In a market full of big names, the only way you can compete with them is to stick to your fundamentals. You’re in for a treat as your host, Lance Tyson interviews longtime associate, Kerry Bubolz, President and CEO of the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In this episode, Kerry reintroduces us to Vince Lombard’s philosophy – it’s all about the fundamentals! Kerry and Lance discuss a number of those fundamentals, including attention to detail, the best way to compete when you can’t match your competition’s strength or size, and the key ingredient necessary for anyone looking to advance their career. If you’re looking for the motivation to get back in the game, then this is your episode.
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Stick To The Fundamentals: Finding The Key To Sales Success With Kerry Bubolz
I am so excited about this episode on the show. This guy has felt like the first person I ever prospected. We go back a long way but I’m so excited to have Kerry Bubolz. He is the President, Chief Operating Officer and Ultimate Governor for the Vegas Golden Knights, probably one of my favorite hockey teams at this point. I had a couple of good experiences. Kerry, welcome to this episode. I’m so happy you’re on. How are you doing?
Lance, we’re doing awesome. Thanks for having me. I remember our first meeting well. It was at the old Gund Arena and that was April of 2003. It’s been a great relationship, partnership and friendship that I’ve enjoyed immensely. Even my daughters repeat things that they’ve heard from me over the years that I got from you. A couple of them, I thought I’d have to share. I always talk to my kids about playing chess versus checkers. I also talked to them about listening to understand, not to respond. I got that from you. They’re writing college papers at Ohio State and referencing that I was the one that came up with it but I got to give the credit where credit is due.
You only have to give me credit once. The 3rd time you could say you heard it somewhere and the 4th time, as I’ve always said. It’s had been for years and a hell of a journey watching you land where you are. I know what a president or COO does on an organization but the question that will be asked is, “Where do you spend most of your time running a major league hockey team or a majorly sports franchise?”
The entire essence of my role and focus here is to drive the revenues necessary to support the business. You’ve known me a long time. I love hockey. It’s by far my favorite sport but there’s one problem. I don’t skate. I’ve never climbed over the boards and jumped in on the fore-check. I don’t know anything about hockey other than I love it. I don’t spend any time on the hockey side. We’ve got incredible people. George McPhee is our General Manager and President of Hockey Operations, Kelly McCrimmon. They have built the foundation of what we do on the ice. I’m building the enterprise of what we do with the Golden Knights off the ice. If we don’t drive those revenues necessary for the business, we don’t have a business.
All of my time, effort and energy is focused on maximizing those. We’re in the 39th largest US market. We’re not in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia or LA but what we’ve tried to do from day one is not allow our market size to determine our expectations. I’m proud of the fact that up and down the metrics of the NHL when it comes to revenue performance, whether it be sponsorships, ticket sales, premium, retail, those key revenue drivers, we’re at the top of the NHL and every one of those categories. It would have been real easy to say, “We’re 39th largest market. Let’s try to get middle of the pack and right out of the gate.” Something I learned in Cleveland is we’re never going to allow that to be our focus. We’ve been able to accomplish that and it’s been an incredible journey. We’re beginning season four.
You opened up saying how much the lines or quotes are for me. I probably learned as much from you. It’s interesting you immediately go right to sales because as long as I’ve known you, it’s always been about sales. You are my first experience diving into the sponsorship or partnership world. I use it as an example all the time because it is the essence of how things should be sold but it’s also your signature. For the audience, this is one of my fondest memories of Kerry and his team selling. His team went after the Ohio Lottery. We got to blow our socks off was the message from the Ohio Lottery.
When you brought their senior team in to pitch them when you were at the Cavs, socks were hanging all over the board room and everybody that was selling on your team put their feet up on the table. Maybe not that but let’s say, “We don’t have our socks on.” This whole presentation is designed to knock your socks off. That was this grand opening. I went and said, “Showmanship is not dead and you got to have a signature.”
