New COO challenged to make Sharks profitable
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SAN JOSE -- These days, many high level NHL executives prefer to watch games in a catered suite in their home building, taking in the action with other co-workers in nice suits, and with access to a private bathroom and all-you-can-eat chicken fingers.

Not Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora. The 44-year-old executive has been in the stands during his first two years in the Bay Area, and that’s where he’ll stay this season, even after taking control of the business side of the organization earlier this summer.

“I sit in the lower bowl now, and I’ve done that for the two years I’ve been here,” Tortora told CSNCalifornia.com on Thursday. “I want to continue doing that. I like sitting in the stands, it’s enjoyable.”

Much like general manager Doug Wilson heads all hockey operations, Tortora is in charge of every aspect of the way the business side is run. After 14 years with the league office, during which he was instrumental in launching the NHL Network and the league’s Center Ice package that makes out-of-town games available across the country, Tortora joined the Sharks prior to the 2011-'12 season as executive vice president/general counsel. On June 13, he was given his new role as C.O.O. in a front office restructuring, as longtime executive vice president Malcolm Bordelon, among others, was let go.

The offseason has gone well from a business perspective, according to Tortora, as season ticket holder renewals –- the most important summer measuring stick for any NHL front office -– have been positive.

“Our season ticket holder base came back very strong in terms of renewals,” Tortora said. “We don’t anticipate any concerns, and the fan base was energized by the team’s play during the season and into the playoffs. It’s been reflected in our renewals. We expect our season ticket base to be as strong as ever, and the demand for our tickets has been very strong throughout the summer, as well.”

The Sharks will open the 2013-'14 season on Oct. 3 against Vancouver, but thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, every team in the league will make at least one appearance at the re-branded SAP Center. The fact that Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux and Henrik Lundqvist will all skate at The Tank is a key selling point. The team is also able to offer many more diverse ticket packages, too.

[RELATED: Sharks' 2013 schedule revealed]

But more importantly, the new CBA is beneficial to the Sharks from a financial standpoint. Team owner Hasso Plattner has made it a priority to turn the Sharks into a more financially viable business, and Tortora has essentially been tasked with that responsibility.

“Sharing revenues 50-50 with the players is a big benefit. But, the fact of the matter, as [Doug Wilson] said about a year ago, the expenses are outpacing our revenues,” Tortora said. “We have to find ways to get a little more creative in terms of generating revenues and find different ways to create the additional revenue.”

“You need to spend money to put a competitive product on the ice, and the city of San Jose deserves a top-flight product. Hasso is committed to doing that. So, we have to find ways to close the financial gap.”

There is no timetable to become profitable, but…

“We have to show sustained and consistent progress over the next few years. I think that is the expectation of the board, and it’s something we hope to achieve.”

* * *

Tortora and Wilson speak frequently, something that started even before Tortora was given his new role. In fact, although they had never met during Tortora’s 14 years as a league executive, Wilson was instrumental in bringing Tortora, a New Jersey native, to the Sharks.

“He’s been a staunch advocate of mine since I started here,” said Tortora, who had been looking to join a NHL team for “quite some time” before he made the move from the East Coast.

The relationship between the pair is important if the Sharks are going to get out of the red, he explained.

“Doug and I need to communicate regularly, because in order to get the franchise to the next level, the business side and the hockey side need to be aligned –- and we are,” Tortora said.

His decision to make San Jose his ultimate destination was based on a number of factors.

“You had to look at the financial viability of the team, the competitive nature of the club on the ice, the fan base, the weather, and San Jose satisfied all of those overwhelmingly,” Tortora said. “Despite the fact that we’re struggling financially, at the end of the day our ownership base is very strong. All of those reasons were why San Jose was so attractive.”

It’s also more thrilling to work for a team than the league office.

“I love the league office, I spent 14 years there," Tortora said. "The league goes to the Stanley Cup Final every year, but only a team can win the Cup.”

“Being here the two years has been exhilarating from a win-loss perspective, because now you’re actually focused on a team winning games and losing games.”

Tortora is confident and excited the Sharks can do more winning than losing in 2013-'14.

“I’m very excited for the upcoming year. I expect us to be as competitive as we’ve always been, if not better.”