"When the situation arose for interim commissioner and they asked me to do it, I was happy and thrilled to do my part and help the league through a period of transition."
GARRITY TOOK OVER THE ROLE FULL-TIME IN MAY AFTER SERVING AS INTERIM COMMISSIONER SINCE NOVEMBER
Tom Garrity became the ninth president and commissioner in United States Hockey League history when he accepted the role in late May after having served in that capacity on an interim basis since November.
Garrity brings a 25-year history in sports administration and sales to the position. He also has enjoyed a successful run within the league since becoming CEO and president of the Sioux Falls Stampede and Sioux Falls Sports in 2012.
Under Garrity’s guidance, the Stampede became the only team in the USHL Tier 1 era (since 2002) to be named USHL Organization of the Year in back-to-back years. In the second of those two seasons, Garrity was named USHL Executive of the Year while the Stampede won the 2015 Clark Cup championship and the Stampede set league attendance records.
Garrity has a history of producing impressive attendance numbers, including the USHL record average of 6,687 fans for the 2015-16 season and a league-high average of 6,563 in Sioux Falls last season.
Quan Sports Marketing LLC, which Garrity founded, is a sports consulting firm specializing in leading sports franchises in the areas of revenue generation, expense and operations management. Quan’s client list includes the NHL and two of its teams, the NBA and the WNBA.
Garrity recently agreed to an in-depth discussion of the USHL and his role for USA Hockey.
USA Hockey: What attracted you to taking on this role, first on an interim basis and, now, more permanently?
Tom Garrity: In 2012, I joined the league as a partner and CEO of the Sioux Falls Stampede.
When I got into the league in 2012, I didn’t really know a lot about the league. I knew enough, but during the time from 2012 to when I became interim commissioner, I obviously was heavily invested in the league with Sioux Falls and helped launch Madison, Wisconsin. I was involved with multiple franchises.
When the situation arose for interim commissioner and they asked me to do it, I was happy and thrilled to do my part and help the league through a period of transition.
I was excited about doing that, just because of my background and now I knew a lot more about the league. In my opinion, I had some insights to do some things that could help during that transition to help get them where they needed to go.
They went through a process of trying to find candidates and talking to some folks and it came back full circle with me. I was really thrilled about going from interim to full-time because I love the league, I love what it stands for and, obviously, I have a good working understanding of how teams operate and what they are doing. It just was a natural decision for me.
USAH: Which specific experiences in your sports administration background do you think best qualify you for this particular role?
TG: The USHL is a very strong hockey product. Obviously we have fantastic players and fantastic coaches, and I think right now, the businesses in our league need to catch up a little bit. They’re getting better, they’re getting stronger, but my level of expertise, if you want to call it that, is definitely running teams from the business perspective and sponsorships, putting leases together, helping market the product, helping with budgets and things of that nature that become a little bit more important as teams struggle.
I think right now we do have some franchises that we want to see get stronger, that can get stronger and are getting stronger.
That’s my relevance in the position. The hockey is fantastic and we’ve got some really smart hockey people in our league. They’ve helped us get the kids and the college commitments and NHL draft picks and all those things that go hand-in-hand with that, but I think right now, the league is at a crossroads in making itself stronger on the business side. That’s where I come in.
USAH: You have somewhat answered the next question in that response. But, the USHL obviously holds a strong position in hockey development. Can you expand on that answer in terms of any specific area of potential growth that you see and are trying to help the teams through?
TG: The growth is just taking the business and making it more successful, more profitable, selling more tickets, getting more fans, and getting more people to be involved with the teams.
Some teams do a really good job. Everyone works really hard at it. It’s like everything else — whether it’s an NHL team, an AHL team or an ECHL team — all these leagues and entities have the same things in common. They want to win hockey games and they want people to come watch their product.
We’re no different than that. Like anything, every single year, expenses go up. To run stable, strong franchises that kids want to come and play for — kids are leaving their homes to come and play for us — you want them to be in a good, stable environment where fans are showing up and all the bells and whistles that go along with being in our league are in place.
We’re the only Tier 1 junior hockey league in the United States. We want our teams and we want our league to be at a different level. Those are the things that come into play.
USAH: USHL teams and the league have an obligation to the players, as you spoke about, and to the fans that support the franchises. But, you also have working relationships with NHL scouts, USA Hockey, college recruiters, other junior leagues from which some of your players come and youth hockey organizations. How do you envision being able to best manage all those relationships to keep them as positive as possible?
TG: I look at all those things as brick-by-brick.
I come from a little different mindset that every single thing is brick-by-brick. Every single scout; every single college; every single youth association; whoever we’re dealing with is a unique conversation.
There’s a platform of how we want to operate. There’s a platform in place of what they can expect. When their kids, their athletes, go to a particular franchise, they can expect what they’re entitled to and that they’re going to be treated in a first-class way and how they’re going to develop.
Whether that’s college and, hopefully, if they’re in a situation where they can go on to play pro, each conversation is different because it’s a different athlete. I think what we always try to do in talking to a college scout is know that there’s a difference in what that particular scout or pro team might be looking for, they’re looking for a certain athlete or a certain situation.
But, ultimately, to land my plane a little bit, there is a general platform that they’re all expecting. If a college scout walks in and has a kid who has committed to him, he wants to know that they’re being developed in a proper way by our coaches, that they’re being treated well and that they’re getting the proper resources. The kid’s parents are hoping for the same thing.
Not to be too zen, but each conversation is different. Ultimately, however, hopefully the message is always the same.
USAH: Are there any immediate changes we can expect to see for the 2018-19 season?
TG: There’s no planned expansion. There’s no planned transferring of franchises.
We launch our season at the end of September at the Fall Classic in Pittsburgh.
This year, two of those games, that in past years had been exhibition games in the preseason, are now going to count toward the standings.
That’s in conjunction with a great relationship with the NHL, with USA Hockey and also the Pittsburgh Penguins. So, when we’re having the Fall Classic, all the games are going to count and the teams’ rosters are going to be set.
We’re going to have the best of the best there, so all the scouts will have a chance to look at our teams at their best, starting the year.
That’s going to be a change, but the playoff format is going to stay the same and the teams that were in our league last year and going to be in this year.
USAH: Is there anything else you would like hockey enthusiasts to know about the league itself or how you plan to approach your job?
TG: The biggest thing is you need to come out and check us out.
I think anyone who is a hockey enthusiast would already be familiar with what our league is and what the athletes are about. But, get out and support the franchises in your market and you’re going to get a chance to see the next kid who will be playing for whatever college you support and it could be a future player who is going to play on your favorite NHL team.
Whether you’re an average fan or a big fan, this is a fantastic league that keeps getting better and better — 57 players were selected in this year’s [NHL] draft that had ties to our league; 45 players were drafted that played in our league last year, which is 10 more than any other junior league in the world.
That’s very impressive and the directive in our league is to continue to get the best players in our league, to grow our attendance, to be in facilities that are held in Tier 1 compliance, to make sure that all of our teams are operating at the utmost, highest level to let people know that we’re a very serious league.
The thing I always tell people is that this is a league where the kids are amateurs. They’re not being paid. Their first checklist is to play college hockey and 95 percent of them are NCAA Division I. The next level, if they’re fortunate, is to play professional hockey. It’s a pretty unique league to see the future stars of your college or pro team, playing right in your backyard.
I would encourage everybody to check it out and I think you’ll fall in love with it as much as I have.