When I realized that I couldn’t attend the Blogger Summit a LOT of whining commenced. And I mean a lot.
One of the people I whined to was Sabres PR guy extraordinaire, Kevin Snow. In an effort to salvage the situation for myself, I hatched a plan to interview Ted Black via email, and Kevin very kindly agreed to forward the questions to Ted on my behalf. (Kevin’s level of generosity will become even more apparent after you hear the questions I asked.)
Ted Black, very graciously answered all of my questions, some in great detail. At this point, if you’re a Sabres fan and you’re not a little bit in love with Ted Black, you should go to a doctor, because you might be a dead inside. Ted Black is the bomb-diggety. Taking the time to answer these questions was WAY above and beyond the call of duty, and it made me feel a lot less pitiful about missing the summit. I actually learned a lot by asking these questions. Having a little bit of access was super fun, and it’s also helped me redefine what “Sabres blogging” means to me.
Now, just to be CRYSTAL CLEAR: I’ve made up a LOT of ridiculous things over the years on this blog. This interview is NOT like the time I wrote a conversation between me and Goose where he came over to my house and asked for a viola lesson using only HONKS to communicate. I made that up. This, is not made up.
So, without further ado, I present the Ted Black interview. The questions are in bold, and I wrote a few things in red in response to his answers.
QUESTION: Out of curiosity, do you read any blogs, or is “blog” just a silly word that makes you think of nerds?
Ted Black: I do read blogs, including yours, and message boards from time-to-time so that I can keep up-to-date with any criticisms, complaints and other suggestions for making the Sabres a better organization. The “Blogger Summit” was something that I wanted to do to actively engage this community that is an important part of the Sabres’ Nation.
Katebits: Ted, on behalf of all Sabres bloggers, I want to thank you from the very bottom of my heart for reaching out to the blogosphere. The summit seems to have really inspired everyone. I mean that very sincerely. Also, just to be clear, Bloggers are nerds, but we are more fun to hang out with than reporters, and way easier to bribe.
QUESTION: Which would you prefer, the power of flight or the power of invisibility? Why?
Ted Black: Hmmm. Superpowers. Although the Sabres are striving to be a more “transparent” organization, I would have to say I would prefer the power of flight over invisibility.
Katebits: Flying is way cooler than skulking around being all sneaky and invisible. Good answer.
QUESTION: You added a suggestion box to the website and have been famously reading each individual suggestion. As a fan I absolutely LOVE this feature. I assume you have also asked the players for their feedback and suggestions. Can you share any of their requests/suggestions/petty complaints with us? Have you heard anything surprising from them? Do the players have a suggestion box?
President Ted Black: The suggestion box was a fantastic way for us to really drill deep into the Sabres fan base. We received over 30,000 suggestions and I am not sure I will be able to finish reading them all. It is remarkable that fans gave us so much of their thought and time, so we feel a special obligation to not only read them, but whenever possible to execute ideas/suggestions from our fans. We have also engaged our players, staff and employees for their ideas and suggestions. Kim Pegula has met with the players’ wives to get some ideas from them with regard to the family room and for other ways to include the players’ families. With regard to the players, sometimes it is hard to get them to really open up with suggestions. I think it is part of the hockey culture to quietly do one’s job and not appear to be a complainer. We did review the locker room plans with several of the players, including Jason, Nathan and Ryan to get their feedback. Overall they seem to be extremely excited about the “Pegula Way” and the new culture that Terry and Kim have brought to the franchise.
Katebits: I’m actually a little surprised to hear that the players are hesitant to offer their suggestions, but your explanation makes sense. I guess this would be a way that invisibility would come in handy for you.
QUESTION: Toronto Maple Leafs: Gross team, or grossest team?
President Ted Black: Let me answer this way: there are fewer teams that are more fun to beat and more disappointing to lose to than the Leafs. I was told that a couple years ago, a Sabres executive was driving out of the Leafs’ garage when a security guard chased him down yelling, “Sir! Sir, you forgot something.” When the executive stopped and asked what, the guard said, “two points.” These stories and the passion of the fans are what makes Sabres vs. Leafs one of the best rivalries in the NHL.
