SSE COO Michael Yormark talks with us about the Panthers...Image Source: Sport Business Journal

Talking With Florida Panthers' COO Michael Yormark

Michael Yormark is the President and COO of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment who runs the Florida Panthers…last week I got a chance to chat with Michael…

Josh: When I walked in today, you came over and patted me on the shoulder and said, “This is a big day for the franchise!” Can you tell me a little bit about how you see this time, historically, for the Florida Panthers.

Michael Yormark: “I think this day will go down as one of the biggest days in the franchise’s history. I mean, as you know, we really have not been relevant for the last 10-11 years. We have not been into the playoffs. It has been challenging for us. When Cliff Viner became the general partner last summer we knew that the future was going to be bright; but quite frankly, we didn’t really know how long it would take for us to turn the corner. He went out and hired Dale Tallon, which will probably go down as one of the great moves in the history of this franchise. And when Dale sat down with Cliff and I, he said, ‘Listen guys, I’ll get this franchise to where it needs to be. It is going to take some time. You gotta be patient. I want to do it first class. I want to put together a plan, and I want to execute that plan. I don’t want to deviate from it.’ We said, ‘Dale, do whatever you have to do.’ And over the last 12 months, his strategy has worked.

We have gone through some pain. We took a couple of steps back on trading deadline on February 28th; but we knew that ultimately we would get to the draft and to free agency, and that we would make it happen. Because of Dale’s reputation, and because of Mike Santos’ reputation, today is a day that has become a reality. We’ve got players that are highly skilled that are either in their prime or heading into their prime, that wanted to come to Florida. When was the last time that we had players going into their prime that said, ‘You know what? This is the destination we want to go to. We want to be a Florida Panther. We want to play at the BankAtlantic Center. Dale and Mike made it happen. So our turnaround is not complete, by any stretch of the imagination; but we are on our way, now. We have a chance to be successful.

There is hope again. There is hope for our fans. There is hope for our sponsors, for Cliff, for all of us, for our staff. Everyone believes that we have a chance, now, to be a special organization, to be a first class organization, to be a winning organization. We have a chance to fill this building every single night. We have a chance to make every Panther fan so proud to support this organization. As the president of the team, and of the building, that is all you want — all your hope for. So that is why today is special, because it is filled with so much hope, optimism and excitement. We hope the team will come together quickly, will get off to a really good start, that the building is full, and people are knocking on the door to buy tickets. You can feel the passion and the energy. We know we are going to get there.”

Josh: “From a marketing perspective, it looks like the NBA is walking out and the NFL has had their troubles this year. Does this give you an opportunity to become the premier entertainment here in South Florida?”

Michael Yormark: “I think it does. We went through a lockout five or six years ago, and it is not a pleasant experience for anybody. That being said, would I love a window of opportunity where I may be the only show in town for a while? Of course. But I don’t want that at the expense of the Heat or the Dolphins. I think, ultimately, we will get the support for this franchise that we deserve, as long as we get on the ice, we win games, we are entertaining, and we provide the experience that our fans want; and that is important.”

Josh: A new scoreboard in the BankAtlantic Center…is that something on the agenda…? 

Michael Yormark: “I will tell you, we are looking at it very closely. We may have a surprise very shortly.”

Josh: “You have been pretty active on Twitter. I think fans appreciate that. They appreciate seeing your thoughts on things…

Michael Yormark: “I believe in access. I think fans want access, whether it is players, management or coaches. I think that is what it is all about. I think that it is important for our fans to understand what our direction is, what my thoughts are, what is happening with the organization. They deserve to have insight. They deserve to have information that perhaps other people don’t have access to. I am a firm believer in that. I am going to continue to do it. You have to be careful. Sometimes you get a little over zealous, but the reality is: This business is about access. The fan is so important. They are the most important part of it. I want fans to understand exactly what we are doing all the time. I want as many followers as I can get. I am a big believer in social media. I am a big believer in Twitter, and I will continue to be active.”

Josh: “Do you encourage the players to be a part of that, too?” 

Michael Yormark: “I think so. We got a lot of great personalities now on this team. I know some of the guys tweet. We drafted a guy last week, Rocco Grimaldi, who will be in town this weekend. His first tweet was, ‘I am taking my act to South Beach.’ It was a playoff off LeBron James from last summer. That is good stuff. We want our fans to know that our players are not just great or elite athletes, or just great hockey players; but they have great personalities. We want our fans to get to know these personalities. I think Twitter is a great way to do that.”

Josh: “You have the Presidential Fitness Challenge coming up… Do you want to talk a little bit about what you are doing with that?”

Michael Yormark: “Sure. I am a fitness nut. I am a health nut. I have not had anything but water in the last five years. I enjoy being in the gym. I thought that if I could combine my passion of being in the gym with an opportunity to raise money for pediatric cancer, that I could really accomplish something that would terrific. This organization, Cliff Viner, who will be the new Chairman of the Florida Panther Foundation, when he is voted in, made a commitment to this community to give back.

This past year, we pledged $400,000 to the Chris Evert Hospital for their oncology unit, and renamed the oncology floor for the fight against pediatric cancer. I was the Walk Chair of the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk. I was the top fund raiser in the LLS program, raising $150,000. I am a believer in it. I am a believer in helping kids. I am a believer in helping kids that are less fortunate. I will do whatever I can to support that cause. So I think this is just a greater fundraising opportunity. My goal is to raise about $100,000 from the one day event; and we will donate it to an organization for the fight against pediatric cancer. We will continue to do those things. But combining fitness and a great cause like this is just awesome.

Thanks for talking to me Michael!

…and thanks for reading!

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