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Recap: An Avalanche of Creativity with Steve Johnston (Page 2)

Steve Johnston from the Colorado Avalanche and Kroenke Sports & Entertainment shares insight into taking chances, pushing creativity and championship-level game presentation.

Call transcription

Jon Cudo, Gameops.com
Our host today, he’s a connector, he’s a creator, and most of all, he is our optimist. Johnny Greco has been creating moments and smiles in sports for two decades, from Miami to Columbus, Cleveland, New York, Vegas. And now live from Seattle, he has been with major league baseball, NHL, NBA, WWE. He’s now founded shine entertainment team and he’s here to introduce our guests and then shine some light into our darkness. Welcome Johnny Greco.

Jonny Greco
That’s a hell of an intro. I’m so excited to talk to our guests today. I have been championship adjacent with a couple of people on this call. I’m very good at losing championships or not getting there or when I leave a team, they always seem to win. So Vegas your next. Maybe the Rangers. Who knows? All right, so Kudo, thank you for the intro. It is truly my honor to be hanging out today with a friend, a dear friend who I have looked up to and been inspired by for a really long time, has roots with Erie, Pennsylvania. Also proud Canadian.   Smoot, You’d appreciate this. Pittsburgh Steelers diehard fan as well. Steve, our guest, has worked with the Flames. He’s done multiple Olympic games. I actually made an intro slide here. Let me share this. All right. We’ll keep going here. One of personal thanks to this guy is during COVID. I was at MSG and I didn’t know how to handle working to two leagues, MBA and NHL. And Steve did weekly calls with me where we really galvanized a friendship. Just a year ago, he gave me a book that I don’t want to say changed my life but really affected me daily. The Daily Stoic. We could talk about that later.

He’s a big time runner, big time fisherman. He’s also the executive producer for the Avs nuggets mammoth at Kroenke Sports. And he’s also one of the most respected people in the industry. As PK and I were talking about, he has had a very short off season because he is a Stanley Cup champion as of a couple of months ago. Please welcome our guest, Mr. Steve Johnston.

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Steve Johnston
Wow. That was an intro. Thank you, Johnny. Honored to get an intro like that from a man like you. Thank you very much. You’re a good friend and someone I look up to a ton as well. And thanks Cudo for inviting me on this. This is special. It’s a great group here. Great to meet a lot of you. And there’s great to see some familiar faces on here, too and people I respect a ton in the industry. Before anything, I want to give a huge shout out to Garrett Solomon there on becoming a dad for the second time. I guess you had your second recently. And Kenn, well, you’ve already been a grandpa, but again, another one. So congrats, dear fellows.

Garret Solomon
Thank you so much.

Steve Johnston
Very good to see Garrett grow up a little bit. And had lots of talks with him over the years and that he now has two kids. So it just shows I’m getting old, really, which is pretty amazing. So congrats, buddy.

Jonny Greco
It’s awesome. Steve, you’ve been in the industry for a really long time. You’ve been in different leagues, obviously. You’ve been now with Crunchy, I think for like 14 years.

Steve Johnston
Yeah, 14 and a half years.

Jonny Greco
Yeah, it’s been a minute. You’ve seen people grow up around you. You’ve grown up and evolved. Doing again Olympic Games and all these Stanley Cup champion, what was that like?

Steve Johnston
Yeah, it was really special and I think what made it so special, I got into this thing young, right. I was with the Hitman and the Flames. Truly, I served with the Hitman in my early twenty s and was overseeing the Flames entertainment at 27. And I think, like so many people and I was a competitive guy, right. I mean, I wanted to win. And when I took over from the Flames, they had just made that part time with them at the time in 2004 when they lost Tampa, but they were a championship team in the making, so we all thought they never made it past the first round. But I really wanted to win. Right. It crushed me when we lost. Like, I hung on those, I think somewhere along the line, probably going through some really tough seasons at Kroenke Sports. This became a career, right. It became a job, and it was less about winning and I didn’t want to take that home. And I wasn’t as frustrated or rattled when we lost. I didn’t care. Sometimes it was more time for me, right. In the off season. So I think I don’t want to say giving up, you’re always hoping to win, but that didn’t matter as much anymore, to be truthful.

Family, there are other things that are more important. So when it starts to become realistic, yeah, it’s really special because I never expected it. Right. I’ve been doing this thing a long time, so for it to finally happen, it was awesome. It was awesome to watch, especially. We’re really lucky coming out of Covet. It’s been a tough few years for people, right. And we got to experience a championship with a full house, full building. It’s been a lot of years for the ABS, so it was an exciting time, I think, obviously for myself, but for our entire career.

Jonny Greco
Awesome. Congratulations again for getting that often elusive championship. You’re talking about COVID, so I’m going to pivot a little bit. COVID was hard for all of us. We all had to find ways to create. It was obnoxious. I’ve always seen you as a culture guy, as a guy who leads creatives and helps, right. Whether it’s performance on the quarter, on the ice. Also, I can tell what kind of show we’re going to have based on how many people are here. You work in the NBA, you work in lacrosse, you work in the NHL. You’ve got a lot of people here from other spots, which speaks volumes to you. Talk about your secret sauce. As far as managing all these different teams and all these creatives, what’s that like? Whether winning championships or not, the people you work with need to be inspired. They need to be able to create and you need to help lead them. What’s that like for you in that seat?

