Austin, the capital of Texas, with population nearing 1,000,000 – is a passionate college sports city. The beloved Texas Longhorns representing The University of Texas at Austin have a fan base that expands throughout the city and beyond.
A hockey fan wouldn’t expect a professional hockey team in this area. And yet, there is an American Hockey League’s team playing in its own 7,000 seat capacity H-E-B Center arena north of Austin, in a town called Cedar Park. The team is a “farm” for Dallas Stars NHL team that resides only 182 miles from there.
The Texas Stars celebrates its 10th anniversary this season. Since its establishment, the club has earned an impressive record. The Stars won the Calder Cup in 2014, the Division Championship in 2013 and 2014, and were Conference Champions in 2010, 2014 and 2018. In celebration of its 10 years of success, the players have been outfitted with the anniversary jerseys with a big Stars 10th Anniversary logo on the front side, they play the home games on the 10th anniversary ice and there is a lot of related merchandise produced throughout the season. They have always enjoyed a devoted fan base. From yelling “Stars!” during the national anthem, down to the green of the jerseys that fill the stands each game, the Texas Stars has been a thriving AHL affiliate.
We asked Brian Tosti, Director of Broadcast and Media Relations for the Texas Stars, to give us an insight into the club’s activities.
Q: Brian, you have been working for the Texas Stars since this season. How was the arrival for you?
When I joined the team after the last season, it was after the playoffs, where the Texas Stars lost to Toronto Marlies in a 7-game final. Since most of the staff were new as well, there was not much dwelling on the last season, everybody was excited and ready for the new season.
Q: You have a challenging position due to the popularity of the Longhorns. What is your opinion on the fan crowd in the HEB Arena?
Texas Stars is one of the AHL power house teams in the Southern region. Austin area is among Top 10 growing populations in the nation, a thriving community for business and musicians. Young professionals have been moving to Cedar Park and Round Rock area from different locations, many of them hockey fans. People attend the game for great hockey and great entertainment. The stadium’s capacity is almost 7,000 and the average attendance during the season is about 5,500. That places it among Top 10 in the AHL even in comparison with teams who have larger-capacity arenas. The biggest fan support comes from the season ticketholders. Among a few thousand there are a few who have held the season tickets since Day 1. Per the club’s website www.texasstars.com , nearly 120 multi-seat accounts have had full season tickets with the organization since 2009.
Q: What is the club’s community involvement?
http://www.texasstars.com/foundation: The club has its official charity, The Texas Stars Foundation, formed in the summer of 2010. The Foundation strives to utilize the talents and resources of the Texas Stars players, families, staff and ownership to enrich the greater central Texas area and military children throughout the United States.
50/50 raffle tickets are sold by Texas Stars Foundation staff during each Texas Stars home game, and a drawing is held at the beginning of the 3rd period to determine the lucky winner of half the total pot for that game. The other half of the proceeds raised during that game go to the Texas Stars Foundation to support local nonprofits throughout central Texas.
Throughout the season, fans help nonprofits fundraise for their mission by participating in Chuck-A-Puck. Foam pucks are sold to fans during select games by local organizations, benefiting both the group and the Foundation. During an intermission, fans throw their purchased pucks onto the ice, and the closest puck to the center of the target wins a prize!
Bowling with the Stars is a once-a-year opportunity to join fans’ favorite Texas Stars players for a fun night of bowling.
Q: What are the theme evenings and how are they organized?
The theme nights are organized by the corporate sales department in a close cooperation with the marketing department that conducts a study to find ways how to attract people to the game for not only watching a game, but also for a great entertainment. It attracts the audience that would not otherwise attend a hockey game.
The theme nights are not required or prescribed by the league, it’s up to each team what and how they attract their audience. But the ticket sales data are collected and analyzed so the teams can see if their promotions work. The Texas Stars’ „Umbrella Night“ (with umbrella giveaway) or the „Star Wars Night“ turned out to be a resounding success.“
Just this past December, the newest addition to the culture of the Texas Stars was their own mascot called Ringo. Ringo is based on the ringtail cat that dwells in central Texas. Ringo can be seen roaming around the arena during games, pumping up the crowd with his drum, interacting with the kids in attendance, and clowning around to boost morale.
Q: What is your schedule in the AHL, which is very individual, and each team has an „ore rival“, who is this with you?
The biggest rival is San Antonio Rampage who Texas Stars plays 14 times in the season. The schedule is set up so it’s cost-effective. The teams play most of the games in their geographic regions. For example, Texas Stars plays California teams 2x a year, Tucson 4x a year and no teams from the East conference. They would flight to Chicago and then bus around for a few games in the area before flying back.
Q: How does the collaboration within the organization work between Dallas and Texas stars?
The Dallas Stars and Texas Stars teams have an excellent relationship. It helps that they are not far away and have the same owner. The GM of Texas Stars is also an Assistant GM for Dallas Stars. That allows to have a player to be called to play one game for NHL and then it’s decided if he’s ready to play more games or if he needs to be sent back to improve his skills in the AHL. There are more and more teams using the same approach. For example, Rockford IceHogs and the Chicago Blackhawks. AHL allows only a specific number of players that played more than 260 games in pro-leagues (NHL, AHL, KHL, Swedish and Finnish leagues) – so called veterans. Players with less than 50 games are Rookies.
Q: This concerns, for example, Denis Guryanov who has a very good development behind him.
When he started 3 years ago, he didn’t speak a word of English. He is a very smart guy, got an equivalent of Bachelor’s law degree in Russia before he started his professional North American career. Since then he has learned English and is becoming more comfortable with holding interviews in English.
Q: Brian, you are also „The Voice“ in the Broadcasting Play-by-Play radio in the arena. If that is assumed, here in Europe this is very rare.
It’s customary across the league that the games are broadcasted inside the concourse so the fans who have to step out don’t miss the action. The team also provides a delayed online audio-streaming. Fans not able to attend the games have access to a pay-per-view video broadcast.
Q: Are there fan merchandise only in the arena or can you buy it from outside partners too?
They don’t sell outside the Fan shops and online. It helps to control the proceeds. The cost analysis shows enough revenue through those channels, so they are not exploring any third-party sales, such as outlets in neighborhood supermarkets.
Q: What are the chances of reaching the playoffs this year?
We think the chances are good, each of the remaining 9 games counts, but it will probably come down to the last game of the season. Before tonight’s game, Texas remains one point outside of the playoff picture trailing Rockford in the 4th place.
Brian Tosti Graduated form State University of New York College at Oswego with major in Broadcasting and Mass Communications. Instead of pursuing a Master’s degree, he took a year-long Broadcast internship for Rockford Icehogs. Since then, he served as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for SPHL’s Bloomington Thunder for 2years. Before joining Texas Stars, he became a voice of Greenville Swamp Rabbits as a Director of Media Relations/Broadcast.
Brian is with his heart and soul in this job: “If I had to choose, I’d prefer a career in Broadcasting, which is my passion”.
Transcript of live interview with Brian Tosti on 3/22/2019