By Kyle Gunn-Taylor:
The Buffalo Sabres media relations department welcomed some of the team's most dedicated followers through the doors of the First Niagara Center for a meet and greet style event, Monday.
On the same day the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup with a 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, the Sabres staff put on the event which featured a happy hour, followed by an organizational announcement and a predetermined topic period one-on-one with team President, Ted Black.
Before the topics flew, Entercom (WGR 550) station manager, Greg Reid accompanied President Black to make the announcement of a new Sabres radio show on WGR that will be hosted by former pre-game and post-game television personality Kevin Sylvester.
"Sabres Hockey Hotline will give fans an additional 350-plus hours of Sabres programming each year that we know fans will love," said Black, via Sabres.com "It's an ambitious undertaking for our organization and that's why we put Kevin in charge of producing and hosting the show."
Sylvester will replace the nationally syndicated Colin Cowherd Show, "The Herd," beginning on June 18th, 2012. Sabres Hockey Hotline will be broadcast between the Howard Simon Show and the Jim Rome Show, airing 10am to 12pm.
The decision to replace The Herd was made in recognition of the amount of passion the Buffalo area has for hockey and the need for a show to represent that sentiment. Reid also quipped that the Cowherd Show is often referred to by the local programmers as the LeBron show, because of Cowherd's affinity for the NBA star.
Brian Duff, who joined the Sabres television broadcast on a part-time basis last season, will assume full-time pre-game and post-game responsibilities. Duff demonstrated a solid grasp of the game and he should be a fantastic addition in place of Sylvester.
The Sabres also announced that Rob Ray will increase his television duties as full-time color commentator for all 82-games in the 2012-2013 season.
Ray will continue his duties between the glass for home games, but will join the league's longest tenured play-by-play man and Sabres Hall-of-Fame announcer Rick Jeanneret in the booth on the road.
Jeanneret, who has recently inked a multi-year contract to continue his legendary career with the Sabres, will also be cranking up the amount of games he calls compared to the scaled back schedule he worked in 2011-2012.
Harry Neale and Danny Gare will continue to contribute to the Sabres broadcasts in different capacities, while Mike Robitaille will resume building upon his post-game show.
A large flat screen TV depicting an intensely focused Nathan Gerbe silhouette behind the Sabres logo and the title "New Media Summit," loomed behind President Black as he reeled off topics that were prepared ahead of time by the media department in accordance with requests from the bloggers.
"There will always be evolving changes," Black (above photo left with Greg Reid) said in reference to the first topic of First Niagara Center future building plans.
The current projects that the Sabres highlighted all involve the building's exterior and surrounding areas.
In addition to the canals being constructed at the site of the former Memorial Auditorium, there is a project to complete the painting of the roof, an already underway construction of a 90,000 sq. ft. plot of land beneath the skyway being landscaped for a park
funded by Terry Pegula and the complete renovation of the Donovan Building which is going to be occupied by Phillips Lytle LLP a law firm and a Courtyard Marriott Hotel (see photo below to left).
After each topic, the forum of guests who formed a square around the center logo of the Sabres locker room were allowed to ask questions and expand upon the often insightful and direct ramblings of Black.
Predictably, the Sabres President dodged all questions on the collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire in September 2012. However, Black was more forthcoming regarding some of the roster issues the team will be facing in this year's draft, on June 22nd-23rd and free-agency nipping right on its heels beginning July 1st.
"We're thin at forward," he said "Cody Hodgson went a long way to helping that, but it depends on what's available equally with what you have to give up to get that player."
Although it isn't anything earth shattering, it is more than he divulged at the 2nd blogger summit back in January.
Other issues addressed throughout the evening included the hike in season ticket prices, and the various ideas bloggers had in enhancing the overall Sabres game experience.
According to Black, there was an 8.2 percent increase in overall ticket prices, which was not evenly distributed, rather evaluated through each seats location relevant to the ice surface across the arena.
Where the Sabres marketing team finds its biggest problems are with the 50-mile market radius that's set forth for each team. "About 45 percent of our market is in a foreign country or under water," said Black.
In order to continue to show growth and qualify for the league-wide revenue sharing, the Sabres are attempting to cultivate a passion in their young fan base which they hope will help them retain those people as life-long fans of the team.
In another attempt to liven up the arena on game day the Sabres are going to continue the Student Surge section which they felt brought a collegiate atmosphere to the arena last season.
In the closing moments of the summit Black was asked to address the possibility that Tyler Myers having reparative knee surgery after the season's conclusion. No answer was given, but the jokes about possible upper and lower body injuries lightened the mood.
With the New Media Summit the Sabres are on the cutting edge in reaching out to alternative media sources. The team's media strategy reaches beyond the boundaries of traditional print and broadcast journalism. By embracing the blogosphere, the team hopes to further engage its passionate fan base.