Katebits: Man… Leafs fans. I’m so glad we nearly always kick their butts.
QUESTION: You seem like a detail oriented person. From the outside it appears that there is no Sabres-related issue that is too large or too small to attract your personal interest. Now that you’ve been wading around in the organization for a few months, is there anything you’ve discovered along the way that shocked you? Thrilled you? Can you give us an example of something that you were shocked to discover wasn’t working well, and an example of something that surprised you with its efficiency.
President Ted Black: Last week marked the first 100 days since Terry bought the team. I don’t know if I would classify any of these as “shocking” but the following did surprise and/or thrill me:
(a) The Sabres’ rarely held functions that involved the employees/players families. The Pegula’s are extremely family-oriented and they quickly changed this in the first week of ownership by hosting a party for players, employees and spouses.
(b) The now-infamous cold water in the women’s bathrooms. This was a relatively easy fix and I was surprised it had not been raised previously. (KB: Dude. I almost cried the first time I washed my hands with warm water after you guys took over.)
(c) I was blown away by the Alumni Reunion and red carpet event on Fan Appreciation Night. It was one of the most memorable regular season events I have ever attended. (KB: Agreed)
(d) I was surprised by how intelligent and insightful that Ryan Miller is. (KB: Crunchy is the best.)
(e) Terry and I completely underestimated the reception that we have received every day since February 22, 2010. It is both humbling and inspiring. It drives us to want to win the Cup for the Sabres Nation, which circles the globe. (KB: Yaaaay!)
An area that might not have been working well on the administrative side was communication. We have 100s of full and part-time employees spread out over a large building. Communication is something that every organization of this size needs to improve upon, but something that is nearly impossible to perfect.
An area that thrilled me was the video player analysis system (note that I did not say “video scouting”). The system that Darcy and the coaches have to learn from and instruct players is remarkable. (KB: Phew! Short Circuit‘s job is safe! I’ve always been puzzled by the angst over the “not-video-scouting”. I mean, Darcy and Short Circuit make a pretty good team. The drafting seems fine.
I was also thrilled by how good our day-to-day employees are and how much they care. (KB: Especially Kevin Snow, amiright? That guy should get a raise, ASAP.)
QUESTION: The photos of you and Darcy swinging sledgehammers were pretty awesome. I thought you looked a lot like Clark Kent that day. Are you purposefully trying to evoke Superman?
President Ted Black: I swing a golf club the same way I swing a sledge-hammer, so visions of Clark Kent or Superman are misplaced (and note that we did not make a hole until the second or third strike).
Katebits: You know, that is exactly what Clark Kent would say if I asked him this question…
QUESTION: I’m kind of intrigued by Darcy Regier and I have a series of questions about him, if you don’t mind:
a. Does Darcy swear? What’s the worst word you’ve ever heard Darcy say?
Darcy will swear, but not as much as me… I will leave it to your imagination as to the 4-letter word(s) of choice. (KB: The only 4-letter words I can imagine Darcy saying are words like “drat” and “gosh”.)
b. Hypothetical situation: You and Darcy are out on the town, and you both see someone fall down. It’s a total wipe out. The person wasn’t injured at all, and they only fell down because they’re a klutz and they tripped over something. Also, the person who fell is kind of a jerk and no one really likes him. If there was no chance that he’d get caught doing it…. would Darcy laugh at the person who fell?
President Ted Black: Darcy would not laugh at someone’s misfortune. My guess is that he would be the first to see if the person was ok. (KB: Darcy, he’s FINE. Geez! You should definitely laugh at him.)
…Okay, now let’s assume the person who fell was Zdeno Chara. Would Darcy laugh more because it was Chara, or less?
President Ted Black: If Chara fell, Darcy (and I) would be even less likely to laugh because Z would probably know that the two of us can’t even put a dent in a wall using sledgehammers… (KB: I actually can’t argue with this logic.)
c. I like to imagine Darcy doing hilariously nerdy things like collecting stamps, and studying tax law for fun. I guess that really isn’t a question. …Do you happen to know if Darcy collects stamps?
