Welcome back to our 2020 Columbus Blue Jackets Q&A series. In this series, we are going to talk with different members of the Blue Jackets’ community about hockey, their jobs, how they’re handling things today and much more. Today in part three, Todd Sharrock stopped by. He’s been the only head of communications the Blue Jackets have known. We caught up with him to discuss what the team is doing daily during the stoppage. Then we reflect on his 20 years on the job at Nationwide Arena.
Players have come and gone. Coaches and general managers have done the same. Teams experience a lot of turnover in 20 years.
For the Columbus Blue Jackets, much has happened in their 20 years of on-ice play. While there has been some much improved play in the last decade, the first decade was hard times and then some.
One man has been through the entire Blue Jackets’ experience since the very beginning. No one has had more of a birds-eye view of the entire organization than Vice President of Communications and Team Services Todd Sharrock.
In February, Sharrock celebrated his 20th year with the Blue Jackets. With the entire sports world at a stand still, we thought this would be a perfect time to catch up with him to not only discuss what’s going on around the team, but also honor him for his 20 years of outstanding service to the team.
Reacting To The Stoppage
Sharrock has been through many things, but nothing quite like a season coming to a stop. The Blue Jackets were just getting back from a western trip when things started to get very unusual. How did Sharrock and the team react to the ever-changing situation?
“The league was in constant contact with national medical folks and in contact with the teams,” Sharrock said. “We had been in contact with the governor’s office. If you remember, after our west coast road trip everything was changing on a day-to-day basis and in some cases on an hourly basis. There really wasn’t a whole lot of planning you could do at that point. We were just looking at different scenarios and then reacting as things changed. We were doing the best we could to prepare for our games as normal and then playing without fans. Then the morning of the Pittsburgh game (the night) after Rudy Gobert tested positive and NBA games were interrupted, I think as observers we all thought this was going to be a game changer.”
That night changed everything. Recall the pandemonium that took place in Oklahoma City when the fans were told the game was canceled.
That was just the beginning of what was about to unfold all over the world. As time went on, the situation evolved to one where the entire world had to react to a pandemic. The NHL paused its season the day of the Blue Jackets-Penguins game. At that point, nobody really knew what was going to happen next.
While there wasn’t hockey on the ice, there was lots going on behind the scenes. Sharrock and his team had to react to everything happening so fast. What was their new day like and what could they do to continue to engage with fans knowing there was no playbook for something like this?
“It’s obviously unchartered territory for everyone,” Sharrock said. “We were expecting a very busy March, a lot of road games, a lot of games that were critically important for us down the stretch. It just all came to a screeching halt. The situation is what it is. Let’s continue to do what we can to follow the edicts from the health professionals and be smart. I think if everybody does that the sooner we can all get through it and things can get back to some semblance of normalcy. I know from our organization’s standpoint, we’ve heeded those messages. Now, what can we do to continue to engage our fans and the community? We’ve been working on different things and working with Fox Sports Ohio, 97.1 the Fan our broadcast partners to still provide content.”
Staying Busy & Providing Content
Fox Sports Ohio started to air the Tampa Bay playoff series on Wednesday to help keep fans engaged. The flagship station 97.1 the Fan has had Blue Jackets programming on its air at different times. Sharrock is very busy trying to make sure content keeps pouring out during this time.
“My days have been busier than you would think,” Sharrock admitted. “We typically have video conferences multiple times per week with our marketing leadership team to going over everything we’re doing in marketing, community and fan development, digital marketing, communications and video production. There have been additional calls within the organization and with league personnel. I’ve talked to Glenn (Odebralski) if not everyday, every other day. We have some projects that we’ve started and have been working on all year. We’re working on a historical website project that we want to launch next year around the 20th season that involves among other things compiling bios of every player who’s ever played for us. We started that several months ago, but now we’re able to spend more time doing some of those things. We’re also working on our postseason media guide, for whenever we start back up again, so that it will be ready. We’re talking to players, engaging them both on league initiatives and club initiatives and features we want to do, budget stuff, business planning and things of that nature. We’re fulfilling media requests, so you get going with that and pretty soon your day is gone.”
At first, the NHL and Blue Jackets didn’t make players available for interviews to give everyone an opportunity to get their feet under them after the season was halted.
“The first week, week-and-a-half we didn’t do a whole lot with that. We were trying to give everybody an opportunity, including our players, to take care of things from a personal standpoint. A lot of times it’s forgotten that these guys are normal people too with families. They’re trying to get their arms around it on a personal level just like all the rest of us are. Now we’re talking to guys on a more regular basis about ways we can engage with them and still engage with our fans at a time when it should typically be the most exciting time of the hockey season.”
While it is disappointing that’s there’s no hockey, Sharrock is still managing to take advantage of the time he does get. He admitted that he’ll be watching the Tampa sweep this week. He couldn’t watch a lot of the series last season while fulfilling his duties. Now he’ll have time to catch up and watch what all unfolded. “I’m actually looking forward to watching those replays and kind of reliving it from a different perspective,” Sharrock said.
