On the Hot Seat

Despite odds, he’s sticking with team

(Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / March 28, 2010

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Launching a new professional sports team in Boston is tough. Trying to do so in a recession seems impossible. But Doug Reffue, 40, is leading the charge to bring back the Boston Blazers as president during the team’s second season. Reffue, who lives in Hingham, spent most of his career in brand management with companies like Polaroid, Brine, and Yankee Candle Co.

Reffue spoke recently with Globe reporter Jenn Abelson.

What’s it like trying to launch a new sports team in Boston?

We’ve got to be different from the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics. We have to find what’s authentic about our product. We’re in one of the top three or four sports markets in the country. It’s saturated with some of the most storied and historic teams of all time. That leaves us with who do we want to be? We need to be fresh, authentic, and figuring out our own brand voice and breaking through the clutter as a start up.

How has the recession made it more difficult?

The recession has not done us any favors. Sponsorships are hard to come by. Discretionary dollars are hard to come by. I had hoped and assumed some of the larger sponsors in beer, beverages, and energy drinks and men’s consumer products would be interested in being with us. I had hoped for Budweiser, Gillette, Dunkin’ Donuts, but it’s been very difficult to get these companies. They are leaving sports sponsorships, and they can’t justify staying in.

So who have you been able to bring on as sponsors?

Our top presenting sponsor is RCN. We also have TCG Network Services, Qdoba, and the US Army.

Have you been able to beat average attendance at professional lacrosse games as you had hoped?

We’re not quite there yet. The league average is about 10,000. This year attendance has been 7,700, up 17 percent over the last year. I think we’ll get there in a year. I would blame it on the recession.

Are you profitable yet?

No. I think we need to get to 10,000 fans a game. We need all these things to come together. We’re very optimistic. We built our business plan in the spring/summer of 2008. The recession then made us adjust everything.

How has your consumer products background at Yankee Candle and Polaroid prepared you to run a sports team?

It’s helped me understand the triggers of what makes somebody buy a product. You can measure consumer behavior and segment markets. These are business fundamentals that I’ve tried to layer over sports.

What’s the most difficult part of transitioning from a career in consumer products to a sports team?

Young, nice men are our products. It’s more of a personal business than a candle or camera. I’ve learned a great deal of respect for professional lacrosse, and it’s become personal for me to get lacrosse to the next level. It’s painful to lose a guy.

You’ve never played lacrosse before. What appealed to you about running this sports team?

A truly great entrepreneur is able to see opportunity before the crowd gets there. I see lacrosse as an industry with buzz starting to form around it. I want to be there when it explodes.

What are lessons that you learned from the first season?

Fans love accessibility to pro athletes. They sign autographs after the game. We have an after-party after games to mix and mingle with fans. We’re trying to get them out more in the community — on radio, on talk shows, at events.

How are you trying to expand the appeal of the Boston Blazers?

Right now we’re getting a lot of families and a lot of lacrosse fans. We’re trying to do things to get younger people out. We’ve had players and the dance team appear at bars. We’re going to do college contest where schools will represent themselves in a series of quasi-athletic events.

Have you lowered prices to draw in more fans?

We’re doing reverse pricing next year. The cheapest-priced seats will be in the front row. It’s completely novel. It will be $13 in the front row and cap out at $25. It will hopefully create demand early and get people into buying.

Won’t that turn people off? Less-hard-core fans will end up paying more money for worse seats?

Come in early is the answer to that.