John Catalano named National Lacrosse League Executive of the Year

Jun 30, 2020

President & CEO, John Catalano, has been selected as the National Lacrosse League's Executive of the Year award, for his instrumental role in what was a successful inaugural season for the Halifax Thunderbirds franchise, both on and off the floor. His guidance and expertise in sales, digital and traditional marketing, game presentation, broadcast, and community relations have landed Halifax on the map as one of the newest staple franchises in the league.

"It is truly an honour to be recognized by the league,” said Catalano. “This award belongs to everyone in our Thunderbirds Family. I have to thank so many people starting with our owner Curt Styres who provides us with the tools and resources we need to succeed. Our management team, Tracy Johnson, Gaylene Powless, Charlie Ragusa and Avery Light, for their leadership and support that has helped guide us to where we are today."

"I need to thank our entire staff for all their hard work and dedication. To our players and coaches for always being available to help us grow the game in Halifax, and most importantly to the city of Halifax for the unbelievable support you have shown us in this first season. We can't wait to get back on the floor.”

Curt Styres went on to say of Catalano, "You never know how much work is done behind the scenes. It’s great to see John's hardwork for our organization recognized across the league.”

Upon joining the Thunderbirds in August of 2019, Catalano provided nearly 20 years of NLL experience and knowledge to a young staff in a new market, hungry for a professional organization, and one of the fastest growing sports in North America. With the immediate hiring of key top executives and bolstering the sales staff, the Thunderbirds have finished their shortened inaugural season in the top half of the league in attendance in just six home games.

Complimenting the focus of sales, the addition of high-end digital content from both the broadcast team and video department, along with an in-depth marketing strategy, has given the team a year over year increase of over 450% across all team social media channels. The Thunderbirds rank as one of the highest engaged teams month to month across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In his first month as acting President and CEO, Catalano hired and oversaw the switch-over in website providers to Carbonhouse, a full-service provider with over 300+ clients ranging from the NHL to top-tier venues such as Ford Field and Scotiabank Arena. The updated mobile friendly site has accounted for an increase on 1,690% year over year for page views, ranking among the top of the league in total users and page views per month.

A highlight of the 2019-2020 season came on Friday, February 21 as the Thunderbirds defeated the Toronto Rock in front of a crowd of 9,337 fans marking the largest crowd of the season. As part of the organization’s first ever East Coast Kitchen Party, the Thunderbirds partnered with East Coast Lifestyle, whose brand awareness and outreach amasses 700,000+ followers.

The Feb 21 game was featured as the National Lacrosse League Game of the Week, ranking as the highest viewed broadcast of the season, earning the team the Game of the Week for what was expected to be the final week of regular season action on April 25.

With hiring a top level producer, over 30 years of lacrosse broadcast experience in the duo of Pat Gregoire, Pete Dalliday and Dana Jackson, and the top-tier quality of Dome Productions, the Thunderbirds quickly set the bar for broadcast standards across the league.

As a commitment to providing high level fan experience to a new market, the Thunderbirds implemented a pregame projection show on field, each home game, while bolstering game presentation across the board, and introducing new theme nights to the market that had not been previously seen before. 

The team in it’s first season has also partnered with You Can Play, placing organizational emphasis on inclusivity in sports for all. The night ranked in comparison with NHL markets who have partnered with YCP, in overall funds raised for community initiatives for sport inclusion.

Combining a emphasis on broadcast and game presentation, Catalano helped to launch ‘Lax 101’ an innovative way of educating new fans on the sport of box lacrosse. In hiring a separate play-by-play team member, the Thunderbirds were able to provide commentary to game play on the floor in real time. 

While the Thunderbirds concluded their inaugural season in shortened fashion, the buzz in the city still remains. It is under the leadership and expertise of Catalano that the success and growth of the sport in Halifax has come to fruition. With just four short months to launch an inaugural season, Catalano has helped to accomplished what most new franchises would expect in their opening season. 

“It takes a village to raise a family, and I think John has done an exceptionally good job of creating a great family atmosphere in the office and with the staff in Halifax," said Head Coach, Mike Accursi. "He leads by example, he’s the guy running around doing the little things before the game helping support his staff. I couldn’t be happier and prouder of John on this award, it is very well deserved.”

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