One more for the audience. Kerry’s team pitched a horse racing track. When the people from the horse racing track came in, Kerry was dressed like a jockey. If you’ve ever been to a horse race, a jockey has a silky outfit on, funny hat, little wet boots and hay. Some sales teams are so worried about driving the valid business reason.
Stick with the fundamentals, the things that got you to where you are today.
They forget to put some personality into it and make it memorable. I always use those as an example because they were done in such good taste but they were memorable. I still remember them. Bring us back to where you started because every decision-maker that I get on here started somewhere. Where are you from? Where’d sales start from, Kerry?
I went to Oklahoma State University. I was a baseball player. Once I got through junior college, I went to Oklahoma State to finish my degree. I was probably going to do 1 of 2 things. I was either going to be a baseball coach or work for a company like Nike. I was a Marketing Major. I was familiar with the general manager and what they do to run a baseball operation or organization but I knew nothing about the business of sports. I had a chance to read an article one day about the general manager of the minor league baseball team in my hometown, which is Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The whole story was about the business of the Tulsa Drillers, the food and beverage operation, marketing, promotions, ticket sales and sponsorships. I remember thinking, “I’d be interested in that.” I called the guy and he said, “I’d be happy to meet with you.” I went down and met with them. I spent probably 45 minutes to 60 minutes but it opened my eyes to the fact that there’s this entire business in the sports industry.
Keep in mind this is the late 1980s. The profile and the number of colleges, sports marketing and sports management were at the beginning because of companies like Nike, Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan. That’s where it all started for me. I ended up getting a job with the Tulsa Drillers and it started to open my eyes to the business of professional sports. I was fortunate.
What was the job?
I was the assistant concession manager. I was stocking peanuts, chains and beer kegs and doing all the inventory. When I got an opportunity at a young age, I still had a year of college and had 100 people that were reporting to me. I was doing all the scheduling and purchasing. At a young age, I was able to start to see and learn the business, which was invaluable. From there, I ended up finishing school. I had a couple of years with the Drillers and went to another minor league baseball team. That’s where I started to get exposure to the sales and revenue side because, at that time, you only had two jobs. You had the in-season job, which for me was the food and beverage manager.
In the off-season, we sold tickets and sponsorships. That’s where I started to get exposure to that side of the revenue. I took a liking to it, was good at it and it allowed me to grow from there. I started working in the Continental Basketball Association. That was the first time I was overseeing a business. We weren’t very big. As a couple of million dollars in revenue, there were only 8 or 9 people in the business side of the organization but that was my first real chance to do everything and oversee the entire business. I got my first opportunity in minor league hockey, which was tremendous.
Kerry, rewind on one thing. When you were getting your first sales job because you said, “I split my role between sales and an operational-type role.” You were good at it. Did you prefer sales or did you like the operational side better?
I love the sales part of it. At that time, in our industry, because these were small operations, there wasn’t a focus on 20 and 30 person sales units for ticket sales from the way we’re set up now. That was the way it was set up. We didn’t know any better but as the revenues became more important and the dollars and industry became more significant, more focus had to be placed on that. When I got the job in the Continental Basketball Association, I was running a whole business. I was also the sponsorship manager. It was a team of one. It was me. I was doing sponsorships and activation but also running and managing the business. We had three people in ticket sales and group sales. We were a small-time operation.
The CBA at that time, correct me if I’m wrong because I don’t know a ton about that, that was the D-League or G-League.
It’s the same league. We were the official development league to the NBA but you didn’t have a one-to-one relationship like you do in minor league baseball. Our players could essentially be picked up by any team from the NBA. At the time, it was the next best basketball league in the world. In a lot of smaller markets like Wichita Falls, Texas, I had a chance to get my feet wet and start to learn more about the revenue side of what it takes to make these businesses work and that led to an opportunity.
Everybody has their move like where you’re comfortable. I put a hard focus on opening something. Where were you not good at sales? What part were you good at or gravitate to? I’m curious about how that started to mold you through.
