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Monday, July 20, 2015

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Steve Violetta, CEO of the Staten Island Yankees, Class A Affiliate of the New York Yankees Our Coverage Sponsored by Stribling and Associates

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Whom You Know Congratulates their new President, Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan:


Steve Violetta is a proven and respected Sports & Entertainment Executive with almost 30 years of experience, and today he is the CEO of the Staten Island Yankees Class A Affiliate of the New York Yankees Baseball team. He is unique in the industry because Steve’s personal brand is that he is a bottom line achiever who combines a strategic marketing mindset and innovation with the sales skills to maximize assets like revenue generation and brand development. Since 1996, Steve has been the senior business executive in five different sports & entertainment organizations with annual revenues from $90M to $155M.  The five organizations are:
Ottawa Senators & Corel Centre
San Diego Padres & PETCO Park
Nashville Predators & Bridgestone Arena
Detroit Red Wings & Joe Louis Arena
SI Yankees & Richmond County Bank Ballpark

Steve has the highest level of Emotional Intelligence and Adaptability, as evidenced by his successful management of large, diverse groups of people, plans, personalities and processes in different sports, venues and in geographic locations ranging from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada to San Diego, California. Over his career, Steve has forged a proven track record of having the vision and agility to create, communicate and deliver a strategic plan to the organization. His reputation is that he leads companies through the next levels of their business development by crafting a strategic plan and corresponding business plan, communicating a clear vision, motivating all stakeholders and delivering dramatic gains on the revenue and profit side. In the past 20 years, Steve has developed company-wide multi-year strategic plans for five different sports teams and their affiliated entities. 

During his career, Steve has also built his personal brand around being an innovator. This includes being “the first” in the sports industry to break ground in many product, market and stakeholder innovations. Above all else Steve holds two principles dearly when it comes to running a sports team: the first is: Build a business plan and follow it. A company without a business plan is operating on a wish; and second: Include your 2ICs (second in charge) when building that business plan. But make them accountable and responsible for delivering on the goals.

The words associated most closely with Steve Violetta’s personal brand: Passion, Innovation, Integrity, Maximizing assets and people, Trust building, Communication, Consensus building and a 24/7/365 mentality.  We are so happy to present Steve Violetta as our newest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed Steve for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What should everyone in New York and beyond know about the Staten Island Yankees?
Steve Violetta: 
You can watch baseball and at the same time enjoy a $10M view of lower Manhattan, complete with the Statue of Liberty and new Freedom Tower. All for as low as a $9.00. And the Ferry ride is FREE!

What do you enjoy the most about your current professional position?
Two things: 1) No two days are ever alike. When someone asks me what a typical day is like, that is very difficult to answer because no two days are remotely typical. 2) People have a passion for your product. Love you or hate you, they care. The worst thing in business (and life for that matter) is having people ambivalent about your product. If they don’t care then you are doomed. 

What did you like the most and find the most challenging in each of your five executive management roles and why?
Wow good question. Each market and organization has been so different.

Ottawa Senators & Corel Centre: When I was working in Canada for the Sens the Canadian Dollar was worth 62 cents U.S. So we took in our revenues in Canadian Dollars but had to pay the bulk of the expenses (Player salaries) out in U.S. Dollars. When you throw in the extra tax burdens in Canada, we were essentially operating with a 50 cent dollar. We bought fixed currency hedge funds to guard against swings, but it was difficult. A change of one cent value in the CDN dollar vs. the US Dollar was a $400,000 swing in our operations. Another challenge in Ottawa was the strength of the two “NHL Original Six” brands, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadians. Ottawa geographically sat about halfway between those two cities. But with the Leafs and Habs being around since 1927, and the Sens first year being 1992, I learned early on to NOT waste advertising dollars trying to convince 50-year Men around Ottawa, who were already brand loyal to the Leafs or Montreal, to switch their allegiance to Ottawa. We focused instead on building the brand though youth initiatives. Almost 20 years later, those kids are now adult season ticket holders of the Senators. 

San Diego Padres & PETCO Park: This was really all about brand: creating and directing the Padres brand transition from a 1970s suburban, all-purpose stadium with unlimited parking to a downtown, baseball-only park with city style parking challenges. We created a master plan for all research that went into the brand transition. Phase I (construction phase) of brand transition included surveys, focus groups and “virtual” marketing. Phase II (post construction) included “new ballpark” feedback mechanisms like me hosting a weekly one-hour radio show to take calls/questions from fans.

