The Griffins’ former senior vice president of sales and marketing leaves the organization with many great memories
Story and photo by Mark Newman
He never scored a goal. Never played a game. Never even skated in practice for the Griffins.
Yet when Bob Sack recently announced his resignation as senior vice president of sales and marketing to become chief operating officer for the Grand Rapids law firm of McShane & Bowie, the news had the impact of a franchise losing one of its star players.
A leader in the front office since its very beginnings in 1995, Sack was the primary architect behind the building of the Griffins brand.
Long before the organization had signed its first player, Sack was responsible for promoting the return of professional hockey to Grand Rapids and did the legwork necessary to bring the team into the public consciousness.
He was the man who oversaw the contest to name the team and the development of the distinctive Griffins logo. He was the driving force behind the Griffins’ record-setting sale of 7,000 season tickets.
In terms of Griffiti, he was the person who pushed for the team’s official publication to adopt a magazine-style format rather than the typical sports program.
For 11-1/2 years, Sack was the center of the off-ice fortunes of the Griffins. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy to say goodbye after watching his final Griffins home game in his present capacity on Dec. 26.
“I’ve had a great career in sports,” said Sack, who came to the Griffins after six years as executive director of the Senior PGA tournament operated by the Grand Rapids Jaycees. “From a personal perspective, it was time to do something else.”
Sack leaves with a lot of great memories: numerous sellouts over the first three years (39 of 41 home games during the inaugural 1996-97 season); IHL and AHL All-Star games in 1997 and 2004, respectively; the NHL Showcase Game in 1999; the Turner Cup finals in 2000; and the announcement of the affiliation with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002.
“It seems like there’s always been something exciting on the horizon,” Sack said. “This is an organization that prides itself on bringing the big experiences to the West Michigan market.”
Yet it wasn’t necessarily the headline-grabbing events that will resonate the most with Sack.
“I think about those Saturday nights in midwinter, when it’s cold outside and the snow flurries are fluttering about, and we have a full house in the building and downtown has an electrified atmosphere.”
He points to the annual tradition of the New Year’s Eve game when the Griffins host “the biggest party in town” as an example of the allure of hockey in Van Andel Arena. He sees the future of the franchise resting on a further fostering of the relationship between the organization and the downtown area.
“As a game, hockey is what it is,” Sack said. “The organization’s challenge will be to continue to work with downtown partners and the arena to present new ideas and a fresh experience for the fans.”
Personally speaking, Sack is excited about exploring new opportunities in what is a new position at McShane & Bowie. In a sense, the challenge won’t be new for him, as his work with both the Griffins and the Jaycees had been in new positions as well.
McShane & Bowie is considered to be the area’s leading real estate law firm, representing 24 attorneys, 12 of whom are partners. Sack will be responsible for managing the day-to-day business activities at the 55-year-old firm, in addition to overseeing new business development and marketing.
“It’s a local firm that values embracing a potentially larger community role and I will relish the opportunity to find ways to foster a greater connection with the community at large,” Sack said.
Leaving the Griffins organization means Sack will likely be able to spend more time with his family: wife Debbie, who operates her own part-time interior decorating business, and children: Lauren, 16; Bryce, 14; and Taryn, 10.
“The reality is a lot of people work a lot of hours in today’s world; working 50-60 hours a week is not that uncommon. But with the Griffins, you never really get away from the job. You’re always thinking about the next game, the next challenge. Plus, there’s a certain fish bowl element to the work.”
There’s little doubt that Sack has developed a deep appreciation for the people with whom he has worked over the past decade.
“Sports, in general, produce people who have a real passion for what they do,” he said. “Nobody comes here looking for a job; they all come looking for a career.”
That mentality, Sack contends, is reflected in an esprit de corps, a team within a team, whether it’s willingly working long hours or watching college football in the staff kitchen before a game. “It’s something that you’re never really going to find anywhere else,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sack said he feels fortunate to have been able to work so many years with an “incredibly special” owner like Dan DeVos.
“He has demonstrated a great balance of knowing how to be involved enough to show that he deeply cares, but not to the point of meddling where it distracts from the success of the organization,” Sack said.
Sack believes the Griffins will ultimately be one of the DeVos legacies to the city.
“For me, it was an incredible honor and privilege to be in a role where I felt like I had been entrusted with a community asset,” he said. “I hope people will recognize Dan’s commitment and continue to support the team.”