Q&A with Darren Abbott, Part Three, Page 2
MV: I think fans like those back-to-back games with the same team. Usually that second night is pretty entertaining.
DA: “You know what? I’ve been saying this for a while and no one wants to listen at the league level. Florida has the best attendance in our league, and they almost always play weekend sets. And they’ve been a competitive team, one of the most competitive teams every single year. It’s tough to win two games in a row against the same team. And they do a good job of it, and their attendance is high. There are a lot more factors, but as a broadcaster it was always great going down there because we knew, ‘We’ve got to get them on Friday because if we don’t get them on Friday’ … they were always a really good team and we used to always sneak up and bite them on Friday. It was a series. It felt like the playoffs. You’ve got two games down there, they’ve always been a rival of ours in the standings, so when we go down there we always felt like we had to win two.
“If Florida comes up here and plays two games in a row, it becomes a series. You want that passion from the fans. You want the fans yelling at their guys. I think we could do some things with the scheduling that wouldn’t ramp up the costs all that much, and might be worth it. The situation we’re in now, Augusta comes in here six times. And it’s tough for the league to balance [the schedule]. We might see Gwinnett at home five times in the first two months and then not see them again. I don’t want to throw the league under the bus because they are working towards a lot of this stuff, but with certain teams and ownerships everything is about the bottom line. The league is fighting for the greater good, but the individual teams will vote for what is best for them, and you can’t blame them for that, either. I think it’s a process that’s going to take some time.
MV: Let’s talk about you personally. How did you get into broadcasting and how did you get there from here, and what are your aspirations from this point?
DA: “I didn’t go to school for broadcasting or anything like that. Basically I grew up in Canton, N.Y. St. Lawrence University and Clarkson University are up there. I was good friends with the guy who was doing Clarkson games on the radio, and he was doing high school hockey. I was coming through town after school one year – I went to school in New Brunswick, Mount Allison University – and he asked me to help him do a game. I went and did color commentary with him. He asked if I wanted to do some play-by-play, and I said ‘Sure,’ and I did it. I ended up doing a few games over Christmas break with him. He said, ‘You’re pretty good, you should think about it,’ kind of thing.
“The year after college I was at home and I got $40 a game to do high school sports. We did everything from girls’ softball to hydroplane racing. We did lacrosse, golf, we did everything on the radio. We ended up doing over 250 high school games that year on the radio.
“He ended up getting the job down here with the Stingrays as the play-by-play guy. In his second year he called me up and said, ‘I can get you in here as the [public address] announcer and PR person.’ I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’ I had sent my résumé tape around the league, but ended up coming down here. They called me down here in South Carolina and said, ‘I think we got the wrong guy this year. Can you come up next year?’ And I did. I went there for two years. My wife is from [South Carolina], so we wanted to get back here the whole time and finally did.
“I was the radio broadcaster and PR director here since 1999, and I was around long enough that I was kind of leaned on heavily by presidents as far as making decisions and things. I think the ownership finally said, ‘Well, if the presidents keep coming and asking Darren what he thinks, why don’t we just give him the opportunity?’ It was a bit of a surprise to get it. And it was a tough decision because I always wanted to be Mike Emrick and live that kind of lifestyle. But I had kids on the way, too, and not traveling has gotten nice.
“At the end of the day, it’s a new challenge. Play-by-play is something I’d still like to get back into maybe someday, and move on up the ladder, but this is exciting. It’s something new every day. There are a lot of people in our league who do things really, really well. When I go to [league] meetings now, I try to pony up with those guys and find out how they’re doing it. When I was a broadcaster, I was sort of one of the old guard. As a broadcaster, the young guys were asking me questions. Now I am asking some of the business people questions. I think it has broadened my horizons and broadened my résumé, but I still want to sit in Montreal and call a Canadiens game some day.
“Who knows? I drove down here in a Volkswagen Rabbit in 1996 and I’m president of the team now. That part of it is neat. You never thought you’d be doing the things you’re doing in your life.”