Grant Buckborough is familiar with the Central Hockey League.
LIBERTY -- Youngstown got its first glimpse of its hockey future when Grant Buckborough, a 33-year-old who last helped build a Central Hockey League franchise in Texas, was introduced as the general manager for the city's new franchise in a press conference at the Holiday Inn Metroplex on Wednesday afternoon.
The yet-to-be-named Youngstown AA minor league team is the 18th member of the Central Hockey League, and is scheduled to field its first team for the 2005-06 season.
Buckborough last served as assistant general manager and director of ticket sales for the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees (AA-level team), and has worked seven seasons in the league with three teams. Youngstown owner Herb Washington said he interviewed three candidates for the position, but none had the credentials of Buckborough, who grew up skating on ponds in Canada with a hockey stick in hand, and later in life speedily rose up the ranks in the Central League front offices.
"We're going to have a first-class organization and it starts with the top," Washington said. "He had an energy level. He had actually done a start up, which is what this is."
Buckborough began working in minor league hockey with an entry level job that he said paid $12,000 a year. Washington said last year Buckborough made "six figures" and will make at least that or more as Youngstown's general manager. The terms of the hiring agreement were loose, Washington said.
"We have a contract that is as long as he's doing his job, he has his job," Washington said. "I don't have a preconceived amount of time."
With a G.M. in place, the next question for Youngstown, as with any start-up, Washington said, is whether the city can sustain a professional team. Buckborough will help the town answer yes to that question, Washington said.
"Grant has a very strong sales background and experience in launching an expansion franchise, which I think will be very, very instrumental for us in terms of getting this thing off the ground; and with someone with a proven track record and knows the ins and out's of hockey and hockey operations," Washington said.
The first steps for Buckborough will be seeing through the final phases of construction on the Youngstown Convocation Center, which will house the new team, hiring a new coach, unveiling the team's name and logo, and piecing together the players on the coach's advice. Buckborough will also be trying to secure a National Hockey League affiliation in the coming months. Then there is his specialty: selling tickets.
"I'm a salesman at heart," Buckborough said. "Ticket-oriented. For the success of any franchise, your number thing is if you don't have butts in the seats, you're not going to be successful."
Bring the family
Buckorough said he hopes to sell 2,000 season tickets, a self-proclaimed "lofty" goal for a first season. He also promises a more family-friendly atmosphere than other professional teams.
"It's fast, it's hard-hitting," Buckborough said, but added: "The [family entertainment] things we do on the ice and in the crowd during the games is just as important as what we do on the ice. When you go to the first game, it's a lot different that going to a Penguins game or other NHL games.
"We put a little more emphasis on the entertainment, actually in the stands and in the arenas, than the product on the ice."