Interview: Bulldogs President Stephen Ostaszewicz

Tom Petrov of Inside Hockey talks with Hamilton Bulldogs President Stephen Ostaszewicz about the changes and expectations for 2013-14…

The Hamilton Bulldogs just signed a three year lease to stay in Hamilton at Copps Coliseum. There are only six other AHL teams (barring name changes etc)that have been in the AHL longer than Hamilton. What does it mean for the City of Hamilton and the fans to know that this team is here to stay?

By the Bulldogs signing a new lease agreement, it signifies that we will have an additional three year commitment with an option for an another two years to stay in Hamilton which is pretty remarkable, the Bulldogs will celebrate their 20th anniversary by the end of the third year of the deal and for the last several years there was some uncertainty with the past agreement, but signing the new agreement helps the Bulldogs from a ticketing and corporate sales perspective because it eliminates any doubt about the commitment to this city and you stated in your question, the Bulldogs are one of the longest serving franchises in the American Hockey League and we are in fact the longest serving Canadian franchise in the American Hockey League which is quite remarkable for a city that is starved for professional hockey.

Last season was a one of the worst in the standings for the Bulldogs in history, however there were a lot of successes that are worth talking about. The teams attendance improved (despite no outdoor game), ticket prices had changed which gave fans more value and most importantly, the Bulldog finished with a winning record on home ice despite a losing season. How do the Bulldogs build on these successes for the 2013-2014 season?

When I came on board last June one of the things that I had identified was that we had to re-ignite out brand and we had to find a way to engage our fan base, we have a loyal dedicated fan base not only within greater Hamilton but within the greater surrounding area, there are 1.9 million people who live within one hour of Copps Coliseum and we had to put together our approach that touched everybody as best we could in those different areas. It started off last year with our summer festival tour and we hit various festivals throughout the region and we did that again this summer as it is important for us to be face to face with people and we feel that if we are out there supporting these different events then we are going to get the same support in return.

The Bulldogs partnered with the Oakville Blades and the Dundas Minor Hockey Association to play a number of pre-season games just outside of the Hamilton Area. How important is it for the Bulldogs to be part of the surrounding community?

We kicked off training camp with an exhibition game in Brantford that sold out in record time, we played the Marlies at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Complex and it was a capacity crowd. This year we had the opportunity to have training camp locally from day one through to the beginning of the season and what we have done is that we have hosted two days at the Chinook Twin Pad arena where practice was open to the public for two full days, we followed that up with an intra-square game in Grimsby on September 23rd where the funds raised form the game benefited both the Bulldogs Foundation and the Grimsby Minor Hockey Association, on Friday October 27th we hosted an exhibition game against the Marlies in Oavkille, we partnered with the Oakville Blades as a fundraiser for their association to give back to the community and we did it in the final game of the pre-season on Oct 3rd where we partnered with the Dundas Hockey Association.

Everything we have tried to do is about giving back to the community and rewarding those that support us all year long. Minor hockey is out biggest single group activity that we do throughout the year and if you look at the number of individuals playing minor hockey within an hour radius of here, it is very important that we give back to these groups. We have covered the Niagara Region, we covered west of Hamilton by playing in Dundas, and we have covered east GTA by playing in Oakville.

We also last year did out community skate and practice program and we went out four times into the community, we went to Burlington, Ancaster, Dundas and Flamborough where we took the team out and practiced in the community and the minor hockey associations that were present got a practice with the team or a community skate with the team. Everything we do is community driven and we appreciate the support that we get and we try return that in a similar scenario.

This off-season, there were a number of interesting marketing initiatives. The Bulldogs held their first walk a thon, the team had a presence at a number of festivals throughout the summer and the team held a 30 for 30 prize a day give-away. What if any initiatives can fans expect throughout the season?

One of the biggest changes that the fans will notice about the fan experience will be on opening night at Copps Coliseum, the building has undergone a renovation over the summer, its been refreshed, it will no longer look like the colors that it was when it opened in 1985 and it will have a much more contemporary nature with a lot of Earth tones carried through from Gibson’s lounge that ties the lounge with the concourse and the blue seats, we also upgraded the Molson Canadian Beer Garden which will be ready for opening night, then in November, the most significant upgrade will come into effect which is the LED light ribbon, Copps Coliseum will now have a 360′ LED light ribbon in mid November, this LED ribbon will change the fans game day experience significantly. Last year we added the fun zone for kids on the event level and this year we will enhance it with some additional features, we got different promotions with Y108 for $3 beer nights, Saturday is Fresh FM Maple Lodge Farm family night with food specials, and Sunday will be Junior Bulldogs Sundays.

These are some exciting changes for the fans.

They are and everything we are trying to do is to improve the fan engagement, if we are fortunate to get you to spend your hard earned entertainment dollars at Copps once, we want to give you the best the possible experience so that you come time and time again.

This year, CHML 900 will have a pre game show and post game show. I hear Bulldog fans will be able to call in after the hockey game. Is this a first for the franchise? 

To the best of my knowledge it is, to have an interactive call in feature is great, it is something that CHML does with the Tiger-Cats and they have had great success, Matt Holmes is our post game host and we’ll have players on, coaches after the games, coaches comments and all of those different types of things. I am heavily involved with promoting different things on our partnership station such as Corus, Fresh FM, Y108 and the various shows that CHML has, they have been a great partnership here in the city, they are a local institution and if you go back to day one of Bulldogs hockey those games were actually called on CHML back in the day some 17 years.

On Friday October 11th, the Hamilton Bulldogs open their 18th American Hockey League season with back to back home games on Friday and Saturday.

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