. So because it was a good question (and because I like my teeth), I asked about it.
“We’re not land developers. That’s not really our expertise and that’s not really our focus,” Black said, mentioning that he would love to see something positive happen on the waterfront. “Our focus is singular and that’s to make this the best organization and to win the Stanley Cup.”
–Black said the team “wouldn’t rule out” signing any free agents to a nine or 10-year contract if they really wanted that player and that’s what it took to bring that player to Buffalo.
–Look for the pregame show to return. Expanded postgame doesn’t make sense logistically now because the production crew travels with the team.
“There’s nothing that frustrates me more as a fan [than] when you see the Sabres win an exciting overtime game on the road and you want to have more and it’s a sign-off. It frustrates me,” Black said. “I start to go to all of your blog sites. That’s where I get my color commentary then.”
He said the team has talked to some local TV stations to possibly set up a studio for when the team is on the road, but that hasn’t come to fruition yet.
“The Buffalo market is, I don’t want to say insatiable, but I don’t think we’re delivering nearly enough content based on the appetite to talk about and watch Sabres hockey and Sabres analysis,” Black said.
–Don’t look for a return of the Empire Sports Network. The Sabres have no plans to develop a regional sports network because the risk of failure is too great.
–The Sabres are looking to install some new features to the arena in the coming months. Black is still deciding what to do with the space that used to house the aerospace museum. There are also plans to put a new bar up in the 300 Level.
–One thing that’s apparent is that Darcy Regier has more power than he had under the Golisano regime. I asked if there was a timetable for when the team hopes to have a coach in place for their AHL affiliate (When answering another question, Black could neither confirm nor deny that Pegula was in the process of buying the Rochester Americans).
It’s a decision that Larry Quinn certainly would have had his hand in six months ago. But not Black. Clearly, they’re letting Regier do the heavy lifting in the hockey department and there’s nothing wrong with that.
–Ted Black on how technology is constantly changing the way news is presented: “I didn’t come here on a covered wagon.”
–Rob Ray will join Kevin Sylvester and Danny Gare on only some of the select road trips next season.
–Ted Black says he thinks the broadcast is a better product when the TV and radio teams are split up, but it’s ultimately Entercom’s decision because they’re the ones paying for it.
–The organization is pretty excited about the European trip this fall that was in place before Terry Pegula bought the team. The Sabres might produce a behind-the-scenes “24/7”-style piece about the trip.
–Speaking of road trips, Ted Black said they really enjoyed the New York event and they’re looking into doing those again once the season starts. There will be more Parties in the Plaza during the regular season, too.
–It was a smart move to have Kevin Sylvester, Mike Gilbert and the rest of the Sabres PR staff readily available to provide any background information. For anything Black might have been unclear on, they were able to step right in and answer the question.
–Black on franchises relocating: “My perspective is, it’s free market. You go where you can make money, whether it’s a plant or anything else. I’d hate to ever see this franchise leave, I’ll tell you that. And nor should it.”
–In terms of ticket prices, Black admitted that in order to qualify for revenue sharing, the team will probably have to raise prices every season.
“I know that is counter to Terry’s comment that ‘If I want to make money, I’ll drill another gas well,’ but the reality is that we can’t allow the long-term value of this franchise to erode,” Black said. “I hope it lasts a very, very long time, but the reality is Terry will not own this team forever. And we can’t be custodians of the team that allows basically the value of the team to be such that no one wants it in the end.”
–The suites have sold out for the first time. Black also believes that there was a 95 percent renewal rate on season tickets this year. About 2,700 people are on the season ticket holder waiting list.
–Players will be delivering season tickets this year as well.
–Towards the end, Ted Black pulled out his phone and started playing clips off the Pegula Day app soundboard. He then staged a fake phone conversation between Darcy Regier and fake Pegula. That was awesome.
Thanks again to the Sabres for putting it all together. It was a really fun and interesting night. I’m glad I was able to attend.
If the Sabres ever decide to hold a summit again, I hope our site is asked to participate. I know a guy who can generate a really good debate.