To me, sales is focused on effort and people. I was always good in those areas. I had a passion for it. I don’t want to say it came naturally but it was something that I enjoyed. If you have a passion for what your product is, then the selling part’s the easy piece. It was easy to go out and talk about it. As you move along in your career, you’re able to get more sophisticated in how you approach every area of the business and all of the different sales opportunities. Ticket sales is more transactional.
Premium, you start to have to think a little bit more in terms of how you bring that opportunity to relay from a business perspective. Not only the emotional side of sports but companies aren’t going to invest those kinds of dollars if there’s not a business rationale behind that investment. Sponsorships, you’re always starting to go to another level in terms of how marketing organizations and brands look at sports as a vehicle and tool to drive their business. If you can’t show them how it does that, then you’re not going to be successful. Over time, it got a lot more sophisticated but so did the brands and their expectations and how measurement became an important expectation.
Early on in this business, you’d still get that CEO as a big fan. He’d got excited about seeing his brand at courtside or on the ice. As time evolved and there are the dollars of those investments grew, it became much more significant. The expectation on delivering value in return and the measurement that’s required became a different business and game but it’s one that we evolved with, we were able to continue to thrive and do what we need to do to drive those revenues.
Just because you’re in the minor league doesn’t mean you couldn’t be the best at something.
With any leader I’ve ever worked with, I try to understand core values. Through the years with you, I remember when you and I talked about when the Cavaliers acquired the American Hockey League Team, the Monsters and how you got very mission-centric about getting passionate about that brand, very focused and driven.
There’s another thing that I always felt you always did a nice job with. Going back to your baseball days, I can remember you’re always about the fundamentals, taking ground or sitting singles and doubles, screw the home run. You’ve always had more of that. Did you sell that way every mission-centric like, “This is the job at hand. We’re going to get excited about this?”
Yes. You had to stick with the fundamentals and product because that got you to the place where then you could ultimately bring some of the emotional aspects that ultimately helped push it over the top. Lance, I don’t remember if you came to this session or not but we had set up and the ice was out. This was during the summer. Unfortunately, with a lot of our efforts, we had a lot going on with the NBA, the Monsters, hockey team and arena football. It felt like we were missing steps in our process. The ice wasn’t there but on the concrete floor where the ice is, we made a baseball diamond out of terror.
Our whole sponsorship group had to come and be dressed in baseball gear, shoes, shorts, hat and gloves. We went through the fundamentals of baseball, how to field a ground ball, the old funnel technique and how to bunt. We went through some of the fundamentals of throwing and catching but along the way in each of those instances, we tied it back to the sponsorship business.
Every place you’re at becomes such a part of your culture in what you do. Sophisticated as sponsorship, media and all that, you’ve always had the uncanny way of there are simple parts of this. Complex problems don’t require complex solutions or approaches necessarily. Let’s hit CBA. You come out of that. Where are you in your journey? Where do you come from there?
I went to Cleveland for the first time with the International Hockey League, the Lumberjacks. It’s the first time taking my skills into a major market, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavaliers. We were the fourth team in that market. We were a minor league hockey team competing against major league organizations. I was responsible for the sponsorships. It was a great opportunity because we were competing for the same dollars with major league sports organizations. I can remember thinking, “What can we be the best at in this market?”
Delivering value and return on those sponsorship investments was the one thing because we couldn’t compete in terms of exposure like the Browns against the minor league hockey. There’s no way we’re going to compete against that. What we could compete was in the corporate community, the value we were delivering for the sponsorship deals and the relationships we were putting together. I was there for six years. I eventually became the President and Chief Operating Officer but I believed that we were delivering the best value in return on those investments in the marketplace.
Just because we were the minor league team doesn’t mean we couldn’t be the best at something. Our event and game presentation, there’s no doubt in my mind, we were the best in the market. We put a lot of focus, effort and energy behind that, ticketing the value that we were providing for families to come to our events. It’s like anything. You find what you can be best at and go out. You’re not limited by the minor league in a major league market like what we’ve tried to do here. Not be limited by the 39th largest marketplace in the revenues that we’re driving.
