Conversation with the commish
MARQUETTE – Bill Robertson will take over as commissioner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association when current commissioner Bruce McLeod retires on June 30 after 20 years as head of the league.
Robertson, 53, will begin working for the league in mid-May after spending nearly two decades in the NHL as director of communications for the Anaheim Ducks and vice president of communications and broadcasting for the Minnesota Wild.
Following is a transcript of a phone interview with Robinson, less than 24 hours after he was introduced as the next WCHA commissioner during a press conference on Tuesday at the Xcel Energy Center, in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn.
Q: For you in this first year, what do you see as your biggest challenge as commissioner?
A: Well, I think there’s a few things. No. 1 is securing where the offices are going to be. That will be a big piece of what I’m trying to accomplish in the first year. I’m going to explore lots of different options for the offices and looking particularly at the Twin Cities for a target for that, but haven’t made any determinations yet on where that will be. That will be one of the challenges.
The other is certainly finding some new revenue streams for the conference with sponsorship opportunities. We’re going to dig deeper in those categories to try to strengthen the league from a financial perspective.
I would say first and foremost, the league has a great foundation in place and the schools are all passionate about college hockey. I feel that’s in good order. But to play off that, what we’re really interested in is making sure the conference tournament coming in 2015 to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul will be a showcase event for the league and it’s branded as a WCHA event and it has a look and feel of a big-time college hockey tournament. That’s exactly what I’m going to focus on with the staff.
Q: Right now, in the WCHA, commissioner Bruce McLeod is in Denver, Associate Commissioner for Public Relations Doug Spencer is down in Madison, Wis., and Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd is in the Twin Cities. Are you looking to centralize things like the CCHA was in Farmington Hills, Mich.?
A: I think that’s the model I would like to look at, but I’m open to other suggestions on that from the staff. I’m not coming in to make household changes right away, but I want to explore that opportunity where we could get everybody together in one centralized location.
Q: What are the benefits to having the one centralized location?
A: You can do things today digitally and by phone and email and those type of things, but I like the fact that everybody is together and we can meet as a group on a regular basis that way. In a centralized location, I think it adds a lot of impact to what people can do every day. Then people get a chance to interact with each other too and get new ideas. That’s kind of what I want to build.
Q: When I talked to coaches and Northern Michigan University athletic director Forrest Karr, the league championship weekend was their biggest concern. What are going to be the keys to making that successful? It doesn’t look like it’s a WCHA issue, but one for all the western leagues.
A: And we’ll be competing with a tournament going on in Minneapolis at the same time. What we have to do is make events actually surrounding the games fun, whether was have open skating for fans to come prior to the event, a fan fest idea. Those will be the kinds of things we’re looking at exploring with the Xcel Energy Center to make this a better event.
Q: Can those types of events help offset what happened to the NCHC this year in Minneapolis where its championship featured Denver and Miami, two teams nowhere near Minneapolis? Could those events offset a Bowling Green vs. Ferris State final in St. Paul?
A: Those are the types of events that make the tournament a destination point for fans. It doesn’t concern as much who is playing, but you rather come down to see great college hockey. On top of that, it’s the promotion of the event. Are we in the right places to advertise and get the word out that the event is coming and where are we promoting that – on radio, television, newspapers and digital places? That’s what I want to do.
Q: Do you feel these league tournaments, whether the WCHA is in Grand Rapids or St. Paul, can overcome what might not be considered the right mix of teams in the finals?
A: That’s always going to be a challenge if you don’t have the teams that would have any type of local flavor. It’s always going to be more of a challenge. That’s something you can’t predict. You may have a pretty good idea going in what you could expect as you get closer to the start of the tournament, but I’m looking to promote great college hockey as a piece of this and then also getting that word out in the right avenues is going to be the big key to continuing to draw attendance. You’re hopeful that you have some local flavor in the tournament to help you sell tickets.
In part two Saturday, a look at how the league can increase exposure and more.