Silicon Valley’s Unlikely Start-Up: The San Francisco Bulls

By  December 11, 2012

When the San Jose Sharks announced that their ECHL affiliate San Francisco Bulls were going to play a regular season game at San Jose’s HP Pavillion, the reaction of some fans was stunning. Instead of being excited that professional hockey was finally returning to San Jose, some chose to show their true colors offering, to put it mildly, some less-than-favorable comments. I’m a little embarrassed (a full rant can be found on penaltykill.net) that a group of people who call themselves hockey fans would pass harsh judgement on a hockey team which exists, in part, to help make their Sharks a better team. Possibly more shocking is the fact that San Jose, an anchor city of Silicon Valley, would turn away a group that embraces the start-up culture most people in the area live by. Maybe they aren’t Twitter or Facebook, but the Bulls started from an idea just the same, and, through a lot of hard work, has seen some inspiring success.

Andrew Crescenzi, a 20-year old from Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, playing for the San Francisco Bulls.

On October 12, 2012 the San Francisco Bulls played their first regular season game ever at the Cow Palace. A capacity crowd of 8,277 witnessed the return of professional hockey to San Francisco. Alongside the fans were up to 200 concession, parking, ticketing and security personnel. Working the actual game were on-and off-ice officials, coaches, trainers and equipment staff. A production staff including camera operators and on-air personalities were on-hand to broadcast the game for an online television feed and internet radio. The arena was equipped with a brand new high-definition score board, a public address system, and vendor stands filled with t-shirts, hats, jerseys, mini hockey sticks and pucks all emblazoned with the team’s logo. Finally, there were over 20 young professional hockey players from various corners of North America all tasked to represent pro hockey in San Francisco–during the NHL lockout, no less.

Just ten months earlier, the Bulls had five fulltime employees, an empty building, a fledgling brand, and an owner with a dream.

A few of the folks who make a hockey game happen, availing themselves of the jobs created by the Bulls.

I first met Pat Curcio of the San Francisco Bulls on January 7, 2012. Over dinner Coach (and General Manager and Owner and President) Curcio talked about his lifelong involvement with hockey, his desire to some day own a professional hockey team and how the San Francisco Bulls were to be the realization of that dream. Over the months that followed, small pieces of the team started coming together. There were the periodic appearances by Curcio on various television and radio shows. There was the contest to name the mascot (Rawhide), tryouts for ice girls (The Cow Belles), and auditions for national anthem singers. Billboards went up along traffic corridors. Sponsors were brought on board and housing for the players was secured. Staff was added to include executives and interns. The Cow Palace, which already had an ice making system, was upgraded to produce better ice than what the San Jose Sharks skated on (the Sharks played their first two seasons at the Cow Palace while they awaited construction of the San Jose arena). A deal was made to build a new high definition score board and a sound system (which had previously spent a ‘tour-of-duty’ with AC/DC) was acquired and installed.

Pat Curcio and Ryane Clowe making things happen from behind the Bulls bench.

Dustin Parker, Ticket Sales & Service Manager, manually sorted all full, partial and mini season ticket plans and entered them–one by one–into the Ticketmaster system. At first, if you called to the office on a Sunday afternoon, Coach Curcio was the one to answer. Now that the season has started, a 15-hour work day isn’t out of the ordinary for any of the Bulls ‘founders’ or ‘new hires’.

“You can come into work at around 8:30 in the morning, work your ‘day job’, then go down to the arena at around 5:00pm to work the game,” says Sales Team Leader Raudel Wilson. “You might go home at around 11 – 11:30.”

Since the Bulls play the majority of their games on weekends, and since everyone works the games, 7-day work weeks are the norm. During a lengthy home stand, the staff worked 15 days straight. Jason Lockhart, Director of Media Relations and Broadcasting, told me he’ll rest sometime next spring–after the playoffs, of course.

Jason Lockhart, Director of Media Relations and Broadcasting, San Francisco BullsJason Lockhart provides on-air commentary for all Bulls games.

Despite the long hours, everyone working for the Bulls has been extremely gracious and helpful. They’ve always allowed me to participate in and document the development of this organization. No one on the Bulls staff would openly complain about the nay-sayers, so I’ll do it for them. This start-up has succeeded in its ability to address the two major complaints of fans frustrated by the NHL labor dispute: first, the Bulls have satisfied hockey fans’ craving for the game. Second, the organization has created a slew of jobs in the community. The Bulls also provide an affordable local venue for those who might find the cost of an NHL ticket or the distance to San Jose a roadblock. I know of some people who, prior to the Bulls, had never seen a hockey game in their lives. They are now full season ticket holders.

San Jose Sharks forward and current Bulls assistant coach Ryane Clowe says he’s impressed by the way the community has embraced the team. From day one, fans streamed into the building wearing all the merchandise, Clowe says, “just like they do in San Jose.”

In an area surrounded by start-ups, some that get traction, but many who go nowhere, the San Francisco Bulls have shown what a small group of people putting in a lot of long hours can accomplish in a very short amount of time. The question shouldn’t be “Why would we cheer for them?” but, rather, “Why wouldn’t we?”

Not to mention that hockey itself can be a tough day at the office.

UPDATE:  As of December 12th Ticketmaster shows the Bulls game at HP Pavilion as sold out.