Steve Johnston
COVID was a challenge, but first of all, I’m just surrounded by good people and I’m not blowing sunshine when I say that our department has seen very little turnover. Kenn can attest to that. We had one person leave over the last few years and she left for a great other opportunity. We were happy to see we’re happy to see her go. That sounds harsh. We’re happy for her to move on. So I think that’s first and foremost, right, I’m surrounded by good people who are dedicated to their craft, who care about what they’re doing. That makes it a lot easier. I don’t know if there was a secret sauce, man, I’ll tell you, COVID. Was. Being really honest, like a lot of people, man, I was figuring out as we went right, and taking queues where I could, trying to stay connected, I think was probably one of the biggest strategies. And I think some of the challenge with that was, right. We all had those meetings, right, where you’re trying to run a meeting and everyone either cameras are off or they’re staring back at you blankly and you can tell they’re just not into it. They’re not engaged. And I think it was taking those queues and backing off and understanding, like, now is not the time. People come around when they come around and being very patient and rolling through it. And it’s funny, we just canceled a big department meeting that we had all throughout code. So it was like, you know what? We’re in the office more now, we’re seeing each other more. Like, we don’t have to keep this standing. Meeting every Monday. And I think everyone was like, it was sort of, like, suggested, like, what do we think? I was like, yeah, great, thank you for the suggestion. Let’s not have that meeting so long. I don’t know if there was a secret sauce.

I did my best and I was lucky to be surrounded by good people.

Jonny Greco
I know a lot of the people you are surrounded by and they speak well of you, but it is a testament to your leadership as well. I’d like to shift into something that you and I have talked about, and I’m going to share a video, and this isn’t exactly how it plays when you and I talked about this a year and a half ago, but this has become kind of one of these staple moments, right? All the small things the Colorado crowd sings it like complete fools. And this is in the Stanley Cup. So this is kind of a low hanging fruit element, but it’s not necessarily even the way it works because you guys, if you want to kind of tee up how this started, Steve, I’ll sort of play it in the background as you go. But this is one of the game apps best. And by the way, it’s a song and it’s good timing, right. It’s not ice projection and lights and all of this other thing. And it’s something that you guys have been doing for a while. But we all know when you win, there’s more spotlights on you, there’s more coverage on you, and people start to see this.

So this has been around for a while, but it really came to shine lately, right? So talk about this a little bit, this process and how it came about.

Steve Johnston
Yeah, this is full credit to our crowd and our DJ, right? If I had to pick one thing of why this took off, for sure, there’s the winning and the stuff you talked about, but I think it’s paying attention to your crowd, right. And being aware of the things that work. There’s no data. There’s an awareness and a feel. And what happened back in 2019. Our DJ started to play the song. And we noticed that people would kind of and we were just playing it over a whistle and we fade it down and people would kind of keep singing and we’re kind of like. This is kind of becoming a thing. And started to there were talks. Me. Camp. Craig Tourney. Our DJ. And.  Hey.  Where do we play this? When do we play? This is the only one we’re winning. All those sort of philosophical discussions start to happen and we never over thought it. We never put the words on the board or anything like that. It was just play it. And yeah, of course. This last season, I think our PR guy, I ran into him in the hall. I had a PR in the app. This is probably like in the middle, around two. And he goes, I swear to God, our DJ, I’m getting more requests from media to talk to our DJ than I am. To give you an idea of how much it took off and how these things evolve is also the fun and the challenges. We’re getting better. Our players know when it plays. And there was a feeling like everyone just assumed we only play it when we’re winning. Well, yeah, but no, but also yes, because things like this don’t work as well if you’re down five nothing, they’re starting to become and I’ll tell a quick story on this that I think is hilarious. So we’re playing St. Louis second round. And for those anyone who paid attention to that series, excuse me.

This was against Edmonton. We got the hey, be careful when you play that song. I get that text. I’m not calling the game that night. I seriously got that text and I’m talking 15 seconds later attorney played it. It’s like this team can score in bunches. They’re worried about is it going to give the other team motivation. So our hockey office is thinking about it, too. These things evolve. But it was a magical, organic type of thing where we got I think that what we did is we played a good song and paid attention to how our crowd reacted to it. From there it just took off.

Jonny Greco
It’s listening to the audience, right. And I do at some point if we have time, I want to talk about your fans take it moment because I think that’s also kind of game off school and we’ve got a lot of people on this call. We’ve got minor league, we’ve got major league, we’ve got champs, we’ve got people who have a lot of toys, people who don’t have a lot of toys. But at the core of all this, we’re talking about listening to our audience. We’re talking about using the resources we have. We’re talking about great people and inspiring these people to be able to create one of these great people who I’ve also always looked up to. PK paul, you were talking about this time of the season, definitely for hockey and basketball. This is when you said this right when we got on the call. This is a good time to start getting creative again. We’re getting ready for the new season as we go. You’ve been in this industry for a while, so I want to ask you this first Paul and then Steve, you next because you’ve got a shorter off season.

How do you get excited, Paul? How do you get motivated after all this time? How do you leverage the energy of your teammates to do something new and fresh going into this next season?

