AHL Commissioner David Andrews was in Milwaukee on Sunday for the Admirals’ game against the Lake Erie Monsters. Mr. Andrews was very gracious with his time, and I borrowed about five minutes of his second intermission to talk with him about player safety, video replay, and more.
Admirals Roundtable: With Brendan Shanahan in charge of discipline in the NHL, there’s been somewhat of a change of behavior up there. Have you noticed a trickle down effect in the AHL?
David Andrews: Well, I hope so. We’ve worked closely with Brendan at the start of the year to make sure that we understood the standards that were going to be put in place in the National Hockey League for discipline, and we stay in touch with him on a regular basis. I think when you look at our suspension record over the last couple months…through the first half of the season I think we’re about triple where we were a year ago. So we’ve taken, I wouldn’t say a stricter stand… we’ve always taken a pretty strict stand on head shots in the American Hockey League…but with the rule changes it has opened up more opportunity for us to look at more plays. So I think it’s having an impact.
But as I said to Aaron earlier (Editor’s note: Mr. Andrews did a radio interview with Aaron Sims right before talking to me)…what we’re seeing in terms of concussions both in the NHL and the AHL, is that the vast majority of them are not happening from illegal plays. Tougher disciplinary standard is important for player safety, and it’s important that our guys have the same standard in our league as what they’re going to find in the NHL as they go back and forth. But it’s not the be all and end all of player safety, and we need get a better understanding of how these concussions are happening, and what the mechanism of the injuries are, because most of them that we’ve seen are not coming from plays that are illegal.
AR: What has been the feedback that you’ve received so far from the realignment, schedule modification, and playoff settings.
DA: First of all, our league was pretty much unanimous in favor of the realignment…it was something that we needed to do, not so much to look like the NHL, although it appeared that way, but because of the geography. When we moved the Winnipeg team to St. Johns, Newfoundland, clearly they couldn’t stay in the Western Conference, and we needed to make some realignment there. And when we tried to build it into four divisions, it just wasn’t a good fit. When we went to six divisions, it was a very good fit. So that’s how we got there.
The schedule modification has been well received by our fans, and it’s been well received by the players. Obviously, it’s another factor for player safety, to get them more rest and more practice time. We’ve extended our calendar by a week and reduced the number of games, so there’s not as much travel pressure on the players. And our ticket sales are up 10% this year versus last year. So I think it’s been very positive.
And so far we haven’t gotten to the playoffs where people can give us an opinion, but we think it’s a better format than we had last year.
AR: Now this is your 18th year as commissioner of the AHL….what are some ways that the league can still grow, and can you see yourself as the commissioner in another ten years?
DA: No, I don’t see myself as the commissioner in another ten years. I have in my own mind a time limit on how long I’m going to stay in the position. I’ve been here 18 years and in the league for 25, so it won’t be too much longer…a few more years I guess. I think where we need to head is to continue to serve as the primary player development league for the NHL. We’ve had great success with that model. I think we’ll continue to see some evolution of markets, and we may see some migration further west with some our teams over time. But for the most part, we’re in a good place…we’ve never been in a better place in terms of our business, in terms of our relationship with the NHL, and we just have to keep growing on that.
AR: I’m sure this is one of your least favorite questions to field, but I have to ask it. Video replay. It’s in the NHL, they have it at the college level… What are some of the major roadblocks to it being implemented at this level?
DA: Well, the major raodblock up until now has been cost, to tell you the truth. To do it right, it’s very expensive. We’re testing a system right now in Bridgeport, Connecticut. We’re going to report on that system to our board in January. I would be surprised if in one way or another we don’t have some sort of video replay in place by next season.
AR: The NHL’s realignment plan that was just placed on hold by the union had somewhat of a balanced schedule with at least a home-and-home series against every team in the league. Is that something that you’d like to see in the AHL?
DA: I think in a perfect world, perhaps yes. But I don’t think we’ll see it. Our league is still very much driven by rivalries and is very much driven by travel cost. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a balanced schedule in our league. I think our fans are for the most part pretty happy with the way we structure it. Some of our season ticket holders would like to see a few more teams than what they see, particularly here in the Western Conference. But we’re seeing more variety now than we did, and I expect we’ll continue to see more and more of that, but I doubt that we’ll ever see each team playing every other team in the league.
AR: The AHL All-Star game coming up in Atlantic City — I think it was a great idea… we’ve got a place that wants to throw a big party and that’s very cool. Would you consider having the All-Star game as a destination like this on a regular basis?
DA: I think we would consider it, but we do have a couple of our member cities who are eager to host the game in the next couple of years. And I expect we’ll go to those cities before we go to another destination like Atlantic City.
AR: And finally….I understand that you’re a sports marketing professor at the university level. What are some of the topics that you talk about in your class? What’s on the syllabus?
DA: Oh gosh, the syllabus is pretty much just talking about almost everything that we do in marketing sports and in sport management. For the most part, we’re focused on sales and on branding, and all of those sorts of things. But I’m not REALLY a full professor….I’m just an adjunct!
(Many many thanks to Mr. Andrews for his time and his thoughtful responses.)