What I was appreciated about you as a leader is you could always tie a very practical campaign around things. I don’t even think you’ve ever overplayed the underdog move. It’s this candidate like, “This is how big Vegas is but this isn’t going to stop us.” You’re not afraid to identify that and all your teams have always been that way. You’re always good at saying, “Here are the odds but they’re not going to affect us. We’re going to overcome those odds.”
It’s not an overplay of motivation either. It’s very transparent like, “This is what we’re up against. I’m not going to ignore the pink elephant in the room.” For anybody that’s reading and following the series a little bit, Kerry isn’t working for the biggest brands in the world. His whole journey at this point is on the operational in-sales side but in minor league sports. You spent six years in Cleveland. Where’s that next trip?
I finally got my first opportunity. I was trying to balance at that point in my career, “Do I want to take that next step and work for a major league organization? Do I want to get more of an entrepreneurial role in owning and operating minor league sports teams?” It’s at that inflection point. I felt that I needed to take that step and work for a major league organization to put my skills up against the best in the world. That entrepreneurial path could always be there but I wanted to give it a shot.
I loved hockey. I got an opportunity to go to Carolina as the VP of Sales. That franchise had moved from Hartford. They had opened a new arena in Raleigh. They had some challenges, candidly. This was the third year in that market. It wasn’t near the interest and enthusiasm that you would expect from a newly relocated NHL team to a brand new building in a market like Raleigh and the triangle there in Raleigh-Durham. We had the same thing. We had to get back to some of the basics of what our business was.
I felt like the time that I was there, we were able to move the business forward. We had some success on the ice but more importantly, we’re able to get the foundation of that business moving from the NHL perspective, get measuring our metrics against other NHL teams and get that market wrapped around that team. It was not a connection.
The ice in the desert in hockey and Carolina at the time was unheard of. Not a lot of ton of hockey South of the Mason Dixon line other than maybe some stuff down in Florida but that area had never even seen a major league team at that point. How long had you spent there?
I had two years with the franchise. I had a unique opportunity when I came back to Cleveland in a market that I knew extremely well and in a venue that I had spent six years in with a lot of relationships that I already had with the Cavaliers organization. Despite my competitive nature, which was to compete against the Cavaliers for six years every single day, I thought, “This might be the right opportunity for me.” Ultimately, I went to Cleveland and had an incredible thirteen-year journey with the Cavaliers. It was the opportunity where I grew the most like meeting people like yourself and working for Len Komoroski, who was the CEO of the Cavaliers.
Hire people with a motor, energy, and a passion for your business.
I felt like I had a lot of success from a career perspective but candidly, I probably was playing a lot of checkers at the time. I started to learn and think about the business. I started to study and analyze the business. The NBA is an incredible league in terms of sharing information and best practices, providing a resource and communication that allowed people that want to grow and evolve in this business to learn the best of the best. That thirteen years in Cleveland was an incredible journey. I grew a lot in the business, not only because of what we’re able to do in terms of success with all of the different things that we did there.
I started playing chess every day. People like yourself inland helped challenge me in that way. It’s given me a foundation that’s even better than it ever was and being able to apply that to what we do here with the five different companies that we have as part of the Vegas Golden Knights Enterprise. It’s been amazing but it all comes back to the thirteen years that I was in Cleveland.
Carolina to Cleveland. Your sales organizations start to get vastly bigger. You had a smaller sales organization. I know some of the players that you had with the Lumberjacks. Talk a little bit about that because you have a unique and direct way. I can remember sitting in an office one time with you, Chad Estis and me. We were talking about how to hold people accountable and what it looked like to even fire somebody. I always found that you have a very unique way of managing and holding salespeople accountable. I don’t think it’s different. You have a very solid or clear view of it.
I don’t think there’s one size that fits all because you’re dealing with humans. Everybody’s a little bit different in terms of what their motivations are. I do believe in the front end though, because at the end of the day, let’s be honest, what we do is a business. This is not rocket science. It’s not overly complicated. I went to Oklahoma State as an average student. I didn’t read up on Harvard MBA in terms of leadership or anything like that. I don’t think it’s that complicated but first and foremost, you have to hire people with a motor, energy and passion for this business.
