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Chat Transcript: David Andrews

October 15, 2009

Now in his 16th season at the helm of the AHL, league president and CEO David Andrews helped kick off the 2009-10 campaign by stepping into the AHL Chat Room and answering your questions.

With the addition of the Abbotsford Heat this season, do you foresee the AHL expanding to other West Coast cities in the coming years? - Ken from Orange County, NY

It is difficult to predict whether there will be additional AHL teams on the west coast in the near term. The relocation of the Flames AHL franchise to Abbotsford was not a part of an overall AHL strategic initiative to move to the west coast, but rather it was a response to an opportunity which the Flames felt would be positive for their AHL club and ultimately for the League as well. The new arena in Abbotsford is terrific and the lower mainland area of British Columbia is a very strong hockey market. Over the long term any growth on the West Coast will likely be a reflection of a desire on the part of west coast based NHL clubs seeking to place AHL affiliates closer to home. To date there has not been a strong push in that direction.

With the Hershey Bears having recently won their 10th Calder Cup title, can you comment on the success of the Hershey organization and the franchise’s importance in the AHL? - Maria from Pennsylvania

The Hershey Bears, along with the Rochester Americans, are perhaps the most recognizable AHL clubs in terms of brand recognition in North America. These historic teams have been competing in professional hockey for longer than all but a handful of teams in the NHL. The success of both organizations have played a large role on the growth of our League over the years, and most recently the championship caliber teams iced by the Bears, and the high number of players and coaches moving on to the NHL from Hershey have been instrumental in raising the profile of the AHL. We are fortunate to have such a great history as a League and to have the standards of excellence which the Bears represent as a benchmark throughout the League.

Why is there typically not more competition between the Eastern and Western Conferences, and what goes into determining which teams play one another? - Charles from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Over the years as our League has grown it has become a juggling act of sorts to balance the value of developing and maintaining regional rivalries with the concept of providing our fans with exposure to more visiting teams. A league like ours must pay attention to travel costs and there are clearly greater attendance results from rivalry games than from teams visiting that are virtually unknown. It would be helpful if our League were more genuinely divided into East and West geographically which would allow us to play a truly balanced schedule and stay within our conferences until the playoffs. Unfortunately we do not have that luxury, so our schedule is a reflection of providing teams the opportunity to for the most part play the teams in their own division, then their own conference, and in some instances close rivals who perhaps do not fit into either category. The process is essentially determined by the teams themselves through the Board of Governors. Each year a number of different schedule matrix options are provided and the teams work with us to develop the one which they like best as a group. Simplistically, the schedule is designed to appeal to fans from the perspective of preferred opponents and to control travel costs with respect to road games.

There are several AHL teams in big markets, such as Chicago, San Antonio, and Houston. What do you think about the league’s smaller-market teams – such as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and others – in regards to the job they do and their following? How important do you consider the league’s smaller-market clubs? - Jordan from Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

There is no trend as to success or failure in the AHL based upon the size of the market. We have successful franchises in both larger and smaller markets, and we have had challenges in both as well. The business model differs in varying markets, usually the larger markets and arenas are more expensive to operate in from a marketing and operational standpoint and they also provide greater revenue potential. The smaller markets usually have lower costs and our teams in those markets can more easily connect with the community and play a larger role in their sports landscape. Our primary objective is to assist our clubs in being successful regardless of the size of the market. In my view strong ownership, progressive management, and establishing a bond with our communities is far more important than the size of the market.

Is a 30-team AHL your ultimate goal, and when do you think that might be achieved? - Stan from Wallingford, Conn.

My ultimate goal is to have all of our franchises establish themselves as viable and meaningful professional sports operations in their respective communities. We are working very hard as a league to share best practices amongst our teams and to use our most successful clubs and our strongest leaders as mentors for all of the others to follow. In reaching for that goal we want to make certain that we provide the best possible experiences for our fans and also provide our players and coaches with a competitive environment that will continue to develop these talented people and result in maintaining and growing our incredible graduation rate to the NHL, which now stands at 85% of NHL players and more than half of the coaches.

We do have 30 existing franchises, one of which is in suspension at the moment, and we are hopeful of activating all 30 by next season.

How much do you travel during a typical season? Do you get to every arena in the league? - Stan from Wallingford, Conn.