Paul Kamras
I appreciate the kind words and I think it’s opportunities like this not to speak nicely with you here, but this is an opportunity. I call this the season for inspiration and it’s an opportunity. Like we’re always trying to get things right. And I have my two department leaders here, Chelsea and Christie, and we’re literally strategizing ways to improve everything we do. And you mentioned being champions, and I always tell my team, and they’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but the game press has to go undefeated every night. And while we’re all trying for champions, I want that ring one day. I want the Steve Johnston Bling. Every game has to be memorable. And I still say I’ve been doing this a long time, but I haven’t gotten it right yet. And we just want to keep getting better.

How can we get better? And literally the three of us are strategizing before and much like many of you surround yourself with great people, you stay inspired. I always like to have smarter people than me in the room, and that keeps me going and just trying to get it right. And I don’t know how fortunate many you are. We’ve had many significant turnover in our company, and I’ve had five CEOs in the last four years. So it keeps you fresh, it keeps you humble, and just realize that you may not have all the answers, but surround yourself with great people, you can get the answers there’s. Jon Cudo and I met I don’t know if John, you remember you and I met many years ago. I think we both probably needed combs at the time in Toronto at a conference and go to conferences, go to Idea in the summer and just keep getting invigorated. And I spent great time with Craig and IDEA and just keep going. And that’s how I stay inspired and just try to find that new thing and opportunities like this. I did share this with him. We canceled our department meeting today for this cool thrill to see Jeff Silva from the arena team.

And we maintain a lot of connectivity with the arena team, and this is a kick off for us. So it’s in a long winded way of saying this is an opportunity and just keep going. And Labor Day comes and we’re running full steam ahead.

Jonny Greco
Yeah. That’s great insight, Paul. I heard a lot of things. What I heard too, there’s just humility in general, like, haven’t gotten it right yet and keeping that sort of like carrot in front of a shorthand for any of the performers, any of the show callers, any of the creators, graphics, animation. It was close, but not quite there. It’s like, oh, we almost had it. And that humility and hunger kind of keeps pushing things. So I’ll transition that. So, Paul, you had a slightly longer off season, but it’s still it’s go time now to get inspired, right? Inspiration season. Steve, for you, this is the shortest off season you’ve ever had, if my information is correct. What’s that like? You got to be tired. There’s no way you go that far and you’re not kind of tired. And we all know you got to reset. So you’ve developed tools to reset in the off season. Catch your breath, get inspired on calls like this, go fishing, whatever it is. How did you handle the offseason, and how do you normally handle the off season to then ramp it back up and be best for the fans, for your team, and for your own growth?

Steve Johnston
Yeah, this has been a weird offseason, for sure, and it’s broken our norms for so many reasons. We’re transitioning. Getting back into the office, it’s been shortened. So our normal off season play book was thrown out the window, truly. But it’s a hustle and grind. And again, I say this. The people like, we’re very lucky. This would be a lot more challenging if we didn’t have people who know their own. I don’t want to the bill belichick, do your job. Like my crew knows their job and their individual tasks. I think of our dance team director, right? She’s getting it done. She’s planning and organizing tryouts and all the things while the apps are in the middle of the playoffs. Right. Everyone was just still doing what they had to do and we were trying to talk as much as we could while the Ads were going. The Nuggets made the playoffs too. They got eliminated early, but some of it was normal. Right. Craig was able to make it to idea and I think a lot of that I was able to make it to NHL business meetings. And something that happened for me at NHL business meetings is I had a chance to sit with Kevin from the Stars and just a small group of us outside of the sessions.

Right. And that’s where a lot of that inspiration comes from, just talking with people in a smaller setting. A group like this is always helpful and motivating to me. Right. But look at the time crunch this year, right? I mean, flat out. And Ken knows we have internal challenges of KSE’s big. We have a massive scale, which is a strength, but it can also be a great weakness with decisions and things moving slowly. And that’s probably one of our greater challenges this offseason is just, man, there’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time.

Jonny Greco
Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly it, right? You go this far, there’s not a lot of time. The one narrative, right, if we keep story on the forefront is like, hey, we’re the champs, right? So then it comes down to what’s hockey this is in the hockey space. Obviously the hockey Ops narrative is it like back for more hungrier than ever, we’re just beginning. That’s some of the narrative too, and it’ll be interesting and maybe you’ve been given this direction, but we’ve all worked at different capacities with the Ops side of the business and obviously the NFL, there’s a big part of them that are running the game opposite as far as replays and everything else with your group. What sort of insight have you been given as far as the messaging going forward for hey, we’re the champion, we celebrate it, or game one starts and it’s a new season. What have you gotten feedback on as far as that goes?

Steve Johnston
Yes, that’s where we started and we started a few weeks ago, weekly meetings and our hockey hockey Ops is involved in that. At least a couple of people from hockey operations and I’ve had plenty of there’s a lot going on in the basketball side too. It’s a little easier, right. We’re doing an MVP trophy celebration and welcoming some players back. There’s some talk there on expectations, right? Like how big of a welcome back do we give to a guy like Jamal Murray? We want to set that guy up to win. He’s coming off all those sort of things, right? Do we go too big and then it’s more pressure. But on the hockey side, those are the exact conversations we had. That’s where we started. What is the philosophy? Obviously, we’re going to raise a banner, what do we want that celebration to look like? But then they were very clear and I think we’re all in agreement with that. I think that’s kind of sports, right?  Yeah, great….. We won that. Puck drops. It’s a new season and no, we’re not. We’re the Stanley Cup champions last year. It doesn’t matter now. It’s a new season and it’s a new goal and that will be the philosophy and the feeling going forward. So we’ll raise the banner, we’ll bring the cup out on the ice and we want on the road. So for us, our fans didn’t get to see that. So it’s kind of easy to recreate that cup ceremony, so to speak, in our own way, and have our captain go over and lift it in front of he did it at the parade with his shirt off, for sure, but it will be a little different on home ice. So that’s sort of the philosophy going forward.