To me, that’s the first most important step but if you find people that have energy, in most cases, they want that feedback and accountability. They want to know where they’re doing well, where they’re not doing well and how they can get better. If you get the right people, then it makes it easy to provide that feedback and ultimately hold people accountable.
On the other side of it, I believe a lot of it is how you set the pace of the organization because people are always looking right. They’re watching their leaders in the company. If the leaders aren’t setting the pace, then they’re not going to follow. Part of it is more from the leadership side. I’ve always prided myself on trying to set the pace of the company. It’s not only in terms of what you physically do.
You’re involved in deals, out talking to a client, selling like they’re selling and in the weeds with customers but even simple things like going to get a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Do you mosey to the kitchen or are you playing fast and finishing your cheques? You’ve got an urgency that you want to translate to your organization that is translating to your customers, that responsiveness and interest. When I get up from my chair, I’m moving like going to get that coffee or going to the restroom. It’s like one more example of that urgency that’s necessary for our business if we’re going to be successful.
That’s important but part of holding people accountable, you got to be in the weeds with them because then they’re going to respect that message a lot better than, “We have no idea how challenging it is to go out and sell.” When LeBron James is taking his talents to South Beach, we’re out beating our heads against the wall trying to sell a product that nobody’s interested in. I do know because I was in all the meetings. Even in my role as president of this enterprise, I spend the vast majority of my time with our sales organization in meetings talking to customers selling, doing what we do.
I’ve prepped plenty of sales calls with you and your team like the work we laid out. The first negotiation training I ever did was with you and your teams doing postmortems and stuff. When I think about you, I always think of accountability and acknowledgment. You’ve never, as a senior executive, come off to me, Teflon. I deal with a lot of senior people that could never make a mistake. You have no clue I’m going to bring this up and I hope you’re okay with talking about it because you’re accountable for everything.
I use this story. I’ve never told you this. My dad taught me little things are everything. Talk to everybody about the pitch to, at the time, OfficeMax and when you walked in that office. To me, it’s a funny story but it’s the essence of everything sales. It’s probably the best lesson I’ve ever learned because I pay attention to every little thing. That woke me up that day. I laughed but it shook me.
It shook me too. We made a similar mistake years later that I’ll share quickly. Michael Feuer is the CEO of OfficeMax. He has moved on as they’re under Western. We go into his office. We’re excited. They were a big sponsor of the Cavaliers at the time. The first opportunity is myself, our CEO and someone by the name of Steve Meyer, one of our senior sales executives with the Cavaliers. We go into his huge office inside the space there at the OfficeMax Headquarters in Shaker Heights.
Before that meeting, I specifically had gone to our folks and said, “I’ve got a notepad here. I want to make sure that this is within the family of OfficeMax products.” I was assured that it was but it wasn’t. We get into the meeting and sit down. We’re in our little chairs. I’ve got my little notepad out on his desk and we’re talking. The conversation carries on.
It’s strange. He gets up and walks to his desk. This is a big office. He reaches down at his desk and grabs out a notepad. He comes back over and I’m like, “What’s going on here?” He throws that on top of my folder. He never said a word. It says Staples because that’s where our program is but on the top, it said OfficeMax. He sent a little message about the details.
I remember getting back in but he never called me out and never said a word. We get back to the office and I’m pissed because I’m embarrassed. I go to whoever I’d gone to in our group that does our office supply buying. I’m like, “This product is not in the OfficeMax family?” They’re like, “No. It was one of those things. We’ve had an office supply buyer but here’s an organization.” One of our largest partners is an office supply company and we didn’t have the dots connected internally. Needless to say, we got that fixed right away.
Especially a brand like that, it makes a difference. Along the way, there are a couple of different times where you’re creating custom proposals but sometimes there’s a base deck and there might be an image or a photo. You got to look at every one of those because there might be a competing dasher board or sign.
