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ODU Grad, CEO for NHL's Nashville Predators, Offers Career Advice to Sport Management Students

It's somehow appropriate that a high-flying career in sport management got its start with the circus.

Jeff Cogen has held a number of high-profile jobs in professional sports over a 30-year career that has taken the Newport News native around the country. Since August 2010, he has served as chief executive officer for both the Nashville Predators of the National Hockey League and the Bridgestone Arena, in which they play.

Cogen was in Norfolk earlier this month to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award at Old Dominion University's 2011 Alumni Honors Dinner, held as part of Homecoming festivities. While visiting ODU on Oct. 14, Cogen inspired a sport management class with stories of how he's been able to succeed in his career. His presentation went nearly double the expected time, because students kept firing questions at him.

When he graduated from ODU in 1979 with a B.S. in psychology, Cogen took a job marketing and selling tickets and sponsorships for Ringling Bros. Circus. That took him across the country, and ultimately to Detroit, where his success as a circus pitchman caught the eye of Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings.

"Everything I did there, I do today," Cogen said of his time with Ringling Bros., between 1979 and 1986.

Ilitch was impressed enough with Cogen's performance that he hired him, and that was the beginning of a long career that led to the upper echelon of professional sports management. In addition to the Detroit teams, Cogen has worked for the Dallas Stars of the NHL and the Texas Rangers baseball team. He has served as an alternate governor of the NHL's Board of Governors.

Cogen told the ODU sport management students what he does for the Nashville Predators, and how he has managed to sell ice hockey in a market not steeped in the traditions of the frozen game.

Cogen said he leaves hockey decisions to the managers of the team. But as the team's business boss, he shared with the students the four "numbers" he cares most about in his job: player payroll, ticket revenue, sponsorship revenue and broadcast revenue.

In promoting the team, he has adopted a maxim he learned from his circus days: "Nothing sells tickets like selling tickets." So that's what the Predators have attempted to do - make each home game an "event." Nearly half of the team's home contests have been sellouts, and Cogen is constantly looking for ways to sell even more tickets.

The club insists that major suppliers purchase season tickets, and they hold numerous innovative promotions during the season to drive interest in the team. They've also empowered every employee of the organization to be a salesperson, offering bonuses for sold-out games.

Cogen's ability to relax and enjoy the games is often trumped by the fact he runs the team, and everyone needs something from him. He envisions one day being able to sit at home on the couch with a good book. But besides paying for school for three children, Cogen, who has a 1999 Stanley Cup ring from his time with the Dallas Stars, is motivated to continue doing what he does for one simple reason.

"I want that one last 'skin.' I'd love to win another championship," he said.

This article was posted on: October 24, 2011

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