Last week before the game against Calgary, the Panthers held their third town hall meeting for season ticket holders. The first was held two seasons ago by owner Alan Cohen after yet another losing season. Head Coach Jacques Martin had been promoted to General Manager after Mike Keenan's firing and it was obvious he couldn't handle both jobs. The team looked uninspired, Captain Olli Jokinen had attempted to lead a locker room revolt to get rid of Martin. The fans wanted change. Now. Cohen held the meeting shortly after the season ended and a couple of days later, Martin was out as coach, but signed for another three years as GM. Olli Jokinen found himself traded to Phoenix.
This season, minority owners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel have taken over from Cohen as managing partners (Cohen still owns a majority interest in the team, but is now acting as a silent partner). They promised to be accountable and open to the fans and to this end have instituted a series of town hall meetings with season ticket holders before games. This was the second. I don't believe the media is invited to these, but as a season ticket holder, I was. Given that not everyone is invited, many can't attend and no one with half-season or other ticket plans can attend, I present the following summary of what happened. My notes were taken on a smartphone, so this isn't a verbatim transcript, but a general summary with a few direct quotes I was able to take down. Present and taking questions were Viner, Siegel and President and COO Michael Yormark.
The first question was about the season ticket holder package and in particular the fact that last year a discounted area (the so-called "Panthers Locker Room") was put on offer well after renewals were sent out, and the many discount tickets that are available for most games. "Shouldn't season ticket holders cancel and buy the cheaper tickets" that would likely be available later. Mr. Yormark responded that he felt there was "significant value" in season ticket packages besides the tickets themselvesand that the "Panthers Locker Room" was an undersold area of the arena. He also said that the feedback he has received regarding the renewal offer from season ticket holders has been positive.
Another person asked about the large number of empty seats in the arena. "What can you so to get season ticket holders to show up?" Mr. Yormark said that the show rate is a "significant issue we're all dealing with," not just the Panthers or NHL, but all of the major sports leagues. He also added that season ticket holders should contact the team to distribute tickets they can't use. The team distributes tickets to various charitable organizations.
Returning to the issue of the renewal package, one ticket holder complained about the offer of extra tickets that may or may not be in the same section as the two tickets she currently had. "What am I supposed to do with extra seats in a different section, split the kids? If you can't sell them, then won't we have an even harder time?" Mr. Yormark said to call him if her rep wasn't giving her the response she wanted. He further stated that in the past, season ticket holders had asked that the team give them unsold tickets to distribute rather than to hand them out to random people at local businesses. This was the genesis of the extra tickets offer.
The next question was about the lack of scoring, in particular, will the team make a trade to get the scorer we need? Mr. Viner said that they had 2 meetings that week and had been handed five scenarios. He also said that the team wants to improve and make the playoffs, but not with quick, short-term solutions. They have to look long-term. My. Yormark followed up saying that team ownership is committed. "The issue has never been how much money was spent, but how we spent it."
The question of renewal packages was brought up again, with the questioner stating that it wasn't fair to full-season ticket holders that half-season ticket holders basically got a full season for the half-season price, but full-season ticket holders get extra seats in a different section, so he wasn't renewing. Mr. Yormark said again to "call your rep."
The next question regarded the roster. "What kind of team are we getting. Old GMs have made horrible moves... What are you going to do at the deadline to get a key player or players?" Mr. Siegel responded that they sit down with Randy Sexton a lot. "We know what we want in a Panther and we recognize there are players on this team who don't fit that mold but they're under contract. We have to try to trade them. We are looking at potential deals. I can't talk about them"
Another questioner brought up the Den of Honor, calling its removal a "disgrace" and asking if tthe team was going to retire any numbers. Mr. Yormark responded that the team had already announced they were building a 3500 square foot Den of Honor, to open on March 20. It will also honor South Florida youth and high school hockey players as well as the Panthers. All of the old players have been invited back for the ceremony. Mr. Siegel mentioned that the team had recently brought former Panther goalie John Vanbiesbrouck in to a game to sign autographs and they hoped to do that in the future with more players. Mr. Yormark said they are considering retiring some numbers, but Mr. Siegel cautioned that "we can't take that lightly."
The next questioner asked instead of making the playoffs, why can't our goal be winning the conference? "Why can't you translate your passion for the business to the players? Mr. Siegel repeated his earlier statement about the roster and that they're not "all the way there" yet. "We're not the guys who pick the players. We're responsible for hiring the guys who do. We hope you hold us accountable." Mr. Viner followed up. "Everyone should know Pete DeBoer has passion. That group is playing as hard as they can every night. We'd be selling the guys short to say that they're not."
Another questioner brought up the home "road games," saying "it's not fun when it's 80 percent Montreal fans and 20 percent us. Also as the other person said, we've made some terrible trades. If we don't have the roster we want, get rid of people. It's time to go out and get some players." It was agreed there was no question in there and they moved on to the next.
"What I don't understand is what is wrong with out power play?" Mr. Siegel answered, saying "our power play has been pretty good lately, our penalty kill is one of the best in the league. With Horton out we've shifted the type of game we're playing. We have full faith in Pete DeBoer, who has gotten a lot out of this group of players. We have some depth in Rochester and have some guys who have played well with us."
The final questioner brought up the scoreboard, and that other arenas have stats up during the breaks in play. He asked if there were any plans to do that. Mr. Yormark answered that he would "look into that." He further stated that "You guys are going to scream at me for this, but we do use quite a bit of time for advertising. It's an important revenue stream for us. I'm being transparent."
Photo by Douglas Whitaker.