A couple of different times, you had to deal with embarrassing situations where you were going through a proposal and someone didn’t take the time. Whenever I’m proofing a deck like that, I find stuff and people are like, “I never even thought to look at it.” It’s because you didn’t look at it. You got to take the time to look at it. It’s those little things that are so important.
If the leaders aren’t setting the pace, then the employees are not going to follow.
One more story along that line, no one does pocket schedules anymore. In the day of technology and paper, everybody goes online and there are all these digital formats but they’re there for a while. The pocket schedule was everything. We’d print 3-4 million of these and put them out in the market. That’s how people found out where the games were. It was a sports fans Bible, as we used to call it, and tied into our sponsorships.
The schedule comes out and I’m a big proofreader of everything. I proofread the entire schedule on this thing before we went print two million copies and didn’t see any changes. I sent it to our senior group and said, “I want everybody to initial that they’ve proofed this thing before we send it off to the printer.” Came back, we got 9 or 10 people in the organization and all proofed it.
It goes off to the printer and the word Pittsburgh is spelled wrong, not Pittsburg. I’m livid because we spent lots of money to get two million of these pockets schedules and Pittsburgh is spelled wrong on the schedule. The reason why I was so pissed off is 3 of the 9 people that looked at it were fricking from Pittsburgh.
It’s the reason why I gave him such a hard time. I said, “I looked at it but if my hometown was spelled wrong, I can guarantee I would have picked it up. You didn’t look at it.” I’m getting all hot and bothered by it but that’s the intensity that you have to have about this stuff because it makes a difference. You can lose a deal over one word.
I remember when I first started to work with you, I was still a Dale Carnegie Training. I was young at the time. You were one of the first executives ever who share a business plan with me. You showed me you had incorporated the sales process I was teaching you into the sales plan. I was blown away but I was more blown away with the detail. It dawned on me as much as I talk about predictable process yields and results. You showed me that as an executive employing it. It meant a lot to me as a business person. Not that I was flattered to the sales process end but I said, “This guy understands the detail.”
It’s precision and about being an operator or doing an operation. You don’t make mistakes. You create odds. Inside that, you can enhance creativity, which I have always loved about your teams. Your teams were always buttoned up. They knew exactly what the mission was for every call. “This is what we’re doing here.” I remember coaching, we always knew what we were trying to do on that same meeting, which then allowed us to be creative. From there, thirteen years in Cleveland, tell everybody quick what the amount of property of your responsibility that you acquired in Cleveland because you went in from a sponsorship standpoint. From there, talk about the momentum you gained with your responsibility.
It’s like any situation. If you can continue to grow and evolve within the same company, then you need to take advantage of that. It was fortunate that we had a very aggressive owner in Dan Gilbert. From there, we had the NBA. We were running the arena itself but we acquired the American Hockey League franchise with the Monsters. I mentioned the Arena Football League.
We also launched a D or a G League, a franchise in Canton, which was a lot of fun. I was fortunate to evolve to where all of my time, effort and energy was focused on the business operations of our sports properties. We’re making sure that there was cohesiveness in how we were going to market and weren’t competing against ourselves.
We were thinking strategically through how you maximize the overall enterprise. That became an important word as we became more than the Cavaliers that we were an enterprise doing it the right way. We had grown significantly. The sponsorship group when I left was probably 25 people between activation, data team and the folks that were focused on the actual selling but that was across the entire enterprise. Our ticketing group was probably 40 people. Our premium group was another 5 or 6. Our sales organization was probably 80 people.
We had to be more focused on the enterprise. Some of the traditional barriers between sponsorships, ticket sales and premium, we tried to find ways to break those down because some of the best opportunities that we’ve found in those last 3 or 4 years were folks within our premium team that had great relationships but we’re only thinking about it from a premium perspective. We said, “That’s not great. How can we get the premium team more integrated with our sponsorship team?” I remember a guy Josh Baker. He was doing very well with the PBR, leading their national sales efforts.
He was on our premium team and had a relationship with one of the local fireworks companies. They were a suite holder. They bought some floor seats and we’re like, “Josh, we should talk to those guys about sponsorship.” That would never have happened because we didn’t have the cross-communication that was necessary to break down those silos and get people enterprise thinking, which was a big piece of this. Before you know it, Phantom Fireworks became a seven-figure corporate partner of the organization.