I don’t know if Darcy is a philatelist; however, he is an avid photographer and has more than 20,000 photos that he has taken
over the years. I would like to see if he is willing to share some of his favorites on our website. (KB: Ted, you just earned 10,000 “Foxy Nerd Points” for your use of the word “philatelist,” which I assume means “stamp collector.”)
QUESTION: Do you play an instrument? Did you play an instrument as a child? Do your kids play instruments? Do either of them play the viola, and/or do either of them need a viola teacher? (I’m trying to get more students.)
I have NO musical talent whatsoever. Like learning a second language, I always wished that I could play an instrument. My boys, Andrew (18) and Nathan (15), do not play an instrument. However, if they did, I am sure it would be the viola..
Katebits: It’s never too late to institute an “all-viola-all-the-time” policy in your family AND in the Sabres organization. You probably CAN force everyone to take viola lessons. You’d all be happier for it, I promise.
QUESTION: When I see Sabretooth at the arena he doesn’t talk, which leads me to assume that he is mute. BUT, he has a twitter account, so he’s clearly capable of communicating in English. Surely there must be some sort of device that could be used to help him communicate better with fans while at the games. Perhaps a special computer or a mascot-sized ipad? Hell, even a small chalkboard would get the job done. As his employer, don’t you feel some sort of obligation to provide Sabretooth with the tools he needs to express himself? Just because Sabretooth can’t speak, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have important things to say, Ted.
President Ted Black: That’s weird. Sabretooth talks to me all the time….
Katebits: What?! Did you send him to Mexico for the surgery to unhinge his lower jaw that I’ve been reading about in “Mascots Monthly”? That’s terrific news!
QUESTION: The biggest problem with the issue of bloggers in the press box is that every blogger writes from a unique perspective. I consider myself a fan blogger, meaning, the entire point of my blog is to share my experiences as a Sabres fan in an entertaining way. While I strive to write intelligently and fairly about the Sabres, “objectivity” is not something I care about at all. In fact, I believe that if people care what I think about the Sabres, it’s only because they can relate to my heart-bursting joy/soul-searing frustration. (I actually think objectivity is severely overrated when it comes to intelligent, well-reasoned sports analysis, but that’s probably a topic for another day…) For these reasons, I understand why I’m a bad candidate for a press pass. I’m not a journalist, nor to I strive to write like a journalist.
However, something I would love love love LOVE is a place in the arena where I can sit down and watch the game with my laptop open. A few years ago the Islanders experimented with something called “The Blog Box” which was a designated area for bloggers that included limited access to the team post-game. I thought it was a pretty cool idea. Can you imagine the Sabres ever creating a “tiered” access system, which included some in-game press privileges for bloggers?
Ted Black: In order to make the arena more blogger (and fan) friendly, we are looking at the cost/logistics to install wifi in HSBC over the summer. This was another fan suggestion and I hope it will help. As for a specific place to sit with a laptop open, we have the wonderful “problem” of being sold out every night, so it is difficult to find places in the bowl where we would kill seats to create more space. That said, I am open to engaging bloggers and would be interested in seeing what type of blogger access we can provide post-game. Let’s see what ideas the Blogger Summit produces — oh, that’s right, you won’t be there…. ;-)
Katebits: First of all, that’s harsh, Ted. Second of all, oooh! I’m excited about the idea of open wifi in the arena. That is a GREAT idea.
QUESTION: Do you have a Facebook account? Do you want to be friends?
Ted Black: I do not have a Facebook account, but I will probably do something with the team in the social media world next year. If so, I would be honored to be your friend.
Katebits: Oh, Ted. Ted, Ted, Ted. You won’t last a year in this town with that kind of attitude. The correct answer here is: “Hell NO, I won’t be your friend. Get away, filthy peon!”
QUESTION: Of all the Sabres, who has the prettiest wife? (Juuuuust kidding. Do NOT answer that, Ted.)
President Ted Black: Of all the Buffalo Sabres, Ted Black has the prettiest wife.