Nashville Predators & Bridgestone Arena; This challenge was about selling hockey in a non-traditional market. It was about educating the business community as well as the common fan. People would call our box office and ask for Predators tickets “as close to the 50 yard line as possible.”

Detroit Red Wings & Joe Louis Arena; Biggest challenge here was the fan base being so complacent. The team’s success over the years, 20+ straight seasons in the playoffs, had spoiled the fans. It became difficult to sell out first and second round hockey games because fans would tell us “I’m saving my money for the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals!”. So creating value in the market for those early round playoff games was the challenge. 

How often do you send players to the New York Yankees and how often do they send players to you; how does it all work?
Since we are the Yankees Single A team, the natural progression for Staten Island Yankees players is from here to AA ball or AAA ball. Then onto the Big Yankees. They never come the opposite way, from the NYY to us.

We were really impressed with the waterfront view of Manhattan when we visited you and your ballpark. Can you tell us about the design of the Staten Island Yankee Stadium and how it was executed?
That was before my time. Ballpark opened in 2001. I’ve heard some people say it has the dimensions of old Yankee Stadium but I don’t see that.

What are the biggest mistakes CEOs of entertainment brands make?
Making entertainment decisions, consciously or subconsciously, based on their own likes and not what their fans/customers prefer. From between innings music to booking a concert, you have to know what your customer wants and not what you would go see. 

What are the most important aspects of a strategic plan in terms of both measurable and non-measurable forms of success?
Either way the tactics you come up with, along with the metrics used to measure success, have to be tied back to your core values. If the goal doesn’t line up with one or more of your core value it does not make the strategic plan.

What has surprised you most in your career?
How tough hockey players really are compared to other pro athletes. NHL players get teeth knocked out and don’t miss a shift. A baseball player would be on the 21 day DL if they got a tooth knocked out! And forget about anyone but hockey players continuing to play their sport with a broken foot or ankle.

We were particularly interested in your experience with the Pittsburgh Penguins as everyone in Hartford became a Penguins fan on March 4, 1991 when Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson (now Assistant Coach of NY Rangers) 
were traded there-can you tell us what that period of your career was like and did you lift the Stanley Cup?
I didn’t get a chance to lift the cup personally until 2008 with the Red Wings. But those Pittsburgh days, back-to-back Cups, were great to follow. I arrived in Pittsburgh the season AFTER the second cup, and before Mario’s bought with Hodgkin’s. But that first power play until the Pens had back then was something: Larry Murphy and Ron Francis on the points. Mario, Kevin Stevens and a 19-year old Jagr up front. They would win the face-off and puck wouldn’t leave the attack zone for the whole two minutes sometimes!

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My mentor in the business is a man named Roy Mlakar. Roy was the President of the LA Kings when I first met him. He hired me to run the Kings American League Team in New Haven in 1989. I also worked for Roy in Pittsburgh and Ottawa. Top two things I took away from Roy were 1) enthusiasm and positive energy can win just about anyone over and 2) relationships with the media, especially the beat reporters.
And my dad David too of course. What I learned from him was dogged determination to do the job the right way. Never “half-ass” anything.

What are you proudest of and why?
Being part of the management team that built PETCO Park in San Diego. Seasons come and go but I can always point to that ballpark and my contributions that made it successful.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
I think work in the National Football League in some capacity. That business is just head and shoulders above the NBA and NHL, even MLB. The NFL is talked about all year around by fans. When there are no games everyone is still about the Draft, Summer camps and Fantasy Football. They do an amazing job.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 
Not as many as you might think for a guy who has been at it as long as I have. My best reward is seeing kids that were interns for me or first-job employees now becoming VPs and leaders on their own. There is a lot of satisfaction there that you had something to do in molding that person’s career path.

What one word best describes you and why?
Methodical. Because I am a big believer in planning your work and working your plan. And Never Give Up. 

What do you take your sense of identity from?
Some from my Dad and some from my Mom. From dad there is the sense of doing the job right and working hard to get ahead. From Mom my love of all sports. Dad is really just a football fan but Mom likes baseball too. I remember helping my mom wash and dry dishes when I was a kid (no one had a dishwasher machine back then) and listening to the Tigers and Ernie Harwell on WJR 760 AM, the Great voice of the Great Lakes!

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? And Staten Island?
There are so many. Yankee Stadium is technically the Bronx but it is hard to beat the experience of baseball, sun and the Yankees mystique. And of course Central Park is awesome. On Staten Island I enjoy Great Kills Park. Very much underrated for sun, sand and relaxation factors. 

