Ballpark event a homerun for Business & Legal Society

by | Jun 13, 2014 | Featured

Jacob Levy clowns around with Riptide, Norfolk Tides mascot.

Jacob Levy clowns around with Riptide, Norfolk Tides mascot.

The theme of the Business & Legal Society of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s final event of the year involved a serendipitously timed topic: the construction of a proposed 18,000-seat arena in Virginia Beach, and attracting a major league sports team to make the arena its home.

As 85 members of the community ate dinner at Hits at the Park at Norfolk’s Harbor Park and listened to two sports executives discuss the viability, profitability and probability of the project’s success, members of the Virginia Beach City Council were, at the same time, voting on the proposal.

The council agreed to proceed with negotiations to build the $200-million arena, while the guest speakers at the Society’s May 27 event, Scoring Big: Bringing the Pros to Hampton Roads, suggested that economic realities needed to be strongly considered before going forward.

“We’re looking at demographics of this area and what makes a venue tick,” said Ken Young, owner of the Norfolk Tides and the Norfolk Admirals and one of the evening’s highlighted experts.

“We’ve had a lot of success with the Tides and the Admirals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it transfers to what’s needed for success with this project. It’s a pretty tough road to hoe, and $10 to $12 tickets are a lot easier to sell here than what a major league team would command. I’m pretty open, though, to hear more.”

Jeff Cogen, chief executive officer of the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators and that city’s Bridgestone Arena, was also a featured speaker. Cogen shared his firsthand, real-world experiences of working with a major league franchise and operating an arena in a city comparable in size to the Hampton Roads area.

“If there’s a political will, and taxpayer appetite, and the owner of a major league team who wants to invest $300 to $600-million—in the team alone—then these are good investments,” said Cogen, a Newport News native and Old Dominion University graduate.

“But these are three pretty big hurdles. Our arena is number six in North America—ahead of Madison Square Garden—and we have a good public-private partnership in Nashville…but we still lose in the neighborhood of $6- to $12-million a year,” Cogen said. “And our team is ranked 22, we sell-out games, and it still loses about $6- to $10-million a year. If you’re going to build the building, I highly suggest you have a major tenant.”

Members of the audience ranged in age and occupation from business executives and law partners to budding entrepreneurs, college students and interested sports fans. There were also friends and relatives who came to share an evening with Cogen, including his wife Jill and his mother Merle, a Virginia Beach resident.

Cogen says he will be a visiting the area more frequently in the future; his son Matt will attend ODU this fall on a baseball scholarship. Ken Young’s beaming smile and affable presence are fixtures at Harbor Park during Tides games, and at Norfolk’s Scope when the Admirals play.

Kirk Levy, co-chair of the Business & Legal Society, says that the steering committee didn’t know the City Council would be voting on the arena issue the same night as Scoring Big, but it was a demonstration of how timely and interesting the Society’s programs are and will be again when events kick off in the fall.

In addition to dinner, the insights of the guest speakers, and the lively discussions that followed, Scoring Big attendees were able to watch part of the first game of a Tides doubleheader against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and stay for the second game. Jacob Levy threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game, and Neal Schulwolf and David Jacobson were winners in Scoring Big’s personalized bobblehead giveaway.

The Business and Legal Society of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater is a network of Jewish professionals dedicated to education, social and philanthropic activities that focus on the betterment of Jews in need locally, in Israel and around the world. To find out more, visit, or email

To see more photos from the event, Like the UJFT Business & Legal Society on Facebook.

By Laine Mednick Rutherford