A Meeting with Michael Yormark

had the long awaited and thrice postponed meeting with Michael Yormark, COO at the Panthers. I had all sorts of expectations about who he was and how he might act based on my previous interactions with him, what I’ve read, and what I’ve heard about him.

This morning I got a call at the office asking if I could make the meeting at 5pm instead of 530pm due to his ‘stop’ being moved back a half hour. Although horribly inconvenient, I agreed because I wasn’t letting this go any longer than necessary. I bailed work at 4pm and drove like a bat out of Hell, arriving at The Billboard (aka BAC) at 441pm. I walked in, took the elevator to the suite level where the regular offices are. There was no receptionist, just a yellow paper telling you to dial your party. I was about to dial Yormark’s office when an intern came out of the offices and called up for me. They told me to have a seat, and someone would be right with me. (Their system isn’t great because a complete list of all extensions is right next to the phone. Numbers such as the coach, GM, owners, and so forth. Somebody’s going to steal that and do damage with it one day. I should mention that to them, I suppose.)

Meanwhile, I met a few people while waiting. Everyone was very friendly, and they offered me refreshments and so forth. I remember my first time — when we first moved into the building and H. Wayne was running the show — when they had people running the elevators, they had seats in them so you could sit, and handing you candy while you rode to your stop. The economy’s got everyone. This isn’t a complaint at all. Just an observation on how things have changed.

I ran into Kathy D and we had a nice chat and she got me to rejoin the Booster Club. $15 if you join before 6-15-09. Tell her I sent you.

About 10 after five, Yormark’s assistant came down and got me — very nice and friendly lady. Yormark’s offices are on the next level where all the executive offices are. I’ve been there before when I used to visit Cogen and company from time to time. They asked me to wait just a moment, and directed me to sit in the waiting area. I had a nice view right into Stanley’s office — which like all offices has his real name on the cubicle door. I won’t share that information, but am sorry I didn’t get to meet him. At about 520, I heard “put him in the office” in a familiar voice, and I was ushered into Yormark’s conference room. I’ve not been in this room before, but it’s next door to Jacques Martin’s office. A few moments later, again refreshments were offered, he came in and said hello. No handshake. I notice these things.

He’s very energetic and very intense, almost hyper. I’ll give him that and it’s a good thing not a bad thing. He makes eye contact, and he definitely believes in what he’s saying. That is, like it or not, a good sign. He started off saying he didn’t usually meet with fans and gave me a disclaimer about all sorts of stuff before we started: how he hated rude people, reminding me that the ads aren’t going away, and so on. That’s a bit off-putting if you want to know the truth, but hey I can accept it. Again, I’m not meeting with him to be his friend or his enemy but to tell him things have gone horribly wrong somewhere. A thought a lot of people share. As you all know, I talk to fans in all categories in the arena: Lower Bowl, Upper Bowl, Club, Suite, and ADT areas. I’m a hockey fan and I will socialize with all hockey fans because it’s a great way to talk to people.

I did let him know he does have some great people in his organization who care, and that I realize they do have to turn a profit to keep going. I gave him a 30 second “meet Eric” speech and started right in. All the fans I talked to tell me the one thing that really crossed the line — according to every single person I talked to was those effing urinal cakes. Everyone was mad, none more than myself and the legendary Murph. Yormark refuses to accept that it was a mistake. His answer is that it’s not our logo but a sponsor’s mark. He said there are logos on everything and why is it different than a doormat or trash can. I’ll skip the rest of this except to say he and I will never, ever see eye to eye on this. I told him he owes the entire fan base an apology. Don’t hold your breath. Why am I telling you this? Because if you know me, you know I want to present the whole picture. I didn’t have much hope for the meeting after this point, because this sort of intransigence doesn’t bode well. He’s like me: stubborn. But I’ll admit I’m wrong. Not sure if he will, and he is unequivocally wrong. Perception is reality on this. I am happy to report once we got past that, things were much easier. I was expecting it to go downhill from there and it didn’t. I came very prepared.

I knew I didn’t have much time and I wanted to be ready. I came in with forty (40) bullet points. They were divided into two groups. The first group were REVENUE items and the second group were ARENA items. The revenue items are things he can do to generate advertising dollars while making the arena more like a hockey arena. I put a lot of thought into this and came up with a nice list of ideas. As someone who runs a multi-million dollar business concern, I know a lot about what will and won’t work in a large scale business. Our company has actually done — and still does — business with SSE to a limited extent, so I have a bit of insight as to what they will and won’t be receptive to. My goal was to show him how he could fix some of the stuff that fans hate yet still maintain or increase ad revenue. I also showed him some flaws in his system that were letting already-earned revenue escape and he totally agreed with it and will fix that: I think I got brownie points there. He shared with me a few things they’re doing for next season, but I will keep those secret as a courtesy. I do not wish to steal his thunder. The ARENA items are things that need to be fixed in the building. These are things that are just not acceptable that have been happening for months or years. Stuff that it appears, nobody cares about. These were not in the scope of his job or this meeting, but I figured since I had the opportunity to hand him a list, I’d get these things in too. I asked he deliver them to the right people. He said he would. I made sure it was easy and gave him three complete copies of the list. All told, my letter to him was six full pages, single spaced with 0.5″ margins on all sides. Everything was organized and explained in terms anyone could understand. Say what you want, but Yormark is a very smart guy: look where he is and how he got there. I wanted to make sure he understood that I was bringing something of value that cost him zero. I hope he got my point that perception is reality. By that I mean, it doesn’t matter if he thinks he’s doing something good, if the fan base doesn’t agree, he’s wrong: even if he’s right. I’m really not sure he got that part. He’s off to New York tomorrow. He promised he would read my entire list in detail on the flight (he did glance it over while we talked), he would review it, discuss it was his staff, and then follow up with me. I’m hopeful he does follow up with me, but I am also sceptical. I’m writing this knowing full well he’s going to read my words. I closed with a reminder that I really do want to help, and I will help him for free if he’ll let me. After I said that, he asked me to commit to something: He asked if I would post the following on both the official and my boards. It’s done. (He gave me the idea of what he wanted, but the words are mine.) Mr Yormark really does want ideas from the fans on how to improve things. But he wants constructive ideas that are well thought out. So, if you have ideas you think are good, you can e-mail them to him. I’ll also take it upon myself to tell you that if you send them to me instead, I’ll collect them and make sure they’re delivered. (If you send them to me, I’ll also point out any flaws in your ideas or tell you if it was already on my list.) Please feel free to share this post’s URL with all current and previous season-ticket holders. He ended up giving me a little over a half hour including an interruption by a famous person. I was greatly amused by Yormark’s exasperated reaction at the person who has obviously called many times before. He declined the call because he was talking to me. That was sort of cool. (Stroke ego here). Why am I not posting the 40 points here? Because I told him quite clearly, I’m not in this to get credit for the ideas or glory or anything. I just want this stuff fixed and corrected. He can have all the credit for all I care. My sole goal is to make The Billboard back into a hockey arena again. GO PANTHERS!

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