Belmont Park Arena New York Islanders Tom Pistore

“I Feel The Middle Section Of The Ticketing World Is Going To Get A Little Bit Squeezed Because There’ll Be An Economic Lag.”

June 24, 2020

After he was officially named as the new President of Commercial Operations for the under-construction Belmont Park Arena, which will house the NHL’s New York Islanders, iSportconnect spoke to Tom Pistore about why this new challenge enticed him to New York following his 20 years at Maple Leaf Sports And Entertainment.

How did you find your way and get your start in sports, why was this industry right for you?

Coming out of school in Toronto I had a kinesiology degree and had participated at some modest levels in sport, so as the Raptors cemented an NBA team in 1995 the timing was fortuitous for me. In a market that was driven by two predominant major league teams, NHL and MLB, with the Raptors then coming on board I completed a sport admin post-grad degree and started working for the franchise. Basketball was always a big passion for me so the timing of it seemed to all measure up.

What was your first role you held at the organisation?

I started out as a group ticket seller, which was a great way to learn the business, and then expanded into various roles. One of the indictments I have educationally is we’re teaching people trades but there isn’t a real sales funnel. Sales will continue to be a big part of the economy as industries get impacted by other technologies, so the ability to sell and transact human to human is still a valuable commodity and to be able to do it in the right fashion, with rapport and respect, is really important.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment works with a number of franchises, did that provide a great learning opportunity, was it easier or harder?

As MLSE formed with the Raptors joining the Maple Leafs, and then adding Toronto FC and the other sub brands, it was really interesting, I was grateful to evolve my career as you learned from all of the leagues they all have different leadership and perspective.

My time there over 20 years was built on tremendous opportunity but also driven by growth and learning, we had a great group of execs and we were able to nurture each other together so it was very strong from a culture perspective, which I think is important for long term retention and ultimately financial success. I think that does play a really key role.

I can tell you the pace of a multi-property franchise, and I say a multimultiproperty franchise because music started to become its own brand and we saw it as almost a standalone, is relentless. There’s always something going on when you build an organisational structure in the way MLSE did, but it provides ownership with a great scale, great efficiency and certainly that’s probably the way for the future.

Did it feel like it almost became a country-wide franchise for those teams that were the only representatives of their leagues?

The Raptors were fortunate after Vancouver moved to Memphis, the Maple Leaf marketing territory was always slightly restricted. Toronto FC being the first had various opportunities to grow across the country and the Raps evolved similarly to the Blue Jays, being the only team in their respective league. So from time to time given the structures and how they change, the Raptors did have the opportunity to play outside the normal Toronto boundaries. But just from a passion perspective, when you win it certainly became a very Canadian team focus.

“I feel the middle section of the ticketing world is going to get a little bit squeezed because there’ll be an economic lag.”

What enticed you by this new challenge at Belmont Park Arena and what will make the new arena special?

I got the privilege to work with Tim Leiweke (current CEO of Oak View Group) as my CEO for almost three years at MLSE and Lou Lamoriello, now President of Hockey for the New York Islanders, during that time and they evolved as great mentors for me. Certainly diverse styles and different perspectives and I really love learning from people that have done it in the business for that long and been that successful.

Firstly this is a terrific project, but there’s also terrific people involved. Being able to work the hours that you typically do in sport you have to be surrounded by people that are passionate and drive a culture you want to participate in. Then the stage of New York is really important, I got to meet the principal owner of the Islanders Scott Malkin, who has a wonderful retail business globally that’s very successful, his experience-driven mentality is really important.

“We need the congregation and connections from the human perspective when sport and live events return, and I believe they will return very, very strongly when we all feel emotionally safe.”

Adding all that together, having the billion-dollar private investment into something that will really become a beacon and a legacy in an area which is very underserved, the ownership and the group of talent they were looking to assemble made it really appealing for me.

In a way you are fortunate that construction of the arena is not set to be completed until next year, when hopefully life and events are back to normal. But how do you think the ticketing market will be affected in the short term?

Initially when governments make stuff legal, I’m not sure consumer confidence is riding parallel, but once that confidence comes back I actually think it’s a great moment for sport and music. None of us like living in our city dwellings or for some of us that have broader opportunities, being confined still isn’t natural. We need the congregation and connections from the human perspective when sport and live events return, and I believe they will return very, very strongly when we all feel emotionally safe once a vaccine gets disseminated.

I feel the middle section of the ticketing world is going to get a little bit squeezed because there’ll be an economic lag. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the first ten rows full and then the $59 upper bowl as well, but that middle pricing I think is going to soften. In my opinion this will in the end be better for teams as I think the strong professional brokers that many of us work with will survive and thrive and it’ll maybe clean up the industry a little bit.

How do you think the industry will change moving forward?

From an arena perspective we were already going to paperless tickets and mobile adoption, we were thinking about going into the grab and go food and beverage perspectives that arenas think about, all driven by efficiency, but I think Covid just put greater emphasis on that. On the legacy side I’m thrilled sanitisation is going to play a bigger part, that was probably something I think the industry could’ve done a little better but economically you’re not always forced to do it.

Belmont Park Arena New York Islanders Tom Pistore