We published the first installment in our two-part Q&A with Charlotte Checkers owner Michael Kahn Thursday. The second half of the interview focuses on the business side of the Checkers' integration into the AHL, such as the team's affiliation negotiations with the Hurricanes, being a tenant at Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena, and the broadcast possibilities.
(To read Part 1 of the interview, click here.)
Canes Country: On more of a business side of things, do you have any radio deals in place, will you be continuing with your current broadcaster, and also are there possibilities of games being televised?
Michael Kahn: We’re going to explore both. We’re appreciative of the radio station we currently have. We need to get the best deal out there, and obviously the station that’s currently carrying us is going to get the opportunity to continue carrying us. TV-wise, yeah, we’re going to explore that, especially with the tie in that Time Warner Cable has to not only this market, but to the Hurricanes and the AHL as a whole.
CC: With a radio affiliate, would you explore trying to get games broadcast in the Triangle area also?
Kahn: It’s just too far down the road for me to even comment on at this point. It just depends on what opportunities are out there.
CC: With an ECHL franchise, you maybe have to be a little more creative with your marketing, like the [Checkers’ Feb. 18] Midnight Game. With an AHL team, you still have to market it, but do you need to continue with that kind of marketing, or do you think the interest is going to spike with the increased level of play and the affiliation with the Hurricanes?
Kahn: I think it’s going to be a little of both. If you look at average attendance in the AHL, our number right now puts us about ninth in the AHL. There are a lot of teams in the AHL that draw well less than we do [as an ECHL team]. So marketing is part of it no matter what league you’re in. You’re looking to bring in the people who normally might not consider a hockey game. That’s why we continue to market ourselves in a market like Charlotte as the best sports entertainment value ticket in town. We’ll continue to do the same thing. The Midnight Game was more born out of necessity that anything else [due to scheduling]. ... But Las Vegas has been doing a Midnight Game for four or five years now, and it’s been very successful.
CC: What operational changes need to take place to make the switch from being an ECHL franchise to an AHL franchise?
Kahn: I don’t know there’s much that really does from an operational standpoint. We have an excellent staff in place, headed up by COO Tera Black, and really it’s just continue to do what we do. We’re just going to shift gears to being in the AHL instead of the ECHL. And two of the last three years we won the ECHL’s marketing of the year award.
CC: Back to the arena: you mentioned the affiliation with Time Warner Cable. You probably have one of the best, if not the best, arena in the league. Is that a distinct advantage to you, and does it maybe give Charlotte a chance to host an AHL All-Star Game down the road?
Kahn: It could. We need to get our feet wet in the league first and everything else, and then determine what could be done. We are fortunate — we play in one of the nicer arenas no matter what league you’re playing in, including the NHL quite frankly, so we do have that going for us. As far as the All-Star Game and things like that, those are things we’ve kind of tossed around, but we need to get our arms around the league first and understand what we’re doing and where we’re going. I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel moving from the ECHL to the AHL, but it is a step up and it’s going to require a higher level of professionalism and due diligence from all our staff.
CC: Does the possible ownership change with the Bobcats impact the franchise at all?
Kahn: I think they know hockey is a part of Charlotte. Whether it be the [Bobcats' current ownership], who have a very good relationship with us, or a new group coming in, I’m sure they’re going to understand it’s not just a basketball-only arena. It was built for other events, too, be it concerts, hockey or whatever. They have other tenants. [As I understand it] we’re their No. 2 tenant.
CC: Do you have a long-term contract with the arena, or has it been a rollover thing?
Kahn: It’s been a rollover thing. That’s the way it’s been for a while. We, at some point, will probably try to do something long term.
CC: Speaking of contracts, has there been any progress or anything set in stone concerning the affiliation with Carolina, and for how long you’ll initially embark on this partnership?
Kahn: We’ve discussed two [options]. It’s either going to be either a three- or a five-year deal. It’s not going to be a year-to-year deal. It will be three or five.
CC: Personally, what are you most excited about with the move?
Kahn: Well, from a personal standpoint, while we’ve enjoyed being in the ECHL, we’re going to have a better brand of hockey in Charlotte, and we’re going to be affiliated with Carolina’s NHL team. Those are the two things that are most exciting about the whole thing.
CC: Obviously, the on-ice goals are always to win championships and produce players and produce good people. Do you have any goals off the ice outside of just hoping to build the sport in North Carolina?
Kahn: To continue what we’ve been doing since we purchased the ECHL team four years ago, and that’s ramped up our community involvement. We’ve put in over $2 million back into this community in four years. For an ECHL team, that’s pretty strong, and I would expect that the bar be raised higher with the AHL team. Being involved in the community, working with charities is really our No. 1 goal, along with winning on the ice.