Life at Home
The Blue Jackets staffers are now working from home in accordance with the current happenings in the United States. Whether it’s through a phone call or a conference call, the team keeps in close contact to continue work on their initiatives. But when there’s down time, Sharrock doesn’t forget about his family.
Sharrock is married to his wife Krystal and has two children Landry and Maggie. He says everyone is doing good. The kids just got off their spring break and are taking their school lessons from home. But as with most children, when he’s not worrying about school work, Landry is happy with his video games. The Sharrock’s treasure the moments they have together at home, even when they can’t celebrate a birthday with friends due to the pandemic. That didn’t stop Sharrock from finding a way to make his daughter smile on her special day.
“My daughter’s birthday was this past Saturday. She loves ice cream cake. She wasn’t going to be able to have a birthday party with her friends like she normally would or with her family for that matter. I called Mike (Todd) up. He took care of us. He is a small business owner and I wanted to support him as part of our Blue Jackets family. My only concern was his Dairy Queen location in Pickerington is a little over a half an hour from my house, but there wasn’t a whole lot of traffic midday on Friday so I got the cake home before it melted. It was a huge hit and it was nothing for me to do that and support him.”
The one thing you notice about Sharrock is just how respected he is in the NHL. He values the relationships he has. It’s not often you see someone going 30 minutes out of their way to pick up a cake. But that’s the kind of person you get with Sharrock. Going 20 years strong in this field is an indication of that.
Reflecting on 20 Years
We asked Sharrock to reflect on his time with the Blue Jackets. He has many stories including being a champion for the city of Columbus well before the first puck was dropped at Nationwide Arena. When Columbus needed defended, Sharrock stepped up.
“Columbus has always had a bit of an identity issue. I had a unique perspective when the NHL decided to expand in the mid-late 90’s as I was working with the Houston Aeros in the International Hockey League. Our owner was one of the finalists to get an expansion franchise. We went through that whole process and were considered by many a front runner, but there was no concrete plan for a new arena which I think ultimately was one of the reasons why Houston wasn’t selected. I remember when the announcement came out that Atlanta, Nashville, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Columbus were selected, all of the media people came out in Houston and couldn’t believe it. They were like ‘what?!’ How in the world does Columbus, Ohio get a team and we don’t? I’m like, whoa whoa whoa, wait a minute! As disappointed as I was that Houston wasn’t on that list, I thought I needed to explain to them just what Columbus was because most of them thought it was some sleepy college town. A state capitol. They thought it was Austin (Texas). This was Austin at the time before its boom and the explosion that’s happened in the last few decades. I was like hold the fort here. Columbus is the largest city in the country without one of the big four professional sports franchises. I was going down the list of all the companies who were based there. I started selling Columbus to them. We’re still one of those up and coming cities. I think when you take a look at the number of former players that have stayed and have made their homes here, I think that speaks volumes to the quality of the community. There really is something for everybody in this city.”
Those that know Columbus and make it home know how great the city is. It is thriving. It is a destination for many young people according to several lists that come out yearly. Everyone has a fit in Columbus. Sharrock himself is originally from central Ohio so he knows all about the great experience the city is.
“And as someone that went to Ohio State, grew up in central Ohio, to see the growth of the city, particularly downtown and how Nationwide Arena and the Arena District has really transformed our community, I continue to be amazed. The city is so different from what it used to be. It’s larger, it’s more dynamic, but at the same time it hasn’t lost the small town charm that it’s always had. I don’t know of anything in my lifetime that’s been more significant or had as much impact on the city as the arena and Arena District with all of the development that has gone on with Huntingdon Park and now the new Crew Stadium coming. That’s something I still get excited about.”
Working With John Tortorella
Even coach John Tortorella is on record as saying how much he and his family love Columbus. One thing on the minds of many is what it’s like to work with Tortorella from a PR perspective. Sharrock has an honest but heartfelt answer to this.
“He can be a challenge, there’s no question about it,” Sharrock said with a laugh. “But I haven’t been around too many individuals who care as deeply about people as he does. He said to me one of the first days after he got the job ‘we’re going to have our share of disagreements. We’ll get heated with each other. But it’s never personal. And we’ll be friends for life.’ And we will be.”
Tortorella and Sharrock’s relationship is exactly that. While there are moments of disagreement, they are lifelong friends. Sharrock really enjoys working with Tortorella.
“I feel very fortunate that I’ve had the privilege to work with him. I’ve been lucky. I really have with the coaches and managers that have been here. I think I’ve had really good relationships with all of them. People always ask me why do you still do what you do? What do you still love most about your job? The best thing about this job has been the people that I get to work with everyday and the people I’ve gotten to work with over the past 20 years.”
Some Outstanding Blue Jackets
Again, it’s about the people and the relationships. Especially now, it continues to be the driving force behind keeping things together in an uncertain time. We then asked Sharrock to name a favorite of his over the years? He didn’t want to single anybody out because of how many good ones have come through Columbus, but the first player he mentioned was one of the original Blue Jackets.
“One of the guys that has always been one of my favorites was David Vyborny. He was very funny, but subtle. He was a hilarious guy, but very dry. For me, he’s probably the most underrated player in Blue Jackets history. He was a really good hockey player and just a tremendous person.”
