Las Vegas NHL team president Kerry Bubolz ready for ‘sprint to October’

He has no players to market. No schedule to promote. No gear to sell, and not much of a staff to sign corporate sponsors.

Oh, and there’s one more thing Kerry Bubolz doesn’t have — time.

The recently hired president of Las Vegas’ NHL expansion franchise has worked in sports long enough to know that the days on the calendar fly by. All those 12-, 14- and 16-hour days will be a blur, because when opening night for the “Whatever” Knights takes place less than a year from now, he better be ready.

Just as owner Bill Foley is counting on general manager George McPhee to make the right decisions on the ice, he’s trusting Bubolz to make the right calls off it. It means making sure the team’s reach into the community is deep, vibrant and strong, that the corporate sponsors get the right bang for their bucks, that the fan experience on game night is second to none and that T-Mobile Arena is an asset, not a liability.

“It’s a sprint to next October,” Bubolz, who officially begins his job Nov. 1, said Tuesday during a two-day stop in Las Vegas.

Bubolz, who has been the president of business operations for the Cleveland Cavaliers since January 2013 and has spent the past 13 years with the NBA club, sees himself more as a business partner to Foley than an employee.

“I don’t think I did as much about selling him on my vision as much as ‘Hey, I’m capable,’” he said.

Bubolz, 50, has experience working in the NHL. He was a vice president of sales after the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas and became the Stars and when the Hartford Whalers moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to become the Hurricanes.

“I didn’t have a management position there like I have here (in Las Vegas),” he said. “I was mostly trying to sell tickets. But in sales, you’ve got to hustle and work extremely hard, and there were challenges in both markets.

“With the ’Canes, it was college basketball. Duke. N.C. State. North Carolina basketball. We had to really work it. In Dallas, the Cowboys and football are obviously No. 1. All the other sports — the Stars, the Rangers in baseball, the (NBA) Mavericks — followed. You have to find what your niche is in that market and then you have to own that niche.”

In Las Vegas, the NHL is the only major league sport. And while Bubolz knows there’s competition from the casinos for the entertainment dollar, he also knows the community is ready to support hockey.

“When you look at the 16,000 who put down money not knowing if there would be a team and seeing the enthusiasm in town now that the team is here, it’s an exciting time,” he said.

In his 13 years with the Cavaliers, Bubolz helped start the team’s NBA Development League franchise, the Canton Charge, and oversaw the purchase of the Utah Grizzlies in 2005 and the makeover of the city’s American Hockey League franchise, the Monsters.

Bubolz also oversaw Arena Football to the Cleveland market when Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert bought the Gladiators and named Bubolz president.

“I learned how important it is to get things right the first time,” he said of the startup franchises in the D-League, the AHL and Arenaball. “So I have experience in startup projects.’

He also had the experience of being with the Cavaliers when LeBron James left for Miami in 2010 and when he returned in 2014 and led the Cavs to the NBA title in June. He had to keep the fan base energized when James left and capitalize on the team’s success upon his return.

“He has the entire package,” Foley said of Bubolz. “We interviewed several people, and Kerry seemed to rise to the top of the list. He’s easy to work with. He leaves his ego at the door. He’s a very understated guy and a solid family man. He’s everything I was looking for in a team president to run our business side.”

Bubolz, whose love of hockey goes back to when he was a child and his family had season tickets to the Tulsa Ice Oilers of the Central Hockey League, said having the opportunity to create something special from the outset is a responsibility he is taking seriously.

“I look at the situation here to the lyrics in that song by The Police: ‘Every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you,’” he said. “It’s not just the next 30, 60, 90 days. It’s important we don’t forget about the big picture. The businessmen in the community. The political leaders. The media. The fans. Everybody is going to be watching what we’re doing, and it’s important that we as an organization embrace that responsibility.”

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.

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