By Bob Johnston
June 9, 2020

St. Louis Blues CEO – Chris Zimmerman

I bet you never thought about it, but here’s a question to ponder...What lessons can business leaders glean from the current Stanley Cup holders? Aside from having exceptional leadership abilities, the most successful sports team CEOs and players share traits and behaviors that serve them well, on and off the ice, and throughout the duration of their careers. As frontmen and frontwomen, strong leadership is critical for overall brand and team success. Given that every business is some kind of team sport, I’m pretty sure we can all learn something here.

In my latest podcast, Chris Zimmerman, CEO of the St. Louis Blues, shares his 30+ years of experience in sports, marketing, and business management. Chris cut his teeth in advertising at Saatchi & Saatchi. He went on to hold various C-level positions at Nike, and subsequently served as President/CEO of the Vancouver Canucks. Chris also served as President of Easton Sports before joining the Blues.

Chris breaks down the ways that any brand can thrive on trust and behavior. He reflects on his time as a player and coach, and the importance of being “coachable." We also talk about the fine art of ”storytelling," and how Chris used it at Nike when the brand engaged with Tiger Woods.

Plus, you’ll hear the amazing story of how the Blues went from being in last place, alllllll the way to winning the Stanley Cup!

Prior to the Blues, Chris served as CEO of the Vancouver Canucks. Before the Canucks, he was with Nike for 11 years as North America Advertising Director and helped fuel a period of dramatic growth for the Nike brand. He was then named General Manager of Nike Golf where he played a key role in repositioning the business by entering new product categories and leveraging relationships with Tiger Woods and the PGA Tour. In 2003, Zimmerman took charge of Nike's hockey business as President and CEO of Nike Bauer Hockey, leading a dramatic turnaround that returned Bauer to the top spot in the hockey equipment industry.

Zimmerman began his career with Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the world's top advertising agencies. During his 12-year tenure, he worked on marketing brands and growing revenues for such companies as Procter & Gamble, Nabisco, Tyson Foods, and Wendy's. He was also a member of the agency's Operating Board.

Over the last four years, Zimmerman served as President of Easton Sports (a leading supplier of baseball and hockey equipment), was a member of the Los Angeles Kings' Business Advisory Group, and operated his own strategic consulting business.

Zimmerman played hockey at the University of Vermont, and he served as an assistant hockey coach at Babson College while working toward his MBA there.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Castbox, or your preferred podcast platform.

Storytelling is a key attribute of who we are and how to get people engaged; we bring fans content that is truly developed and different"
– on driving down costs so that space travel will be accessible to the masses
Franchise players are multi-generational and greatly skilled"
– on the fact that Bobby Orr would be just as successful now as during his prime

6:15 Minute Marker
Learnings from being a player at UVM and then coaching at Babson College
Grew up outside NYC

On the importance of being coached
Has helped athletes develop

Role of mentorship
High School coach had profound impact on him as a young man and still in touch today
Seek firs to understand, then to be understood – advice from his Saatchi & Saatchi days

Level of play and skill being totally insane nowadays vs. 20 years ago
Would Bobby Orr have been a franchise player now?
Franchise players are multi-generational and greatly skilled; some of this is training and coaching

No more multi-sport athletes; kids now are single-sport athletes who put in their proverbial “10,000 hours” as quickly as they can

Demands to compete at highest level are greater now; players went to training camp to get in shape years ago. Not the case now – they remain at a high level all year.
There is no off-season

Importance of winning a Stanley Cup for team, players and St. Louis
Coming from last place to win was an underdog is reminiscent of Red Sox finally winning World Series

Prior years of work led up to the Cup; ownership set a strong foundation

Fan engagement includes getting more kids involved
Involving fans at all times of the year

Rank in top 5 in the NHL on social media
If you ranked based on market size, they’d rank 21st
High numbers attributed to St. Louis being a great sports town; if you give back to the community, it will come back to you
Team has momentum too
Storytelling is a key attribute of who they are to get people engaged; bring the content that is developed and different

Fan loyalty
Sports team is like a brand
Brand thrives on trust and how you behave

Share pride with other St. Louis sports teams; rises all boats

Accessibility of players is key to community

Future of the game – the way it’s getting presented will continue to evolve
On trend for engaging a younger audience
Sport growing around world

Participation matters – get young kids to skas and you win over a family
Also put up five new ice rinks in past year in St. Louis

Gets his news from Sports Business Journal, The Athletic (great in-depth stories)
Axios Sports

Use of social media
Likes Twitter as a news source and to get different opinions
Uses Twitter as a unifying force and sharing his or team’s values