TJ LaMendola has been with the Columbus Blue Jackets since 1999, when the Ohio city was selected as one of four for an expansion National Hockey League team. He joined the front office as the finance director right after graduating from Miami University with his accounting degree. By 2001, he was named CFO.
“The best part of my job is I get to come to work and watch hockey,” LaMendola told Columbus Business First as a 2019 C-Suite Awards honoree. “The people I work with are as passionate in their jobs as I have ever seen.”
While his role oversees the financial department, LaMendola was in charge of building operations up until 2012, when they started solely focusing on the team side of finances. Some of his early 2020 initiatives focused on ticket sales, promotion and branding, and playoff budgeting—a tricky thing to account for given the team could play anywhere.
On March 11, 2020, in response to the upcoming COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings, the Blue Jackets made the unprecedented move for home games to be played without the general public in Nationwide Arena.
“We’re used to playing in front of a really loud crowd here especially, but if you ask anybody, we just want to play,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno told the Jackets Insider. “We’re just excited about getting an opportunity to continue this playoff hunt that we’re on.”
Blue Jackets Hockey Highlights
Five Stanley Cup Playoff appearances: 2009, 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2019
Own the second-longest winning streak in NHL history: 16 games from November 29, 2017, to January 3, 2018
Average 16,000+ fans per game (regular season and playoffs) since 2000
Source: Columbus Blue Jackets
But on March 12, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the 2019-20 regular season would be paused with 189 games remaining. “Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup,” Bettman said in a statement.
While COVID-19 paused the Blue Jackets’ chance at the playoffs, the Blue Jackets Foundation continues to make an impact on the Columbus community. The foundation, which LaMendola works closely with, is dedicated to the health and wellness of children in central Ohio. Since the team’s inception, the foundation has provided more than $11.4 million to organizations making a difference in pediatric cancer, reading, fitness through play, and the growth and development of amateur hockey.
Public address announcer Greg Murray started to record videos for fans through the website Cameo, donating the proceeds to the foundation. “We were very unceremoniously and very quickly cut off from each other a couple of weeks ago, and it’s just like, man, there’s something missing,” Murray told the Jackets Insider. “I thought, what a great way to connect with fans when we can’t really connect. . . . The fans in this city, they are the best fans you could ever ask for. They are so passionate about this team.”
That passion is something LaMendola looks for whenever he is hiring new members for his finance team. His favorite question to ask is, why do you want to work for the Columbus Blue Jackets? “It tells me if the candidate is truly a fan of the team and the sport of hockey or is just looking at this job opportunity as a stepping-stone into something else in sports,” he tells Columbus Business First. “I’m looking for a good mix of both a professional and a fan.”
On July 10, 2020, the NHL Board of Governors and NHL Players Association announced that the league and its players ratified the proposed return-to-play plan to pave the way for a summer battle for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As part of the NHL’s phased plan, Blue Jackets players returned to the ice in early June for voluntary workouts, and then thirty-three players rejoined training by early July. At press time, the Blue Jackets were set to start a playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs on August 2.
LaMendola and his finance team will be ready.
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