The St. Louis Blues Winning off the IceBy Jessie Ferguson, Learning Experience Associate
You may have heard about the St. Louis Blues’ stunning, first franchise history, 2019 Stanley Cup victory. What you may not have heard is that more recently the Blues organization was awarded the 2020 Team of the Year title by Sports Business Journal. While the guys on the ice get most of the glory, this organization cares for over 1,000 people between the St. Louis Blues, Enterprise Center, and Stifel Theatre.
Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute is fortunate to partner with the St. Louis Blues and recently had the opportunity to sit with one of the key leaders of the Blues’ business success, the Vice President of HR, Jamie Sackman. Her genuine compassion for her people and eagerness for success is something all leaders can learn from…
Chapman & Co:
You work for the 2019 Stanley Cup champions, the St. Louis Blues. What’s that like? Do you get to skate on your lunch break? Maybe you have hype music when you walk into the office every day?
The thing that is so exciting about working for The Blues, Enterprise Center, and Stifel Theater, is the fact that on an event day (in normal circumstances), the energy you feel when you walk into the building, there’s nothing like it. I can’t even explain the excitement. It’s electrifying…I’ve worked for different industries, different organizations. There’s nothing like an event day and being part of the organization.
When we say the St. Louis Blues, most often people think about the hockey players. People who are on the team, out there on the ice. What would you want us to know about those who don’t go out on the ice every day?
I would want people to know the people that are working behind the scenes work just as hard as those guys on the ice. They sacrifice so much of their time and their personal lives, their family, holidays. Sacrificing so much to be part of the organization and all working so hard; if there’s anything I want people to know, is that it doesn’t go unnoticed. That we appreciate their sacrifices and all of their hard work.
Winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in history is such an incredible feat, but what’s it like, winning the Sport Business Team of the Year? Especially within 2020. Do you get to carry around the cup?
It was an exceptional honor for us to win that award this year. Especially given the challenges of this past year, it really picked up our spirits…Everybody is feeling down [about COVID-19] and not knowing when our new season would start. Not knowing if we’re going to play hockey…it was a big pick me up. We actually won Sports Team of the Year on September 30th and we received our Stanley Cup rings last September 30th…Which also happens to be my birthday. When we won, Chris Zimmerman (President and CEO of Business Operations), called and we talked about how we could top my birthday next year.
It has been an incredible ride to be a part of the organization and all the great things that have happened over the last few years.
What would you say contributes to winning Sports Business Team of the Year?
Well, I can tell you that every single department contributes. Ticketing, sponsorship, community, finance, operations, everybody contributes. To successfully build our business, every department needs to work together. Winning the Stanley Cup has certainly helped build attendance and sponsorship, but we were building these areas before we won the cup. We have been increasing our community outreach. Our players, their spouses, and our staff are all involved in Blues for Kids, our non for profit. Additionally, we have our youth hockey programs and helped get Centene Ice Center open and give our region one of the top facilities in the country. I feel like the organization is constantly making an impact in the community.
With so many parts of the business playing a key role in success, how have you brought the internal business teams together?
Over the last few years, we’ve initiated several new programs. One of the best programs we have introduced is our Live to Give program, which gives all members of our staff the chance to choose hands-on projects with many of our community partners. The offseason is typically when we really engage the staff in outside activities. Maybe it’s batting practice at Busch Stadium or a St. Louis Cardinals game. We also do a week of employee appreciation where we may set up basketball, when the ice is out in the summer, and have pickup games. We have “Bring Your Child to Work Day” where we create a day of activities to both have fun and have our Street Team teach the kids about hockey. We’re always trying to come up with creative ways to bring the team together and reward staff for their long days and nights in season.
What’s the biggest area of growth that you’ve seen the team and the organization accomplish?
The core of our business is our fan base. We have been able to significantly grow this group across all key metrics. Our local television ratings grew 31 percent last year and were the third highest in the NHL among US based teams. Our social channels reach over 2 million people and our fan engagement is consistently top 5 in the NHL. We sold out every game last season and we have a season ticket waiting list for the first in the team’s history. The growth of our business has allowed us to become one of the league’s premier brands and has put St. Louis in the spotlight for many of the league’s top events (Winter Classic, Stanley Cup Finals, All-Star Game).
With your responsibilities to engage and support people, this must have been a challenging year for you.
As you know, the sports and entertainment industry has been hit exceptionally hard by the global pandemic. Not being able to host fans or guests has forced us to significantly reduce our staff. The need to sideline teammates as we fight through the impact of COVID-19 has been the hardest thing I have done in my career. Our staff makes so many sacrifices. We have put programs in place to support our inactive staff. My greatest hope is that later this year we can return to full capacity at Blues games and concerts and we can return to our previous staff levels.
What’s been personally most fulfilling for you, being on this team?
I have spoken a lot about our people. I think I’m most proud of the work we’ve done to build and strengthen our culture over the last 5 years. Our goal has been to recognize the role and contributions of every employee. I believe our staff has a great sense of pride for how we contribute to the community, and in turn, the organization included everyone in the celebration of our Stanley Cup success.
The Blues have won the cup. You have won Sports Business Team of the Year. What’s next? Do you get an Emmy?
This is really funny. We’ve actually won a few Emmys. Our Blue Note Productions group has won several Emmys for their outstanding story telling. *Interviewer’s jaw drops and is embarrassed she didn’t do more research…* Okay, tell me more.
Blue Note Productions, which is our internal production. They do all the videos, interviews, and also create a lot of the in-game entertainment, when you attend a Blues game. They won two Emmys in 2018, and they won three Emmys in 2019.
Forgive me, you have won a Stanley Cup. You have won Business Team of the Year. You have won an Emmy. Now what?
Honestly, the big challenge for us is to keep winning major events for St. Louis. It’s more than the St. Louis Blues. NCAA Wrestling is coming in March, USA Gymnastics is coming in June…It’s about attracting these events to the city of St. Louis. Making the city vibrant again and filling up the restaurants and hotels. It’s more than getting the Blues back on the ice and having concerts, it really is about the community and how we’re able to bring worldwide events, bringing together people from all over the world, right here in the city of St. Louis.