Jonny Greco
And again, keep it simple. Right? We tend to get sexy “overstory”  sometimes. Where it’s like, oh, we got all these toys, let’s use them.

But you’re like, we won the title, we didn’t get a chance. You just pay attention. We didn’t get a chance to do this in front of our home fans on our home ice. Lay out and let it go. Let the story unfold and let it breathe. I love that, I guess in the basketball space, and I’ll tag in Todd Bosma here in the basketball space and hockey space, sometimes it’s different as far as, like, you want a Stanley Cup, okay, we’re going to celebrate it, but we’re moving on next season. Basketball ops. Hockey ops. Just from my own experience, it’s very different. Todd, you have one of the most unique roles I’ve ever seen. And thank you again for getting Amanda and I tickets last January. It was so fun to go to Portland, Or. First time there, see the show and you see Todd  who’s like writing scripts the most. Cordial host, show calling and then he’s down on the court giving away TVs as the host, totally charismatic, rocking this audience. It was unbelievable. It was so fun to see your work. How do you prepare in the off season?

Todd Bosma
How do you talk to basketball apps with some changes, obviously, like CJ. McCollum, you guys lost a big guy. How does this season look for you as you prepare, whether you’re in front of the camera or behind the camera?

Well, first of all, hopefully a little bit more consistency and a few more wins and less 30 point blowout losses at home. That always helps things, too. But it’s not a summer conversation. It’s an ongoing conversation, right? So I do my best to be around the basketball operations and the team in a capacity where I’m not asking them for things. So I think a lot of times they see the game opts people. Here comes this guy. He wants me to do this stupid video skit or whatever the case may be. But I’ll go down to the practice facility, which is about 35, 40 miles from here in Portland, and if they’re just doing light workouts or catch the end of a practice and just sort of be there just so that way they see my face and we get to know each other. And I don’t need anything from me. I just want to say, hey, how are you doing? Or Is there anything I can do for you? So we manage mascots, do a lot of basketball clinics. We bring our game operations stuff to their place. So if Damien Letters doing a basketball campaign like, hey, why don’t I come on out, bring my team, and we’ll do a half hour of in arena games and stuff like that as an additive to your camp or your kids having a birthday party, let me send the mascot over there.

They like to keep their private lives sort of separate, but if by stepping into that space and this is something that we could provide to you, we don’t need anything from you. It sort of is that give and take and then also it’s the trust factor too. I’ve been around a lot of years because I’m old like PK, but we’ve shot videos on Media Day where the player didn’t exactly look so great. And so I will talk to them beforehand and show them a preview of the video. Said, we’re going to run this tomorrow unless you’re not comfortable with it. And I’ve had two players be like, you know what? I’d rather you not play that video. Like, okay, no problem. My job is not to make you look silly or stupid. My job is to educate our fans about you and to put you in the best possible light. So it’s sort of having that connection where it’s a team, they’re basketball players, but we’re here to elevate their profile and make it entertaining for our fans and make sure that they have that trust with us. And then there’s also times where I remember Damon Stadium are one day Media Day was just a complete jackass.

He didn’t want to do anything on the green screen. And then we get a month into the season and he comes to me, the Todd, how come I’m not up on the big screen during any of these timeouts? They said, Remember Media Day where you said you didn’t want to do this? That’s how you get up on the big screen. And then after that, he was great. So it’s just having that rapport and being able to be confident and talk to people about that.

Jonny Greco
So that is incredible insight. And you say you’re as old as some of the old guys on this call, but you don’t have the same haircut, Todd, so I’m going to call BS on that one. Hockey players and basketball players are different. All the athletes are different in different ways, and there’s kind of superstars in all the sports that we’re part of. What you just talked about, Todd, though, is like, show up and don’t ask for anything. That’s just good relationship stuff in general. But when players realize like, oh, man, Bosma is here again, or that guy is here again, it’s harder to ask for things, right. So, Steve, in your world, you’re working with three different sports, probably three different types of athletes. What are some of the tricks that you’ve established? And you’ve had the same core group around for a while, so they probably see Ryan Gonzalez say, Ryan, what’s up? They know your people. But what are some tricks and tools and differentiators between the sports? Or what are some standards that apply to all when working with athletes and getting the most out of them?

Steve Johnston
Yeah, I think it’s relationships and trust. And I like what Todd said, having that presence, not in non obnoxious presence, but there is some consistency, which I think helps a ton with the players. For example, Nicola Jokic, Craig Zaman. I mean, Craig, if there’s a Nicola Jokic shoot, Craig is going to be directing it, right? He did the jokes with the Joker when he was rookie, and he’s done it for and they just have that rapport and that relationship. So there’s consistency there. But as far as tricks, look, I’ll say one thing. I think it’s being organized. We’re one of those teams. We don’t get multiple media days or anything like that. On the nugget side, we do some mini days. We’re actually starting next week. Hopefully we’ll get a handful of guys on a Wednesday, right. And we’ll try to knock stuff out with them. That’s really helpful, but I think it’s being organized and I love Todd, what you said, making sure we’re not putting them in a light that they don’t agree with or that’s embarrassing for them. I think there’s a trust there with us. I’ve done the same thing. Like, we did something way off the wall with the Avs as going back five or six years ago where we had them wear those mouth guard things that you wear at the dentist, right, that spans your mouth out and you look all goofy and had them do all sorts of contests and talking for hockey players.