That never would’ve happened if we didn’t evolve, grow as a company and get more of that enterprise thinking. I felt like the biggest value I brought to the table in those last 3 or 4 years when I was in Cleveland is I was the one person that was in the center of all of these businesses, the actual revenue areas of sponsorships, ticket sales and premium but then also the Hockey Team, the G League Team, the Arena Football Team, the NBA Team and the Arena. I was making sure that all of it was talking and we were maximizing the enterprise. I’m proud of the results that we were able to get coming out of that. It didn’t hurt that we won the NBA championship in 2016, as well as the Calder Cup that same season. Those are always nice.
It was a great nine days. Let me tell you. I was ready for that next opportunity on what I had learned in Cleveland and put that stamp on it for myself. The opportunity in Vegas has been all of that and more. I’m proud of the fact that we had an incredible first season that shocked the hockey world. It wasn’t what happened on the ice. It was what happened off the ice as well. We were the Sports Business Journal Team of the Year, which for me, is like winning the Stanley Cup as a business organization in this industry but there were a lot of people after that first season that thought we just got lucky and there were a lot of out-of-town visitors. It was a one-hit-wonder or more of a honeymoon.
I remember talking to our group like, “Great companies always grow and evolve. We’re going to grow and build every year, not only this first year.” I’m more proud of our numbers and metrics in years 2 and 3 than I am even that first year because I know that it wasn’t luck. It was about the processes, focus, effort, driving value and being able to go to market with an expectation that we weren’t going to allow our market size to determine our expectations. We want to be a top performer in every category and when we’ve been able to do that. We’ve been able to evolve. We’ve got two other facilities that we manage and operate. Not only booking ice time from a community perspective but these are real businesses for our retail and event side of what we do.
We acquired an American Hockey League Team, which we’re launching. I’m excited. No fans but we’re still launching anyway, which will be a great fit in the City of Henderson to what we do on the NHL side. It’s not only the hockey fit, which is obvious. It’s the business and brand fit in a community that is head over heels for the NHL and professional hockey. It’s gone incredibly well with the Silver Knights. We’re under construction. It’ll be complete amounting to $100,000 investment in partnership with the City of Henderson to build a new arena to house our Silver Knights. We want to hone Henderson as a market. It’s 350,000 people, lots of families and kids.
You can lose a deal over one word.
We want to hone kids, families and minor league hockey. We’re going to do it. Vegas has more arenas per capita than any community in the world. Yet, we decided to spend another $100,000 to build another arena because we know there’s a niche that’s still not being served. That’s what we’re excited about. We’ve got five companies under our umbrella in addition to our partnership at T-Mobile Arena with MGM and AEG. We’ve got a lot going on but every day is a new journey.
Kerry, before we bring this bird down for a landing, here are my speed questions. The first question is said you have a niece or nephew or thinking about your kids when they are younger, 6, 7 or 8 years old. You’re sitting on the edge of a dock, hanging out and they said, “Dad, or Uncle Kerry, what is success?” What do you tell?
I don’t know that they accept me as an individual to determine success. It’s up to others to measure and put things around that. I’m more interested in what we do to bring value to a community. What we’ve done for Las Vegas is amazing. This is a town that was known for its entertainment, live events, gaming and a lot of transplants. When I talk about success, I talk about pride.
We gave this community a soul. To have the number of people that have come up to me and say, “This was always a good place but there was always one thing missing,” it was the soul that the Golden Knights brought to this community that connected the community in a way it had never been connected before. I call it the Golden Thread but there was no community here. There were a lot of people that lived here that did what they do but we brought them together. If I was defining success, it would be that intrinsic value that we brought to this community and giving it a soul. I’m proud of that.
You still do a lot of big deals. There are deals that you’re working on that are coming down the lane. If you had to play a song in your head that is Kerry’s sales song, what is it?
