Friday, October 30, 2015

Rays add new marketing guru to front office

According to the Tennessean, the Tampa Bay Rays will have a new executive front office member in 2016. Jeff Cogen, current CEO of the Nashville Predators, will be joining the organization on February 1st, following the NHL All-Star Game. Cogen will split time between the Predators and Rays beginning on November 30th.

With the departure last season of longtime Rays executive Mark Fernandez and attendance at a 10-year low, it is no surprise the Rays brought someone in.

So who is Jeff Cogen?

First of all, Cogen is a long-time friend of Rays President Matt Silverman. According to the Wall St Journal, Cogen was one of the first team presidents Silverman befriended when he joined the Rays in 2006. So there is a history of collaboration.

Second, and most important, Cogen has a long career in sports and entertainment. According to the Predators' website, he has worked in the following positions with the following organizations:
  • CEO, Nashville Predators
  • President, Dallas Stars
  • President, Texas Rangers
  • Vice President, Dallas Stars
  • Executive V.P. of Marketing and Sales, Southwest Sports Group
  • Chief Operating Officer, Florida Panthers
  • Director, and later Vice President of Marketing for Olympia Arenas, the managing company of Detroit Red Wings, Joe Louis Arena and Fox Theater
  • Manager, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Shows
In total, Cogen has been working in sports and entertainment for nearly 30 years.

According to the Nashville Business Journal, Cogen and Predators' Chief Operating Officer Sean Henry have achieved much in their tenure. They've increased ticket sales, encouraged youth sports, increased season ticket holders and corporate sponsors, and re-energized the fanbase of a team that was rumored to relocated.

According to the Chairman of the Predators in the Tennessean,
“I have never seen a marketing person who is as thorough and organized and as systematic as Jeff,” Cigarran said. “That is now part of the DNA of the whole sales team. He can tell you every little thing that we sell, how is it trending. I’ve seen a lot of good marketing people … but I’ve never seen anyone as good as Jeff.”

While in charge of the Predators, Cogen saw attendance increase from a low of 14,979 in 2010-11 to 16,854 in 2014-15. A better team on the ice helped, but Cogen also "increased television ratings, and sales and marketing efforts."

An interesting quote from an article on Predators attendance summed up Cogen and Henry's thought process:
"If there are 500 or 1,000 fans from other cities, it makes for a fun night," Henry said. "But it's not a lot of fun when there are 7,000 of them. Then it's no longer a home game. So the real key is getting people that wear gold in our building. We need to give them reasons ..."

When asked about Major League Baseball in Nashville, Cogen emphasized how hard a small market has to work and what elements are needed for success.
"It's easier in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston, because to fill 40,000 seats you have to have a smaller percentage of the population. But I believe the market is robust enough, and corporate-laden and technologically savvy that we have the right mix of corporate and individuals that could support Major League Baseball, if there were facilities."
Needless to say, Cogen has his work cut out for him in Tampa Bay. While the Predators arena is located "in the midst of a very trendy entertainment district", we all know the location issues of Tropicana Field. How much can Cogen overcome that huge obstacle?

Corporate support has also been a huge problem for the Rays. Can Cogen get the Rays on the right track with corporate partners? Can he get more fans to the ballpark on the weekends?

I've often said the Rays can't sell baseball like other teams do. They need to think out of the box. Cogen is an out-of-the-box thinker. In 2011, the Predators gave away tickets. According to Yahoo! sports, the strategy was to "(a) get them in the building and (b) track that data to get them back". Cogen then claimed he can "turn 15 percent of non-paying attendees into paying fans". And Cogen didn't care much about season ticket holders paying when others didn't. According to Cogen.
"Empty seats don't look very good on television, they don't cheer very loud, they don't buy hot dogs."
Tropicana Field had a lot of empty seats last year. When full, they have often been due to opposing fans.

From what I am reading, the Rays have themselves a great acquisition in Jeff Cogen. I've often called the Rays marketing effort the hardest job in sports. Let's see what Cogen can do.