The cancellation of the NHL season the first wiped-out season in professional sports history over labor issues has not only affected Sharks business, but businesses around the arena known as the "Shark Tank."
As hockey is the only major league sport in San Jose, unless you're a diehard soccer fan, there's a huge void in the South Bay this winter. And there's no telling when NHL owners and players will see eye to eye.
Sharks president and chief executive officer Greg Jamison discussed the unprecedented situation recently.
Q. With no hockey, is there ice inside the Shark Tank?
A. The ice is there traditionally at every event 24-7, year-round. Don't hold me to this, but I think it's out, and it probably will be out until we get ready for next year. It's a two-day process to flood it and paint it.
Q. You can't take the unused Zamboni to Jiffy Lube, can you?
A. We have a great crew that takes care of it. It's quite a process. You actually put hot water in the Zamboni to freeze, smooth and cure the ice.
Q. Is it true you're paying Sharks employees a full salary?
A. It's a combination of three things. We've had attrition;from Sports 1
some people have left for other jobs. On June 15, 2004, we laid off 10 to 13 people. (Recently), we laid off another 12, 13 people. So our work force is down 20 percent. We're running lean probably until next fall when we start playing hockey again.
Q. How sure are you that there will be hockey in the fall?
A. We are completely and totally planning on playing hockey next fall. This is based on a number of things. We lost a season. We've had meetings and plans on what we need to do. We'd like to get a deal done right now with the NHLPA and work together with them to rebuild the sport.
Q. The NHL isn't as popular as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. Thus has hockey really hurt itself with the canceled season?
A. Canceling the season didn't do anything to help. There is an impact of varying opinions. Some say it's devastating. Some say it will come back. Everybody plugs in a different point. I believe strongly that we have to resell the game, bring our fans back, and to get new fans through even more group sales, advertising and promotions.
Q. You've had strong attendance in San Jose. Can you regain it after a year's absence?
A. I firmly believe that, if we do it right, we can build back attendance to what we had before. That means communicating with our fans, letting them know what's going on, continuing to enhance the game.
Q. Will the brand of hockey decline with a year off from NHL competition?
A. I don't think so. Our athletes work at it very hard. We all look at the longevity in sports. Players are trying to play the game longer, so they work to stay in shape. My sense is our players will be in good shape when they come to camp. Some are playing in Europe, some in the American Hockey League. Not every player is playing, but some are working out.
Q. How busy is Sharks management with no games being played?
A. Because of Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment, we have a number of things we're doing. The only people who aren't actively doing what their job is are the hockey players and training and equipment staff. Scouts are scouting as much as they always do, because every league in the world is playing but the NHL, and there's a draft coming up. We oversee the hockey business, we have tennis, Grand Prix racing ... a lot of things are going on, which is why we've been able to keep a lot of people at work. The plate is very full.
Q. You are an executive, but you're also a hockey fan. How badly were you hurt by this cancellation?
A. I'm very disappointed because it did not have to be this way. I'm disappointed in the union leadership, because I think this could have been avoided from the standpoint of understanding the big picture. You go through a range of emotions from disappointing to frustrating to maddening at times. But if we're going to suffer this kind of downturn, it gives me a stronger resolve to do this right ... so we don't ever have to enter this type of thing again. We have to come up with a better game and a better league.
Q. Were both sides, owners and players, at fault?
A. Well, I think that would be a gracious thing to say, but I truly don't believe it. I personally am frustrated with the lack of workability on the other side. There has to be an understanding of the economics, and I didn't think it was there.
Q. What have executives in other sports that have had strikes and lockouts advised you to do?
A. It's a pretty simple message: Fix it. You've got an economic model that's not working, and this is your opportunity to fix it.
Q. How badly are local businesses that depend on Sharks hockey financially suffering right now?
A. It's had an impact on a lot of businesses. When you take out 45 to 50 Sharks games that helped restaurants make their nut, that does have an impact. Some restaurants were built because there was hockey here.
Q. Is it true team mascot S.J. Sharkie has put on 50 pounds with nothing to do, and has lost his value to the franchise?
A. S.J. Sharkie is our greatest ambassador right now. He has done more appearances appearances that players or people in the organization might have done. If anything, he's a very tired S.J. Sharkie.