It’s a little group called Metallica. It’s Enter Sandman. Another is Mariano Rivera. He’s probably a little more famous but whatever it’s on, it doesn’t matter where I am. It’s being turned up.
Besides my book, if you’re going to give a book to anybody, what book would you give to them that had an impact on you?
This one goes back probably many years. It’s probably right around the time you and I first met. It’s the book Good to Great in terms of the fundamentals that I learned about the business that I use more often than any other. You read lots of books and pick up little things here and there but that book, in particular, hit home with me because it was based on the fit. It goes through this analogy. It’s not only getting people on the bus but getting them into the right seats. There have been numerous occasions in my career where you’d have a linemate which is our other word for teammates, associates, whatever word you want to use.
Sometimes they’re good people but they’re not in the right seats. They might be on the bus. How do you figure out what their passion is, where they can best contribute and put them in that then watch them explode with what they can do and how they can be successful? Unfortunately, sometimes along the way, you lose good people because you didn’t have them in the right seat to bring out that passion and maximize what they can contribute to an organization. One of the best examples I have and you know this individual is Tad Carper. He’s the Executive VP and Chief Communications Officer for the Cavaliers organization.
When I got to Cleveland, he was running the marketing. He was good at marketing but he was great at being our communications lead. We rocked his world because we said, “We’re going to bring in someone to run marketing but we think you’d be better at running the communications.” Once he got into it and understood the value he could bring, he taught me so much about communications and communication strategies, every word matters. A narrative can be devastating if it’s not the right narrative for your organization, how to manage that narrative and media both externally and internally. He’s best in class, in my opinion, but he was in the wrong seat. We put him in the right seat. He thrived and still thriving in Cleveland.
Kerry, it’s good to be great. Take care of the little things because big things take care of themselves. I appreciate you being on. I’m glad we finally got this done. I can’t wait to come back out and see you in Vegas. I appreciate the relationship and everything.
Lance, thanks for having me on. I’ve always valued our friendship. You’ve taught me a lot and I appreciate you every day. Thank you.
About Kerry Bubolz
I joined the Vegas Golden Knights as the franchise’s President on November 1, 2016. As President, I oversee all business operations for Las Vegas’ first major league professional sports franchise.
During my time here in Vegas, our business team has done a tremendous job of growing the game of hockey in Nevada and meeting internal business goals. Through the franchise’s partnership with the Clark County School District, our organization started the “Golden Knights Hockey Academy” which reaches over 200,000 children in Clark County schools. The Golden Knights Foundation has also raised more than $2.5 million through the 51/49 raffle which takes place at every home game. I take pride in what we have accomplished as a business team, but I am extremely proud of the way that our staff, players, and organization have prioritized giving back to our community here in Las Vegas. As we like to say, “community is a contact sport, just like hockey”.
The Golden Knights have received wonderful support from the community, averaging over capacity crowds for all home games through the first two plus seasons. Our team has shown excellence across the board, achieving a top 5 ranking in the NHL in team allocated sponsorship revenue, ticket sales and merchandise sales. Las Vegas continues to show its love for hockey, ranking third among the NHL’s U.S. markets with a 4.2 average household rating for the 18-19 season. Game presentation has been an integral part of our success, with T-Mobile Arena voted the best atmosphere in the NHL by the players (receiving 42.5% of the vote in a NHLPA poll). Our staff did such an exceptional job in our first season that the Knights were recognized as the Sports Business Journal’s “Team of the Year” in 2018. While we have much to be proud of, we will continue to innovate in all facets of our business as we strive to become the best team in the NHL, on and off the ice.
Before joining the Golden Knights, I spent 13 years with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, including being named President of Business Operations in 2013. Prior to my tenure in Cleveland, I enjoyed successful runs with multiple teams in various leagues around the country. I spent time as the VP of Sales for both the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL and Southwest Sports Group, which includes the Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers. Before that, I held a variety of roles during a six-year run with the International Hockey League’s, Cleveland Lumberjacks, including team President, Chief Operating Officer and Senior VP of Business Operations.