How to Create and Energize a Fan Base
Building a Community of Engaged Customers, Stakeholders, and Employees with Tod Leiweke
I was super excited to sit down with Tod Leiweke, the first CEO of NHL Seattle, just a week before Seattle was awarded its new NHL franchise today.
As a former professional hockey player and an avid fan, hearing Tod’s plan on how he’s going to make Seattle a world-class hockey city is very exciting for me. His past successes of building teams, creating fan bases, engaging with stakeholders, and giving back to the community is something we can all learn from and use in our daily lives.
Tod has an incredible sports history. He has more than 30 years of executive experience in the NBA, NHL, PGA, and MLS organizations, and before he came back to Seattle, he was the chief operating officer of the NFL. Tod’s track record includes leading the Seattle Seahawks to the franchise’s first ever NFL Super Bowl appearance in 2006 and taking the Tampa Bay Lightning to the NHL Stanley Cup Finals in 2015.
It’s an exciting time for Tod, the NHL and, of course, hockey fans in Seattle. Being from Canada, this news is definitely the highlight of my month, and I could think of no one better to help answer the Todd Talks question: How do you create and energize a fan base to grow your business, brand, and culture?
Throughout his career, Tod has developed a reputation for building outstanding management teams that have built world-class franchises. At the core of these successful franchises has been Tod’s ability to create rabid fan bases, including his establishment of the 12th Man here in Seattle, reenergizing the fan base, and resulting in 60 consecutive sellouts at CenturyLink Field. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called CenturyLink Field “a tough place to play” during last month’s game, and he wasn’t talking about the weather—he was talking about the fans.
It all starts with aligning everyone around a shared mission.
Tod shares that it is easy to win, but on any given day, half the teams lose. So, while we all want to win, other parts of a mission are important to its success. He talks in detail about three themes: creating a loyal fan base, building your brand, and making an impact on the community. He reveals one of his strategies to starting and growing his businesses has been to make every fan feel like they are stakeholders in the team and that their investment is in time and emotion, not money. In his industry of professional sports, the perfect circle is the relationship between fans and players. Fans inspire players, and when players become inspired, they further inspire the fans.
That’s the core of the relationship. Great organizations have a transparent relationship between the fans and the players, and that’s the unique connection. Think about this in your own business and the relationship between your customers and employees and how that can drive long-lasting loyalty and momentum. I see this even in business: our teams do amazing things when they feel inspired by our customers; our customers excel, and the circle keeps going.
Looking at your customers as fans also influences the type of people you hire and how you manage your team. Tod talks about how he believes honesty, morality, and authenticity are important for building out a great culture. He also values a deep commitment to serve. You really can’t go wrong when you have an inspired team who are ready to serve your stakeholders, whether that is fans, customers, partners, etc., to build something great. Tod says people don’t work for him, rather he works for everyone else, and ultimately, they all work for the fans.
Tod brings his teams’ influence as a brand far beyond the field. The communities in cities surrounding Tod’s teams feel the love, too. Community involvement is a huge factor Tod credits when I asked what makes his teams’ cultures so successful. The team is much more than just their wins or losses.
This speaks to me as an athlete, a father, and a sports fan in general. Considering the multiple ways the culture you create at a company (or in your life) affects those around you is a surefire way to build a solid foundation for any brand.
I can’t wait to see what Tod and his team create in Seattle. I know I will be counting down the days until that Canadian National Anthem rings out over the newly minted Seattle team mark.
Listen to more of my talk with Tod below.
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