It was out there, man. And we made sure we got the first edit done and showed it to the captain, was like, Are you comfortable? And he was honest. He’s like, look, we don’t want to see that during a time out while we’re on the bench. So we played. Them in intermissions, and they still got a lot of play, and people loved them. So I don’t know if I have any real secrets or tricks. I think it’s some consistency, and for us, it is being organized. So when we go in to work with these players, we’re prepared, we’re organized, and it’s professional because we have a short amount of time with them. So we want to get as much done as we can.

Jonny Greco
Professional. You’re talking about chemistry on the set, which really matters, right? If there’s certain people that jive with people, let’s lose our egos and get the best content in the end. And then kind of you and Todd both said this, and probably I saw a few hypnotic in empowering the guys or girls to take a look and be okay with it. And the fact that they’re like, yeah, that’s silly, just don’t run it. When we’re on the ice, they’re helping produce the show. And by the way, they’re going to do cool, weird shit because they know you’re not going to burn them, right? So you’re literally pulling them in on that. So you might get burned by offering something that you’re like, this will crush. And they say, no, it’s stupid. Don’t do it. If you ask on the wrong day, that could happen. But I think the longer slow play there is really valuable. There’s a beautiful woman in the corner with her hand raised. Amanda Greco. What’s your question?

Amanda Greco
Oh, boy. I apologize, everyone. Just real quick story, and I can’t remember the kid’s name. It was just a young player, John, you probably remember, but I remember immediate day a million years ago with the Cavs, and we were asking the fun questions, and he was giving us these real no sell answers. And it was just like, wow, this guy is a real dick. He’s not giving us anything. And then we kept on talking to him, and finally he goes, I’m sorry, I’m just so nervous. And I thought, oh, my God. And I am ashamed to admit this, but I never thought of you as just a normal person like me. That’s really nervous when someone shoves a camera in front of your face, right? So I always try to remember that whether you’re dealing with a rookie or you’re dealing with a vet player, like, they’re people, right? They want privacy. They don’t want to look stupid. They want our respect. And that’s just a good reminder. Anyway, Steve, so with doing what you’ve done for so long, and there’s a lot of people on this call that we could ask this question too.

There’s an element of your shows that you want to keep traditions alive, right? And then there’s an element that you want new stuff. Do you have a breakdown as far as what you like to keep your traditions alive? And then if you don’t or do, how do you come up with the new stuff when you have a staff that’s been around for so long, and it’s kind of the same. People go to the same well all the time for ideas and inspiration. How do you shake it up for your season every year?

Steve Johnston
Good question. Traditions are a huge part of our games. I think maybe a little more on the Avs and the Nuggets. But we have traditions on both sides that are tried and true and that our marketing department leans into, which is helpful. They’ll lean into some of those traditions, so it helps boost those. As far as new stuff, how we get inspiration, it’s hard. We have group meetings all the time and we text back and forth. We’re on an Instagram group chat with people. I mean, we’re sending stuff. It’s so hard to say that because it’s the same place a lot of you guys finance. Whether it’s I find inspiration from going to other people’s games, that can be a massive part of it. It is. Social media has helped. So I always struggle with this answer. Because stuff will just come to you, right? I don’t know. A story telling. People ask me, like, creative, and I won’t bore you guys too long, but we did this thing a long, long time ago. It was when rep reviews first started to come into play in the NHL. And we’re going back. This is probably 1112 years.

Kenn, you might remember this. I don’t know if you’re adding any of these games, but this was before this one. They still had, like, the old phone. I don’t know, they were calling Toronto or however they were doing it. I was driving with my then girlfriend, now wife up to Fort Collins, and I was trying to get through to, I don’t know, it was a cable company or someone like that, right? And it was like, tell me what city you’re calling from, all that you have to say. And they didn’t understand it. And I was super frustrated. Like anybody would be on one of those stupid automated calls. And I got a phone and I had this it just hit me, like, oh my God, that’d be hilarious. Ref skit where we just record something and they answer, and it’s like this annoying recording, and the rep is trying to say what city they’re from, and they get the city wrong. It’s like this whole thing, just this recording where that came in, I don’t know. But that’s my point. It can come from anywhere. So I think so many of us in this industry, we’re kind of always living it.

Like, it’s hard for us, right, to just listen to music. To listen to music, right. Songs like, does that work somewhere? We all have that, right? Because we’re just naturally engaged that way. And I think a lot of my crews like that. So that’s a long winded answer to I don’t know where I find inspiration. We just get lucky. Sometimes. But look, I go back to this stuff, johnny, when I was in Seattle, the best part of that was you and I just talking, right, for over a period, period and a half.

Jonny Greco
Absolutely.

