Vice President, Communications, Pittsburgh Penguins
Like all Pittsburgh hockey fans, Tom McMillan (COM 1978) has experienced the Penguins’ highs and lows. From disappointing finishes in the 1980s, back-to-back Stanley Cup championships of the early 1990s, the team’s near bankruptcy, Mario Lemieux’s ownership, the 2004-05 lockout, Sidney Crosby’s arrival, the start of the Consol Energy Center construction, and the 2008-2009 Stanley Cup championship, McMillan has seen it all—from several vantage points.
A Pittsburgh native and hockey fan since childhood, McMillan experienced the team’s ups and downs as a newspaper writer, columnist, editor, freelancer, radio talk show host and team executive.
“Years ago I didn’t foresee being a team’s vice president of communications,” says McMillan.
Looking back, he says his years of diverse media experience led into the job, which he started in 1996. The Point Park journalism graduate says he tells students that they must be open to all kinds of experiences, because they never know where those will lead. It’s advice he remembers from Vince LaBarbera, who headed the journalism program during his Point Park years, but something students—then and now—aren’t always ready to hear.
“I expected to working for a newspaper for 25 years. And I wanted to be a columnist until I actually did the job.” Things don’t always turn out as planned, says McMillan, and many jobs related to sports are not necessarily what people expect them to be. So his advice to students also includes learning as much as possible about a range of jobs, preparing for long hours and knowing you will rarely be sitting and enjoying watching games. “For game seven in Detroit, I probably saw live about seven minutes of action,” he says.
McMillan doesn’t hesitate to share the full range of emotions he’s experienced over the years working in hockey. He recently spoke to a facilities and venue class in the sports, arts & entertainment program, talking about his work with the media, answering students’ questions and soliciting opinions.
The Penguins are known throughout the National Hockey League and professional sports for connecting with young fans. McMillan says the team is aggressive in using focus groups, student offers, special events, website innovations, and new media to engage college students and to build its fan base of both passionate and casual followers. Point Park students recently presented a study to the team’s marketing department. “We value students’ viewpoints,” says McMillan.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have the fastest-growing team brand in the NHL and one of the fastest-growing team brands in all of professional sports, according to a Forbes analysis in 2009. The magazine also recognized the team for the most-visited NHL website in the United States and for its local television ratings.