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Inside the Organization: Jeff Cogen

Wednesday, 11.16.2011 / 6:56 PM / Features
By Bryan Mullen
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Inside the Organization: Jeff Cogen
There has been a steady flow of positive news coming from the Nashville Predators and Bridgestone Arena in the last several weeks.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne signed a seven-year, $49 million contract, which is the biggest in team history. Bridgestone Arena was recently nominated for Arena of the Year by Pollstar Magazine. The 1000th game in Predators history was a celebration of the organization’s resiliency and current strength. And new sponsorships continue to be established.

On Wednesday, the trend continued when it was announced that W. Brett Wilson, a successful Canadian entrepreneur, joined the organization’s ownership group.

Jeff Cogen, the CEO of the Nashville Predators, sat down to discuss the recent events.

NP: The addition of W. Brett Wilson to the ownership group appears to continue to strengthen the foundation of the organization. What does this addition mean going forward?
Cogen: When the local ownership group bought the team in 2007, what they bought was a great hockey department. David Poile and Barry Trotz work magic. And this is not to cast aspersions on previous regimes, but I think (the owners) would say they bought an underperforming business unit. What we tried to do is breathe some life into that business unit. We have more work to do. They bought an undercapitalized asset. There wasn’t capital infrastructure to put back in the building. There wasn’t capital to invest into the asset. And they bought a balance sheet that was in disarray. The owners are cleaning up the balance sheet, and this is one more step towards cleaning up the balance sheet. Obviously with the (Wilson) investment comes some cash inflow, which will go to further clean up that balance sheet. With respect to the personality, what you get with Brett Wilson is a dynamic guy. He has a passion for hockey. He has a passion for Predators hockey. And he has some degree of roots within this community. He owns a condominium and is in and out of here a lot. He has other assets in Tennessee. When you sit in the owners’ meetings, each owner has an individual input, expertise and perspective. He’s another one.

NP: Wilson has made his intentions clear. He said he and the other local owners are committed to keeping the team in Nashville. You mentioned he has a home here. When a fan asked him on Twitter if this was the first step in the team’s move to Canada, he replied, “Never, never, never.” Is that a public perception you knew you would have to fight when he came on board?
Cogen: I thought there would be some amount of that perspective being out there. No. 1, the truth of the matter is it’s a relatively small equity position that he has. And No. 2, his interests are aligned with our ownership group. He wants to bring a Stanley Cup down Broadway. He doesn’t want to move the team. He doesn’t want to trade players. He doesn’t want to fire CEOs, I don’t think (laughs). Our interests are aligned. I knew, and our group new, there was no issue there. Public perception being reality, it was something we were prepared to address. Ninety percent of this team is still owned by Middle Tennesseans.

NP: What kind of message do you believe was sent when the organization signed Pekka Rinne to the seven year, $49 million deal?
Cogen: It’s relevant to our fans, to national media, to local media, our players, our coaches, and the Zamboni driver. That is our ownership is committed to two things. No. 1, at 50,000 feet, bringing that cup down Broadway. And No. 2, we’re not going to draft players, raise them, grow them and lose them. We’re going to invest in the asset, we’re going to build the asset, and we’re going to compete year in and year out for the cup.

NP: The buildup to the franchise’s 1000th game, and the celebration during the event, allowed a lot of people to reflect and look forward. What did that night mean to you?
Cogen: Personally, I felt a sense of not belonging. I’m kind of charge of this and we’re celebrating this grandiose, tenured event. I’ve been here 14 months. Personally, it was a little depressing because I wanted to feel like those who had been here from the beginning. But I was really proud for David, Barry, Paul (Fenton), Gerry Helper, Britt Kincheloe and all the others who have been here since Day 1. I deal with these people day in and day out. Speed of business is, ‘Is this bill paid? Is this customer serviced? Is this ticket sold? Is this sign up?’ But to step back and understand what that means, 1,000 games, I was honored to be an outside part.

NP: Earlier this week, Pollstar Magazine announced Bridgestone Arena would be nominated for Arena of the Year. What does that say about this building?
Cogen: Brock Jones, Sean Henry, they do a great job. They get behind closed doors and find a way to manufacture events. Empty buildings don’t pay bills. Fans that come to a Journey concert, they may have never heard of the Predators. But when you walk into that door, you’re going to know about the Predators when you leave. There’s cross pollination. Look at the other nominees. Toronto, Madison Square Garden, Los Angeles. And then Nashville, Tennessee. What’s wrong with this picture? You have top-10 markets in North America competing for this, and then you have the 30th-largest market in the country. Basically, we’re just that precocious little child. We’re the sixth grader competing in the eighth grade spelling bee.

NP: Sponsorships continue to grow, with some extending relationships and others coming on board. How would you describe the recent growth, and how do you envision it in the future?
Cogen: I think Chris Parker and Chris Junghans have done an admirable job of enticing Middle Tennessee brands, and to some degree, North American brands, to be a part of this. I go back to a philosophy that I have, and that’s nothing happens until the building is filled. When you fill the building, you create a buzz for the players, you create a buzz for the fans, you create an environment people want to be a part of. This is people buying extra tickets, it’s Nissan extending their commitment. It’s Bridgestone saying, ‘When does the naming rights deal run out? Let’s start talking.’ While I compliment Chris and Chris, and they deserve to be complimented, this is really the combination of everything we’re talked about. It’s the Pollstar nomination. We’re driving events and driving fans, and sponsors want to be a part of that. We went from four Predators sellouts (in 2009-10) to 16 sellouts (in 2010-11). Sponsors want to be a part of that critical mass. The other thing I think we’re doing is we’re not passive in our partnerships. We don’t put the sign up and hope people see it. We have logos on Pepsi cans. We’re on Daily’s television monitors in their stores. Next month you can register at Bridgestone to go to the Winter Classic. There are McDonald’s family packs. And O’Charley’s watch parties. I could go on and on. It’s a combination of filling the building, doing more shows, going to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Everyone contributes to this. We stand back, look at the numbers, look at the people, look at the standings, and generally speaking, things are moving in the right direction.

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