Steve Johnston
That’s where the best stuff comes from, right? Us sitting, watching the game and we’re just rapping about game pres and creativity. So that’s where some of the best stuff comes from.

Amanda Greco
I’m going to just pass it over to Ferraro real quick because in my humble opinion, I think he’s one of the best at coming up with these new kind of like off the wall ideas. So you have to accept my compliment. It’s a role of this call. So do you have any inspiration like well, that you go to or is it just really just how your brain works?

Tyler Ferraro
It’s everywhere all the time, like these guys are saying. Luckily, right now we have a whole new saga of Game of Thrones that we’re pulling from. So thank you very much. HBO and House dragons.

Very appreciative.

They’re doing our job for us. But a lot of what we’re doing right now is looking at what we’ve been doing and how to take it from a ten to an eleven or how to take it from a 90 to a 95. So there’s a lot of things that we do in our show. We do nightclub, which is we’re inspired by Colorado, actually, for some of their ice projection and fun stuff that they do come back from the intermission. So we kind of took that into a nightclub feel because it’s very Vegas. And then we looked at, hey, how can we kind of enhance this and make it a little bit more fan centric? Because it’s cool and it’s loud and exciting and boisterous and whatever, but we decided to do essentially a bottle presentation during nightclub. So it really feels like a Vegas nightclub and it was a partner boswie champagne and it was a really cool partnership. So we do nightclub and then we cut to soandso celebrating a wedding anniversary and we have the Beavers next to them and they have bought champagne bottle, we have the light up sticks and everything like that.

So just a little and it’s like, oh, okay, that’s new, that’s interesting. And there’s a lot of stuff we’re looking at. I’m looking at our entire open that’s on the board in front of me, too ways of enhancing that, changing that up. I mean, even going back to the pandemic when we always have our on ice battle and our silly stuff that we do on that, that’s kind of become our bread and butter. But with COVID, we had to figure out a way to get around that while still doing it. So we transition to doing a bunch of stuff up at the castle and doing more of a presentation with the golden sword and the rock and all this stuff up at the castle because we couldn’t be on the ice. So just taking the things that you already do that we thought, yeah, this works really well. It kicks ass and the fans get a good reaction out of it. Okay, well, how do we crank it up two degrees and suddenly it’s a whole new element, it’s a whole new idea and just keep building on top of it.

Cudo
Steve, I’m really curious when you talk about the different teams, the Mammoth, the ABS and the Nuggets and inspiration, how much inspiration are you kind of cross pollinating those teams with? I mean, do you take things that are sort of ABS based, like the small things and try it out on other teams? Or is that like that specific example maybe is too much? But how much are you testing things out in different with your different teams?

Philadelphia Wings vs Colorado Mammoth - February 9, 2019

Steve Johnston
That’s a good question. Less than you’d think. I think the Mammoth philosophically should be more of our test center and we’ve used it that way to a certain extent. You can just kind of be wild and crazy there, but there’s a real philosophical within our department, but also just within the organization that very unique and different brands. So now, with that said, I think one of the look, when I was lucky enough to be asked to take over things on the Nuggets side, one of the things I was most excited about is before that, in my opinion, and I’d love Ken’s thoughts on this, but they were so separate. Like the staff barely talked. It was like there was your ABS game press staff and there were you Nuggets game press staff. And I remember when I first started, one of the first issues anyone came to me with brand new they’re like, the Nuggets are using all our storage. I was like, oh my God, this was the big issue. Right? So what something I was excited about was having all that staff working together as much as possible. So as much as it’s solid and we try to be different, we do have brainstorm meetings where it’s ABS and Nuggets crew and Ma’am, we’re all kind of all the same group, right?

So where we’re talking together and collaborating together. But as far as ideas, we try our best to keep them very separate and unique brands. Phil Soft we want Nuggets games to feel like Nuggets games and to be an NBA show. We want ABS games to feel like ABS games and to be a hockey show. Same thing for lacrosse, right? They should all have their own different feel.

Kenn Solomon
Can I jump in here real quick? Yes. Before we were combined, it was very much like that. It was, well, stay on your side of the office and we do our things. You do your things, you’ve got your traditions and that type of thing. We do have our meetings where we’re all together. And it’s an interesting dynamic because when the ABS people are talking, we’re listening. We’re interjecting our ideas for them. We’re helping with that and then vice versa. We kind of actually build off each other using some of the same things. But then again, like Steve said, we do try and create our own traditions. We do have tradition meetings where we sit and go, okay, what traditions do we want to cut out this year? What traditions are dying? What traditions are coming on? What’s working, what’s not? And luckily, some are strong enough to just keep going. But, man, it’s a struggle sometimes to keep that separation, but it’s a great dynamic and meshing that we do, and then we separate and we’ll go do our own team meetings as well. So it’s interesting.

Jonny Greco
Kenn. I love that share. Sorry, Steve. I think that’s rare, what you’re saying. I think it’s steve, if you’re talking about your groups coming together to share stuff and then figuring out where the lanes live, I just think inspiration, we said this before comes from all these other places, and having clarity about what each show is is also super important, particularly if you’re in the suit. It’s one thing, like, you’re not going to be the hockey mascot and the NBA mascot, per se. You’re going to have different characters. But if you’re like the video director that maybe does both, I do need clear variables as to where not to cross over to do the same thing. So I just like, Ken, that you’re open to that sort of collaborative spirit because I don’t think that’s common in a lot of teams, but I do think that’s the best way, if done well, to get the coolest ideas, the most creative ideas, and then, like you said, kind of run separate and rock that out.