I would estimate that I travel about 80-100 days a year and see something in the range of 60-80 games. During the playoffs I have the good fortune to see a game virtually every other night from April to June. I do not typically get to every arena every year, but I usually come close and make certain to catch up with the remainder early the following season. After 22 years in the AHL and many years previous to that in the hockey business as a coach and player I can honestly say that I still enjoy every game that I attend, although the airports are getting less enjoyable.

I’m a huge fan of AHL hockey and have been ever since the inaugural season here in Des Moines in 2005. Is the AHL confident at all that there will be hockey in Des Moines again in the foreseeable future? - Jeremy from Des Moines, Iowa

Thanks for your support of the AHL. I can assure you that I will be working with community leaders in Des Moines to facilitate the return of the AHL to Iowa. Obviously that cannot happen this season, but I am hopeful that the Wells Fargo Arena, which is a great facility for hockey, will be the home of another AHL team in the near future.

There often seems to be a discrepancy in the number of times each team plays three games in three nights throughout the year. Shouldn’t each team play the same number of these “three-in-three” sets of games? - Rob from Douglassville, Penn.

The discrepancy in “three in three” games is generally a result of a team’s location or its preference to play at home on certain nights. We are primarily a weekend league as you know, which leads to a lot of Friday, Saturday, Sunday sequences, particularly after the NFL season winds down. Some teams are prepared to play more “three in threes” than others in order to get favorable home dates. Others will forego the weekend date in order to avoid that frequency.

What typically determines which city hosts the annual AHL All-Star Classic? I go to all the Falcons home games, and would like to see Springfield host the All-Star Classic sometime. - Paul from Palmer, Mass.

The host city is selected every year through a bid process where AHL clubs who have an interest in hosting a future event submit a detailed bid package to the League. The bid process is usually completed 18 -24 months in advance of the event.

The All Star Classic is a joint project of the host team and the League itself, and we have been very proud of the quality of these events over the past 15 years. We have had a live television reach of 100 million homes annually for the past number of years, and last season had our best television ratings ever and terrific fan support in Worcester. We are looking forward to the 2010 AHL All Star Classic in Portland in January.

A number of markets during your tenure have both lost and then regained an AHL franchise – Binghamton, Worcester, Cleveland, and Adirondack, to name a few. What is the process typically like from the league’s perspective for a market attempting to regain a franchise after losing one? Does it vary in each case? - Bill from Bridgeport, Conn.

Yes it does vary in every case, but I can assure you that it has been rewarding to be able to bring the AHL back to those communities after teams have left for whatever reason. In some cases it has taken longer than others to relocate a team back into a vacated market, but so far those cities that have managed to attract another team back into their arenas have been very successful. I can tell you that a passionate fan base and persistent and aggressive political leadership has been a key element in bringing hockey back in all of those communities.

What is the most difficult or challenging part of your job as president of the AHL? - Kevin from Boston, Mass.

The most challenging part of the job is managing so many different relationships with a multitude of stakeholders, which include among others our 29 active AHL teams, 30 NHL teams, NHL management, the Professional Hockey Players Association, our corporate partners and our broadcast partners, our game officials and our media from across North America.

All of these relationships require attention and often intervention of some sort while at the same time we need to be thinking and acting strategically to keep ourselves ahead of the curve in delivering services to our teams and fans and in ensuring that we are preparing for whatever the future might bring.

We have a terrific staff both on and off the ice across the AHL and we have a very strong group of leaders on our Board of Governors. Together we have managed to pull in the same direction for many years now and the results have been excellent. We are committed to a high standard of performance and focused on providing great value for our fans and all of our stakeholders.

What are you most proud of accomplishing thus far during your tenure at the American Hockey League? - Jared from Worcester, Mass.

I am not certain that there is any one thing that I am most proud of accomplishing. I think that I am generally very pleased with our efforts as a League over the past 15 years. These include the growth of the League to a national presence geographically and the stabilization of our business through the expansion which brought the former IHL teams into our League; establishing strong relationships with our players and seeing the success of so many of our players, coaches and officials as they move on to the NHL; establishing the All Star Classic as a successful platform for showcasing our League on a national and international level; working closely with the National Hockey League to refine and improve the game itself; and I am most thankful for having had the opportunity to serve the League as its President and particularly to have worked with so many great people within the game and in particular within our League.