Sharrock went on to mention a number of others such as current Blue Jackets Nick Foligno, who he said was as good a captain as he’s ever been around, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones and inaugural team members Tyler Wright, Ron Tugnutt and Lyle Odelein. But another player who will always stick out for him is Rick Nash.
“Obviously Rick Nash is as good as they come. I’ve known him since he was 18. Just to see his growth from an 18-year-old kid, who when he first did interviews was very shy and withdrawn to the man he is today with a tremendous hockey resume. Now he’s married, a family man, and working in management. He’s just an all-around good person.”
A Funny Draft Story
When asked to relate a funny story from his 20 years with the club, Sharrock thinks back to a time that he feared he might lose his job fairly early in his tenure. Looking back now, he chuckles at this story, but in the moment, he was as terrified as he’s ever been. Let him tell you his story from one of his first NHL drafts.
“Before every draft, we get nameplates done of potential picks and we may have 40-50 because you never know where the draft could go until you get there. The PR reps bring a big bag to the table with jerseys, nameplates and hats for the kids. Typically you get a handful of jerseys with velcro strips on the back, so you can then fix the nameplates to them for your first round pick. I’ve always joked that the most stressful part of the draft for me is as soon as I find out who we’re picking I have to get the nameplate and put it on a jersey neatly and centered and I have to do this conspicuously with the jersey under the table because you don’t want the cameras there to see what player you’re taking before the announcement. One of our first few drafts, I can’t remember which, but it was our second or third, I checked the bag when we got to the arena and there were no jerseys with velcro strips on the back. I’m going ‘Oh man, this is bad!’ We can’t be the only team with a first round pick that doesn’t have his name on a jersey. So Jason Rothwell, who was on the PR staff at the time, and I went all over the building trying to find any type of Velcro stickers we could find. We ended up getting some of those circled dots and other small pieces that would work. We had probably 10-12 of them and positioned them on the back of the jersey and just prayed that once we got the nameplate on it would hold for the next few hours. It doesn’t seem like much, it was the absolute most terrifying moment of my career to that point because if we hadn’t figured it out, I was sure I was getting fired. But, we found the pieces of Velcro, got the nameplate on and I’m still employed to this day.”
See, even the best make mistakes. But luckily for Sharrock, that night worked out for him and the team.
Sharrock’s Major League Nephew
It’s not often you run into someone who has a nephew who’s signed a Major League Baseball contract. Well Sharrock’s nephew Evan White has done just that. White, who grew up in the Columbus suburb of Gahanna, is an up and coming first baseman. Sharrock couldn’t be any prouder for the way his nephew has handled everything.
“First and foremost, the thing I’m most proud of is that he’s a really good person,” said Sharrock. “He’s just an unbelievable guy. He’s really grounded. He treats people the right way. I met Rick Rizzs, who is the longtime Mariners radio play-by-play guy, when I was out in California last year for vacation. I was at a Mariners-Angels game and was visiting with Terry Smith, the Angels broadcaster who used to call Ohio State football and basketball. Terry introduced me to Rick and he just raved about the quality of person that Evan is and how excited the organization is about him. He is set to be their starting first baseman when baseball returns and as awesome as that is, I think the most surreal thing was I bought and downloaded MLB the Show 20 and he’s in it. That’s how I’ve been trying to get my baseball fix in. I’ll try to get on and play that game a few days a week. Obviously, I move him up in the lineup. They have him batting seventh or eighth and I move him up to third.”
Now that’s a good uncle.
Sharrock’s Proudest Moment
Sharrock has had the privilege of experiencing many things over the years. We asked him what he is most proud of during his time.
“I just think the growth of the franchise, particularly in the second decade of our existence,” Sharrock said. “It was tough sledding early on from a wins and losses perspective, but our fan support stayed strong and to see the way the team has improved to really become an elite team in this league. We haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet, but when it comes to consistent winning over the past seven seasons there haven’t been too many teams better or more consistent than the Blue Jackets and I’m really proud of that. I’m proud of the impact that we’ve made in the community. This was a priority for Mr. Mac when he founded the team and continues to be important to John P. (McConnell) and to everybody within our organization. I can remember at the start when we were still explaining to people what we were and who we were to today when you go out anywhere and there are people wearing Blue Jackets apparel. That may not seem like much, but for those of us who were here at the start when there really wasn’t a whole lot of that, it’s really been rewarding to see how this franchise has become woven into the fabric of the community.”
The Blue Jackets today are a huge part of Columbus, not only in Columbus but nationwide. This team has come a long way in 20 years to make themselves an important part of the culture in the city. Sharrock has done more than his part in order to make this happen. His nickname is “Rock”. Yes it’s part of his last name but it also signifies something much more meaningful. He’s one of the bedrocks of the Blue Jackets and is a major reason why the team is well respected around the league. Just ask anyone that knows him.
Congratulations to Sharrock on his 20 years with the Blue Jackets and everything he has accomplished. He is far from done and the best is yet to come for him and the team he works for.