You have to be flexible, versatile and willing to do anything at any time in order to get things done successfully. I think that’s good advice for any employee.
Vice President of Operations
The interview with Brian Coe was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as Vice President of Operations for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. What does a typical day look like for you?
Well, a typical day during a pandemic is certainly different than regular days. But in either case, no two days are exactly the same (which is a great thing).
During the season, I typically get into the office between 8 and 8:30 am. If it’s a game day, I may not make it home until 11 or 12, but if it’s not a game day, I’d be home in time for dinner.
I oversee several different aspects of our team’s operations, including game entertainment, communications, community relations. But, my job is really a catch-all.
I spend a lot of time with our players helping with their day-to-day issues (how do I get a social security number…can you help me set up a charity event…I have family coming to the game this weekend, can you help me with tickets), and also serving as a liaison with them and other front office departments (helping to secure players for sponsored/ticketing events).
I’ll have meetings with Pens employees to make sure things are moving alright as they pertain their specific departments, and I spend a lot of time down in the trenches as well as I handle the majority of our social and digital media outlets.
I also handle other activities, such as designing and auctioning our speciality jerseys, providing video for special requests, working with our league office to make sure their needs are met.
Your role is extremely diverse as you oversee all communications, digital media, game presentation and community relations efforts. With so much on your plate at once, how do you stay organized, handle stress and ensure each facet is taken care of? How can one learn to manage so many things at once?
Well, it can be challenging. Honestly, the stress of long hours and juggling so many different activities/people is something I had trouble with for a long time.
In the past few years, we’ve been able to add some additional staff, which has helped me tremendously. But, I’ve also had to put my faith and trust in people and realize my limitations. You can’t be everywhere all at once.
I’ve also worked on prioritizing needs and working ahead. The latter is something I do with a lot of our social media and digital items that I am directly responsible for. The ability to utilize technology to schedule sponsor posts or historical videos has made my job easier.
I have a giant two-month whiteboard calendar that sits on the wall directly in front of my desk, which keeps me moving in the right direction. It’s a constant reminder about what’s coming up, whether it’s a game, a charity event, a sponsored player appearance or auction start date.
Throughout your time with the WBS Penguins, you’ve been honored for digital media excellence twice and been presented the Ken McKenzie Award – both amazing accomplishments! What have you done and are continuing to do in terms of marketing/digital media strategy that sets the WBS Penguins apart from other teams in the AHL?
If they didn’t know already, I think everyone in the industry has found how important digital and social media is now for any team, whether it is simply for fan engagement or for helping to fulfill sponsor obligations that might have been wiped out with the early end to the season.
I feel like we’ve thrived in this space during the lockdown, with some unique campaigns.
Early on, we started a PENGUINS FIRST LINE campaign, where we asked fans to nominate first responders, essential employees and healthcare workers who were making a difference during the fight against COVID-19. We mirrored a graphic we used to announce our starting lineup for games, and put photos of these fans in the players’ places. We featured six fans per day for three straight months which really helped to highlight members of our community who were going above and beyond.
When high school graduations were canceled, we created a similar program, called SENIOR STICK TAPS, where we featured graduates from area schools (and some from out of the area) on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.
We produced a live pregame show on Facebook and Twitter before each of the Pittsburgh Penguins games during the NHL playoffs featuring our team broadcaster and a special guest, and now with the Penguins out of the post-season, we are putting together a live weekly show to keep fans up to date on everything going on with the chase for the Cup.
The program I’m most excited about though is our BREAKING THE ICE Box Breaking Events that we’ve recently rolled out. Box breaking is a big activity among sports card enthusiasts online – essentially viewers can buy a share of a box of cards, then watch to see which cards/teams are picked for them in live streams – and we’ve put a fun spin on it. We’ve had a lot of fun engaging with fans, sharing our love of card collecting, hopefully introducing some new converts to the hobby, and giving away some great prizes too.
In sports, anything can happen. I think you experienced this first hand in May of last year when the WBS Penguins Zamboni suddenly stalled out whilst flooding the ice and you had to help push it off the ice. How have you overcome sudden challenges and learned to not be hard on yourself for things that are beyond your control?
Well, in this instance, there was very little thought that went into things.
I was actually up in the suite level when I saw the machine break down, and sprinted down three flights to find out what the issue was. Once I was there, they need additional help to get it off the ice, so I just jumped in.
You have to be flexible, versatile and willing to do anything at any time in order to get things done successfully.
I think that’s good advice for any employee.
In this age of social media, some people argue that communication skills are deteriorating. Do you agree or disagree? As a communications professional, what do you do to ensure that your communication skills are kept up to date and effective?
I’ve definitely seen some of that eroding of one-on-one communication firsthand, specifically when it comes to situations like internship interviews or requests from outside of the organization. The basic ability to address someone in a professional manner and hold a conversation seems to be lacking somewhat.
I try to start every meeting (and by meeting, I mean meeting someone, not necessarily a formal sit down) by setting people at ease – a smile, a small chat before, an interesting thought. Those can help to open the lines of communication.
I think it’s the old tried and true basics that make the difference – look someone in the eyes when you are talking to them, be a better listener than a talker, and show a bit of empathy to their situation.
Let’s shine some light on your portfolio! Which piece of content are you most proud of and why?
One video piece that I take particular pride in is a career retrospective video I put together for Tom Kostopoulos, who is the most respected and important player in our team’s history. Tom retired from playing at the end of the 2018-19 season after 20 years on the ice and is one of just four players to appear in 600 games in the NHL and the AHL.
I actually started gathering the pieces to this feature about three years before he announced his retirement and made numerous changes over the years.
There was a lot of thought, care and time that went into this video, and I’m very happy with how it turned out.
Editor’s note: Click on the image of Tom Kostopoulos below to open up the video Brian Coe mentions above. It will open in a new window.
For those in college who will soon be seeking entry-level jobs, what advice would you give them to make themselves the most desirable to professional sports teams once they graduate?
I think it goes back to one of the items I touched on earlier – be flexible.
Your ultimate goal may be to be a team president or GM. However, you’re likely not going to land the dream position you are looking for immediately after you graduate. An opening in a ticketing department or game night marketing will give you a better understanding of how other aspects of the organization work, and will make you better prepared for future openings.
Always be the first one to volunteer when help is needed. Your initiative and willingness to help out will get you noticed by those higher up in the organization.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
Brian Coe’s role encompasses many versatile tasks. Despite handling all communications, community relations, social media, game-day operations and much more, Brian is able to get the job done seamlessly. What it all boils down to is Brian’s flexibility. If there’s any advice upcoming sports professionals can take away from this interview, it’s the ability to be flexible in the workplace. In an operations role like Brian Coe’s, things are often unexpectedly changing. This grants the opportunity to wear many hats and willingly do anything at any time to help out the rest of the team.