QUESTION: On my blog (The Willful Caboose) I’ve turned a lot of people involved with the organization into “characters”. My version of Ryan Miller is comically cranky, Paul Gaustad is heroic and good (he’s also a goose and only speaks in HONKS), I call Jason Pominville “Pommerdoodle” because he looks like a labradoodle. Most likely I’ll eventually turn you into a character of some sort. My instinct is to turn you into a wise-cracking heroic-type, but, obviously I don’t know you very well (or at all). Do you have any villainous tendencies that I should know about? Perhaps a dark and mysterious past?
President Ted Black: I have read your blog and the “characters.” The Pommerdoodle image is both disturbing and haunting. I don’t have a dark past or villainous tendencies, but I look forward to seeing what you come up with.
Katebits: I’d brace myself for a lot more “Clark Kent” jokes if I were you…
QUESTION: Correct or not, the perception of the fans was always that Larry Quinn was very involved with decisions regarding player personnel. Can you shed some light on your involvement involving these types of decisions? Obviously, Darcy is the GM, but are things like cap management and negotiating salaries entirely his responsibility now?
President Ted Black: Darcy and I have a very good relationship. My philosophy (as I said during the first press conference) is that the General Manager should manage; the Coach should coach; and the team president should make sure that all necessary resources are available and properly allocated to fulfill the owner’s vision and mission to bring the Stanley Cup to Buffalo. I see Darcy every day in the office and Terry talks to Darcy just about every day via phone or when he is in Buffalo. Cap management and negotiating salaries are primarily Darcy’s responsibility, but we do have a flat management structure such that I and others are always available to assist the hockey department and, where appropriate, offer opinions and ask questions.
Katebits: If I had your job, my policy would be that Darcy can do whatever he wants as long as he doesn’t call, email, or text me during “Glee”.
QUESTION: Now that biting is legal in the NHL, do you know if Darcy has any plans to begin drafting poorly-behaved 6-year-olds? I think the Sabres need a biting specialist. In your opinion, are there any current Sabres who might be able to fill this role? (Tyler Ennis looks like he might have sharp little teeth to me, but I’d want to see him in action before relying on him in the biting role.)
Ted Black: I recall that “mini-Me” was a biter. I am opposed to biting in the NHL. I am also opposed to someone putting his bacteria-filled hands in another person’s mouth…
Katebits: Oooh. Your answer gives me an idea… Not only do we need a biter, but we should ALSO pay Patrick Kaleta to stop washing his hands.
QUESTION: Are you getting recognized a lot around Buffalo? After he left Buffalo Chris Drury said that Buffalo fans used to “chirp” at him about the power play while he was in the grocery store. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being “no chirping whatsoever” and 10 being “a constant and deafening flock of chirpers,” how much chirping would you say you’ve been subjected to during your daily goings-on about town? (The suggestion box doesn’t count as chirping. You did that to yourself, Ted.)
Ted Black: I do get recognized from time to time, but not as much as Terry. I would say I am about a 4 on your scale and Terry is a 9. If I don’t slick my hair and instead wear a ball cap, I am pretty anonymous looking anyway. When I was coming to Buffalo prior to the sale, it was really interesting to have conversations with cab drivers and men/women on the street about how they felt about the Sabres (the number one observation back then was that “we have no identity.”) A few weeks prior to February 23, I bought a $10 ticket on the street and sat in the 300s. Obviously, no one knew who I was but I got to listen in on a lot of opinions and commentary!
Katebits: You should get T-Pegs a BB gun. I bet that would cut back on the chirping in a hurry. And I have a suggestion for quietly and easily eavesdropping on Sabres fans. You should get a Twitter account and call yourself @DefinitelyNOTTedBlack (or something equally stealthy), and then follow a bunch of fans. You’d overhear a TON of helpful “suggestions” in no time.
So, there you have it Dear Readers, the Ted Black Interview. I owe a GREAT deal of thanks to Kevin Snow for forwarding my questions to Ted.
And of course, a warm and heartfelt thanks to Ted Black. The man, the myth, the superhero in disguise.