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? And Staten Island?
Staten Island Sports Cards and Cigars. Need I say more? In Manhattan the M&M store is hard to beat for sheer delight on people’s faces. All the Adults in there are channeling their inner-9-year-old. But there is also a Wine store on Madison Avenue between 32 and 33rd streets I need to visit: Violetta Wines. Could be family, who knows?

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
Jesus. I would like our odds on winning baseball games.

What is your favorite drink?
A Steve Special as my friends have come to call it over the years. Vodka, tonic and a splash of Apple-Kiwi-Strawberry juice.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
I consider myself a bit of a history buff. When I first started dating my ex-wife, we were at a party at the Central Michigan University President's House. The group behind us was nosily talking about the Vietnam War. It was like the 10th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. One distinguished gentleman in particular in that group was dominating the discussion. Trying to impress my date I kept quietly refuting to her things that the gentlemen was saying. “That wasn’t the right year for that battle”….”that’s not how the Mess in Cambodia started”….”It was the Air Force not the Army that was pivotal in that campaign…” etc. After about 20 minutes of me slamming everything the distinguished gentleman was saying, the Head of the University’s Political Science Department walked up to the distinguished gentleman and while moving to shake his hand said “General Westmoreland! Very nice to meet you. We all look forward to your speech tomorrow night”. 

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? And Staten Island?
Wow! How do you answer that? Especially for Manhattan? Bar Americain is kind of my “go to” place for out of towners/business dinners. Great food and easy to get to by subway. The Spotted Pig is my Burger Place in Manhattan. Stanton Social to hang out, Carmines for Italian and 
The Classic Delmonico’s for a steak house.
On Staten Island I like Blue Adobe, Meatballs & Martinis, Café Luna and Bocelli.

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? And Staten Island?
Mario Puzo’s Godfather, and Vito Corleone (Vito was nickname I got tagged with in High School. My oldest friends still call me that) has stood the test of time. Still a classic and a Hall of Fame Book and movie series. Since the Godfather mansion from the first movie is on Todt Hill here on Staten Island, I can cover both with one book!

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
William Shatner. He always seems to be having fun and never takes himself too seriously. Plus he is now hanging out with the hot chick from Big Bang Theory and making TV Commercials. 

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? And Staten Island?
Manhattan I would have to go with Times Square because EVERYONE from all the world goes there.
Staten Island I would have to go with the under construction New York Wheel. Maybe I can still buy naming rights? 

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? And Staten Island?
I’m going Bronx again and Yankee Stadium. I was lucky enough to be in the ballpark for game 3 of the 2001 world series, right after 9-11, when President Bush threw a strike from the rubber on the ceremonial first pitch.
For Staten Island I hope I haven’t seen it yet because it would be a Staten Island Yankee Championship. 

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? And Staten Island?
In Manhattan it has to be the walk up Broadway/7th Ave. from like the Garden on 34 street to Central Park. 20+ blocks of just the most amazing things you won’t see together in 20 blocks anywhere else.
For Staten Island it’s the Ferry ride soon to be replaced by the New York Wheel ride.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
I’m going back to Jesus with Winston Churchill in second. Teddy Roosevelt a close third.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? And Staten Island?
I’ve been pretty lame in that area since I moved here in November 2013. On Staten Island Snug Harbor and the Alice Austen house are very special.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
I’m a big supporter of children initiatives and also for our military veterans. Besides my personal time and money, I also have been/still am are on several Boards to raise money for key causes I believe in.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan? And Staten Island?
Over-rated is Empire State Building. I’m a Chrysler Building guy all the way. The art deco architecture alone is worth a tour. Very under-rated among New York Buildings.
On Staten Island underrated is the SI Railroad. Great way to get around the Island and to a ballgame. 

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
I’m a real newcomer to the site. But Ollie’s Trolleys is great stuff so I like Peachy's Picks Washington, D.C.. And anything with cars I love, so I like Cruising Peachy even if I skip trying to solve the vanity license plates. The profile on Captain Allison Ecung was fascinating too.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I’m a political junkie. I still watch the Sunday morning shows, even McLaughlin Group. But I could never run for office because I tell the truth, and I believe in keeping people accountable and responsible for getting their job done. I’m not much of a “politician”. But the whole process of national politics fascinates me.
Also I like cars, sports bars and cigars.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
My personal e-mail is fine.

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