Kenn Solomon
Sorry, can I add one thing to that real quick? In our cue-to-cues even? It’s interesting where sometimes we’ll have somebody that’s more geared towards the ABS all of a sudden in the control room. And there’s got to be some real clarifying sometimes, hey, no, this shot should be this for this nuggets moment here. And then the look and feel needs to be consistent. So there’s a little bit of cue-to-cues education going on as well. Am I right, Steve?

Steve Johnston
Yeah, well, huge, I think, of the example. So our TD, so all of our Spider effects, anyone who’s been to our games on nuggets, the board’s popping, right? Like every play, every player, we have graphics overlays popping on the board. I think it’s one of the things that really differentiates nuggets from Ads. Like ads, we don’t have a lot of that stuff, so the board is just kind of always going and popping on the nuggets. And when we don’t have our normal TD on the nuggets because all that stuff is in the switcher and he has to be watching the game and it’s instant, right? And he, like, challenges himself to get two or three in at a time, right? If Jamal Murray hits a three pointer and there’s like he’ll hit a Jamal Murray spider effect, a one, two, three spider effect, followed by like, did you see that type of exciting thing? He takes pride in it, man. If he has a night off and there’s another TD in there, like, you notice it. I feel it in the Nuggets game. It is not the same. So what Ken’s point is so some of that can be challenging, for sure.

Recap: Cue-to-Cue with Maurice Brazelton

Jonny Greco
Cross training all of our people as much as possible and Smooty, you know this at WWE, the layover of different producers and creatives, that was really important, right? And sometimes you’re not always going to have the same tier of people, but the more you can cross over, the overall tide raises for everyone and then you’re able to do different things. So we’ve got just a couple more minutes left. Carey, I’d love you to pose your question because I think it’s important for the whole crew. This will be for Steve, but Kerry, go ahead and ask it, please. It’s great.

Kari Norvell
So during your brain trust meetings. I know that typically you’re usually kind of working with the marketing department. Game Presentation and across the different teams and everything. But do you ever pull in any outside perspective. Like fans or players or the people that maybe go to the game one time or they’ve only been at one or two times. Or just locals in general. Like kind of what things that work for them and what holds their focus and everything.

Steve Johnston
We’ve never done any fan. I think our marketing department may have done some fan focus group stuff, and I know our marketing department has done a lot of those brand discovery type things. Ours are primarily internal. I think Todd mentioned kind of the ongoing conversations constantly with the off site as well, and there is some player involvement in those. And there is a fairly open line of communication if something our players don’t like or want to see or want to hear with music and those examples, we do a lot of fan surveying, and that’s a whole other much longer, bigger conversation where we do have a lot of fan data. We survey at about ten games per team each season, and it solely surveys on game press. We’re not asking about if they like the popcorn or how their parking experience was. They’re all questions related to game press. And they’re real time surveys. So we’ve been able to get a lot out of those. And I think it more it’s less specific. Well, excuse me. It helps us identify things that what we’ve learned from it is things that we thought we were maybe doing well at.

The fans are saying, you can be a little better there actually. Or it’s confirmed some of the things like, hey, they actually really like this. Right. Some of the things that are pulling higher. So they’ll have been helpful from a fan data standpoint, but we’ve never done, like, a fan, like a focus group or anything like that.

Jonny Greco
Keri, thanks for that question. Steve, two parts. We got, like, three minutes left. So I think you guys use evolved experiences. I think based off of that fan polling ten times a game, specific to game press, which I think is very rare. I think we had a conversation about, like, the Dunk team. Did that help illuminate how that was? It was better than it was testing, but you learn that where you guys.

Steve Johnston
It was the mascot. It was actually in this case, it was on the Avs side. And they’re not bad numbers. They’re just not as high as we want them to be. Sure what we are able to learn from that. It wasn’t like people don’t like Bernie. He’s a great mascot. He does a great job. We do Bernie’s dog park at every game, and, like, the line down the intermission, the line on the concourse to see Bernie is massive. So we’re trying to make it add up. And as we dug into the comments and worked with Evolved Experience Solutions, it was more about people wanting to see Bernie more. He’s not visible.

Bernie cheering on the Avalanche against Los Angeles

Jonny Greco
Got it.

Steve Johnston
Especially when you’re sharing a building with an NBA team where that mascot can be on the court, has a natural stage. Like, how do we make our mascot more visible? Give them more of a platform. And those numbers during Covet, when he was quite literally, like, stuck in a little we kind of stuck our mascots. Can you all remember this? On the little platform? And they were there the whole time. His scores were through the roof because he was in the arena the whole time. So that’s some of the interesting thing we learned, because at first, we’re like, man, I can’t believe Bernie’s scoring low. Like, he’s a great mascot. How is that possible? They wanted to see him more.

Jonny Greco
He wasn’t visiting. Cool. Yeah. Reading that data, there’s different ways to interpret that, kind of, right. Like, it wasn’t a low score. It was like a desire for more. So the last thing before Cudo kind of wraps this up, you did something, steve, you and I talked about that. I think it’s still one of again, it’s Game Ops gold because it costs literally, this one costs nothing. Right. You had done it through the years, and you always save it for the right moment. And that’s a producer’s intuition, a storyteller’s intuition, but you kind of call it like the all you fans moment. And I think it’s phenomenal. So could you talk us through kind of the clones to do it, to try it? Because it’s a little bit scary, and you went for it and you did it. To me, it’s one of the best things out there. Can you kind of talk through that moment.

