The Buffalo Sabres held their first-ever Blogger Summit Thursday evening and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what to expect. This type of setting was foreign to me and certainly the same for the organization. The Sabres decided to host the experience; which featured team president Ted Black speaking as well as broadcaster Kevin Sylvester as master of ceremonies.
Ten of the area’s more regarded Sabres bloggers were invited to participate and fortunately for me, I was among them.
Still, I remained skeptical entering the cozy suite conference room. Countless emails and Twitter comments accusing this as nothing more than a Sabres schmooze move/publicity stunt to get bloggers to view the team with rose colored glasses had infiltrated my train of thought.
Sure, the organization would invite a host of bloggers, many who’d never enjoyed the benefit of being at the HSBC Arena in this capacity— overwhelm us and in return, we’d promise never to speak pessimistically of the organization.
That wasn’t the case at all.
Sure, the media relations department pulled out all the stops– fancy nameplates, microphones and an overabundance of complimentary food and frosty beverages. But make no mistake about it… this summit was very real and any preconceptions I had were quickly thrown out the door.
It rapidly turned wholly obvious the Sabres, and Black in particular hosted this lengthy discussion because they truly want to hear what the blogosphere had to say. The reverence on both sides was admirable and most importantly, the summit was exceedingly productive.
I learned a lot about Black, the organization as a whole, what they’re thinking and how they plan to treat “bloggers” going forward. I had to pinch myself when asking Black if the organization would be reconsidering their stance towards credentialing qualified bloggers in the future and he replied with a one-word answer— “yes.”
Anyone in attendance will attest I probably asked a different form of the same question at least five times, in part to briefly forgetting I was talking to Black and not Larry Quinn with the old regime.
How invigorating it was. Imagine this… a professional organization that doesn’t deal with all bloggers like a collective bunch of hacks pounding away on their keyboards in momma’s basement.
As for the summit itself, the cameras rolled for about 20 minutes while questions flowed ranging from the possible purchase of the Rochester Amerks (no updates there) to the Waterfront Development, youth hockey and possibility of hosting more events at the arena.
The cameras then stopped shooting footage but ironically, we were just getting started.
The Q&A with Black and occasionally Sylvester lasted well over two hours. Since this was a blogger summit and this is indeed, a blog, I’d prefer to “blog” a bunch of random thoughts rather than an AP style recap.
On Ted Black
I’ve been covering sports of all varieties in Buffalo for over a decade, and I can candidly disclose this may be the most captivating front office person I’ve come across. His lawyer background and fervor to jump to the point could have you thinking he’s blowing smoke, but after two hours I learned this guy is just like the guy next door— a massively successful one of course, but it’s all the same.
Black is engaging and blunt. He’s respectful of any line of questioning and his answers are articulate and insightful. More than that, he has an underhanded sense of humor you wouldn’t expect from a man of his stature… and he’s certainly not immune to making fun of himself.
As partially explained above, at one point I hammered away with questions about media access for specific bloggers—or lack thereof. After he gave me a thumbs up on the first question, I immediately came back with an inquiry he found too similar to the original. Wistfully, he cracked “Didn’t I have you at yes?” Well played, Mr. Black.
In all seriousness, Black is a pretty cool cat. He may be a sharp business man, but that doesn’t mean he’s not that guy you can share a beer and a slice with. In fact, we all did.
It could’ve been easy for him to play nice for the camera during the televised portion and rush to wrap it up when we went off air. That didn’t happen. Black engaged in every single question asked and when the panel’s interrogation began to run dry, he’d quip something humorous to keep the flow going.
To summarize, he seems like the type of leader that will treat you the same whether you’re a blogger or lead anchor for ESPN. At one point after the two hour mark, he told the panel he was simply enjoying the company.
Other tidbits stemming from the Sabres Summit:
* Suites for next season are completely sold out for the first time ever.
* There has been about a 95% renewal on season tickets for next season.
* The waiting list for season tickets stands at approximately 2,7000.
* Regarding the 2011-12 Sabres season opening in Europe, Black said the league came to the Sabres with the proposal—not the other way around.
* While Black would love to see the Waterfront Project flourish, his focus is exclusively on hockey and won’t be getting involved like former team president Larry Quinn tried to.
* Black will actively pursue trying to have Buffalo host the NHL All-Star game as well as an upcoming NHL draft.
* There is no plans to bring back a regional network like the Empire Sports Network.
* Black has been living in a hotel in Buffalo since Terry Pegula purchased the team, but that’s going to change soon. His family is expected to close on a house within the next two weeks and will have permanent residence in the City of Buffalo.
* Black reiterated numerous times that finances will not be a deterrent in putting together the best on-ice product possible. Within the confines of the salary cap, there is no player the Sabres will shy away from pursuing if the fit is right.
A few closing thoughts:
* Sylvester did a great job hosting the televised portion and sticking around after. Again, it would’ve been easy for him to cut out or change his tone when no one else was watching, but like Black he remained affianced with the panel throughout. He also chimed in with quality comments about Jim Lorenz going into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and his increased role with broadcasting road games next season. Like Black, he’s got a sly sense of humor.
* Rob Crean did an excellent job putting this summit together and for a first go-round, things went very smoothly. Sabres media relations director Mike Gilbert was on hand and did a great job at breaking down policies, especially the league’s take on the reception of bloggers into team coverage.
Kudos to manager of hockey information Kevin Snow and the rest of the production staff that stayed— I suspect they didn’t anticipate a two hour panel discussion.
* Lastly, I sincerely have to take my hat off to the panel of nine other bloggers on hand. For at least some, I’m sure it was their first time in this type of media setting, and everyone did a great job. There wasn’t a person in attendance who didn’t have interesting questions to ask Black and with a job well done, I’m confident the Sabres will look forward to doing this again.
It was also nice putting faces (the ones I didn’t know) to all these blogs I find myself frequenting. I’m often blown away by the creativity and information value of their work. I’d recommend you check out all these blogs and bookmark them—- as each brings something different to the table.
Zachary Zielonka – Die By The Blade
Heather – Top Shelf Blog
Paul – Hockey Rhetoric
Dave Davis – Kukla’s Korner
Chris Ryndak – The Gooses Roost
Kris Baker – Sabres Prospects (an absolute MUST read for Sabres prospect analysis)
Kevin King – The Examiner
Caroline King – Hockey Night In Buffalo
Phil – Black & Blue & Gold