By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – Toby Jeffreys is the majority owner of the Gwinnett Gladiators professional hockey team and was part of the group that moved the ECHL membership from Mobile, Ala.
Jeffreys started as a corporate sponsor and season-ticket holder of the Mobile Mysticks. He joined the Mysticks ownership group in 1998 and is also a minority owner of the Mobile BayBears, the Southern League baseball affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. An entrepreneur, Jeffreys is currently involved in several strategic investments and projects. The Newnan resident also has prior ownership in a charter jet company, real estate and over 25 years in a family-owned steel service center.
Jeffreys talks with staff writer Christine Troyke about seeing hockey live for the first time, becoming an owner and meeting his wife in this installment of “Getting to know ….”
CT: Are you a native Southerner?
TJ: Yes. Born in Birmingham, Alabama. Moved to Mobile, Alabama, when I was 3 years old. I don’t remember the move.
CT: Off to college at …?
TJ: Southern Mississippi. Before Brett Favre.
CT: Those were the good days.
TJ: Yeah. But we had some pretty good days when I was there. I went to school with (longtime Cleveland Brown) Hanford Dixon.
CT: So what was your first experience with hockey?
TJ: I watched a little bit growing up on TV. I seem to remember the Blackhawks some, remember the Bruins. I got one of those table-top rod hockey games for Christmas. I had a couple of fraternity brothers in college that were from Chicago, so they started talking about it.
I had never seen a live game until it came to Mobile, Ala., back in ’95.
CT: Did you go to the first game?
TJ: Yes. I was the second person (General manager) Steve Chapman ever met in Mobile – as far as season ticket holders.
CT: So you bought season tickets as soon as the Mysticks said they were going to be there?
TJ: Yep. That and our company at the time was a corporate sponsor.
CT: Which company was that?
TJ: Jeffreys Steel Company. Four (tickets) on the ice and four up top.
CT: Nice. You must have struck quite a bargain with (Chapman).
TJ: No. I just didn’t know any better. He said, you need to sit up here some and down there some. I said, “OK, we’ll do it.”
CT: When you saw hockey live did you go, “Oh, it’s so much better live than I had seen on TV?”
TJ: Playing baseball and a little bit of football and basketball growing up and then being a trainer in college, then seeing this game, it was just absolutely unbelievable.
One thing, when the Mysticks were announced and two friends of mine wanted to get involved, they invited me to a booster club meeting. They didn’t show up. I showed up to the booster club meeting, get elected to the board, never seeing a hockey game before.
So I kind of got involved at a real early stage of the thing.
CT: How did that turn into ownership?
TJ: That turned into ownership from being a fan for three or four years. Eric Margenau, who then owned the Mysticks, was bringing in a double A baseball team. So through my sponsorship, they wanted local ownership in Mobile. So I got invited to come to one of those meetings to get involved with that group and bought into the baseball.
Then, when Eric wanted to sell (the Mysticks), myself and two other gentlemen ended up stepping up and buying the hockey team.
CT: What’s your “real” job, the one that allows you to be a minor league sports owner?
TJ: I worked 27 years in the family business, the steel company. Worked there right out of college. Then back in ’97, we had the opportunity to roll up into a public company – we were a private company. Through that, I ended up selling some of my units. From there, I worked with them for about two years, then went to pursue other interests.
CT: So are you completely out of that business?
TJ: Yes, totally out of that. Basically I kind of oversee the family investments and oversee the hockey operations. And I’ve done some investing in other LLC’s and other companies.
CT: Do you still have interest in the baseball team in Mobile?
TJ: I’ve got a small share. Once I moved up here, it just so happened at that time Mike Savit ended up buying the majority of that. It created a sell opportunity, so when I was moving, I sold (all but a small percentage).
CT: How did it work out with the move here? What was first, the team moving or you moving?
TJ: The team moved first. We decided we would start pursuing other (places for the team). Prior to our year of knowing it was our last year, we kind of went back and threw it out there that we had to step it up, if we don’t have 1,200 or 1,500 season tickets sold, we’re going to have to start looking at other interests.
Low and behold that winter, Preston (Williams, general manager of the Gwinnett Center) … came to the All-Star Game in Arkansas and put out an RFP (request for proposal). (Chapman) said, “This is where we’re going.”
We started thinking about it hard then. But we still have a season to finish. I wasn’t planning on moving until I had kind of burned out some options in Mobile. My father and I looked for a lot of other things to do. When that didn’t work out, I went in to my dad and said, “I’m going to move. I need something fresh.”
CT: What was the hardest part about leaving Mobile for Gwinnett?
TJ: My dad. I had family there.
CT: How did you decide on where you’re living, especially knowing the team was in Gwinnett?
TJ: My wife (Vicki) previously taught school in Newnan, before we met. And she’s from southwest Georgia, from Dawson, Ga., which is near Albany. At the time, she was having some medical problems with her eyes and couldn’t do a lot of driving at night. So we stayed south of the city. She had friends there.
And it was closer than driving five hours from Mobile.
CT: Your son, how do you spell his name?
TJ: M-a-d-d-u-x. After Greg Maddux. My wife and I met at a Braves game. Greg wasn’t part of the team then. It was either Brett (for Favre) or Maddux. And we thought Maddux was so unique for a boy, that we ran with that.
CT: Did you go to the Braves game as your first date, or did you actually meet there?
TJ: It was a friend of a friend that introduced us. She had brought her along and I was just hanging out with the guys. Just got introduced – and it worked out well.