Steve Johnston
Yeah. Well, this goes first of all the way back to Calgary. We did this in Calgary. So a playoff team, crazy fans, the Sea of Red that’s when all that was popping. But, yeah, we have a moment that we quite literally put on the board. No music. It’s all you fans. And we don’t we don’t play music. We do nothing. It’s that ultimate game to me. It’s one of the moments that, again, it might happen a couple of times a year. This isn’t something we do often. It’s a special times. The timing has to be right. It’s real special for me. And why it’s letting the fans take over.

Jonny Greco
Right?

Steve Johnston
It’s all the small things. They’re taking over. Right. They’re part of the show where we give them that, empower them, we back off. Yeah. Someone said addition by subtraction. I think that’s you, John. Yeah. It’s our chance to back off. Right. Sometimes. And I’m guilty of this too, right? We can be so, like, in our fans faces, right? And I’m not big on that, like, look down for nothing. I’m not going to hammer our fans would make noise stuff they know better. But this is a chance to be like, all right, guys, it’s been a great game. You guys have been rocking. Take it away. And they do. And it’s always funny to watch it build, right? They see it and they’re like, yeah, that’s awesome. And then especially when it extends 20, 30 seconds, there’ll be little dips and then they pick it back up and you can ride it. And it is the best feeling because we’re not doing anything. I literally, like, sit back with my arms crossed and the fans just cheer and it’s just them taking the game. And it’s an awesome moment. I’d encourage anyone to try it. Just do it in a sold out.

Time during a really intense when you’re winning. Right?

It’s a fantastic moment when it happens. And it’s funny because it’s us literally doing nothing.

Jonny Greco
All right, Ken, I’ll hit you open a second. I just want to comment on that super quick. Love that addition by subtraction. Yes. Doesn’t cost anything. You need leadership that will let you do it. Right. Because it’s scary when 10 seconds in, the crowd is not picking it up yet and they’re like, what’s going on? Paul? What did you do?

You messed it up. Garrett, what’s happening? Slow down. Give it a second. Let it breathe. We have to sometimes let this be and it’s the best practice to me. Steven, I love it. Ken, what do you got, bud?

Kenn Solomon
I was just going to say.  I’m really big on listening to the crowd and like you said earlier, feeding off of that, I think, not to Steve’s horn too much here, but he does a good job of listening. It’s not always what you want, it’s the consumer. And a lot of times we try and push my idea this idea will or I don’t like that music, or I don’t like that kind of genre or whatever. No, listen to your fans. One quick example of that is we started a game one time, and this is before Steve, the director, made a video. It was the greatest thing he’d ever created, and it was supposed to play right before tip off. And he started to play this video, and I was out at center court, and it went to that, and all of a sudden, instead of the video taking over, the fans started chanting and they took over. This guy lost his mind on headset, and ultimately I got blamed because I was on the court.

I just wanted to say. Steve does a great job of listening to the fans, getting a feel of what the fans want, and it’s interesting that he can pull that off with Aims. And they are all completely different fans.

Jonny Greco
Well said, Ken. And I agree. And I think today it was fun to listen to Steve. Right? All of us need to do a better job listening to the audience and the fans. But listening to Steve, learning from Steve, I know personally, crazy inspired. He’s a friend, but he’s an incredible creator. I’m seeing people are bouncing off right now, so I know we are wrapping this up. I want to say thanks to everyone for joining Kudos. I know you got some business to attend to, so what do you got before we kick everyone off?

Cudo
I’ll make sure. Great call, Johnny, great hosting. Steve, great insights, everyone. Great questions. I appreciate that.

A couple of quick notes about Gameops.com in September.   The Party in the Back Podcast features Jeff Munneke, the VP of Fan Experience from the Timberwolves, talking about pulling your staff in the show, great giveaways and more. And then we’re posting a recap of the huddle call with Zack from the Savannah Bananas. Clips, video examples, photos, a full transcript. In case you missed it. That was an awesome experience with Johnny and Zack. We also have two Huddles coming up. If you like this one, you’re not going to believe this. We have Johnny Greco coming back, taking off his hosting hat. He’s going to put on his guest hat, talk more about the five E’s of experience. And then on September that’s on September 21, September 14, we have Tray Mock from the Indianapolis Colts, who’s going to share some insight with his massive success on social media. Tray, of course, is Blue, the Colts mascot, who undoubtedly will impress you with some wisdom and maybe throw a pie in your face. Gameops.com is the place. If you’re not on our mailing list, make sure you get there.

I just signed up the registration form that gets you on all of our content. And if you like these huddles. There’s the link right there so you can get invited back to gameaps.com. Plus Johnny.

Awesome.

Jonny, thank you very much for taking the lead on this. Great as always.

Steve, incredible wisdom dropped and I loved all the insights. And everyone, thank you for your questions and for joining us. I think we all are better for our time, right? Right?!?

That’s all I got.

Steve Johnston
Thank you, guys.

Jonny Greco
Thank you. Have a great day!

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