Keira Emerson isn’t ashamed to admit it: before she landed with the St. Louis Blues, she was a casual hockey fan, at best. But who could possibly blame her? For the first decade of her professional life, not to mention throughout her entire childhood, she’d been caught in baseball’s orbit. It was her passion. She dreamt of the diamond. And, frankly, there wasn’t time for much else.
“There are so many baseball games that I wasn't really thinking too much outside of the baseball world at the time,” Emerson said. “I obviously had a lot of respect for (hockey), but I didn't have that much insight into it before making the move.”
What Emerson had, however, was a wealth of knowledge from her 10 years in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ front office. Bat and ball or puck and stick, Emerson was still in the business of sport, whether that meant trying to fill the mammoth Dodger Stadium or pack the house at Enterprise Center. The only real difference was the size of the market and the fandom. In baseball-mad St. Louis, where the MLB’s Cardinals are as much a religion as a ball team, Emerson wanted to find a way to begin bring those same fans to the church of hockey. And that what she's doing as the Blues' vice president of strategy and business intelligence.
“That's been a goal of mine and a goal of ours since I joined, and I'm very proud to say that we've converted a lot of those people that may have occasionally watched a hockey game to now attending and wearing Blues gear,” Emerson said. “One of my favourite things to see is the increase in people wearing Blues gear as you walk around the city versus when I first moved here.”
True, Emerson and Co. have had some good fortune – a Stanley Cup victory tends to breed new fans – but what shouldn’t be overlooked are the inherent challenges born out of on-ice success. Sold-out buildings don’t always lend themselves to new or casual fans finding seats. Without the live experience, transforming those first-timers into lasting supporters is far more difficult. And failing to strike when the championship iron is hot can mean missing the window to create fans with lifelong connections to the club.
“That’s the part where we have to get really creative and make sure we're holding onto those fans, since obviously most teams don't repeat every year,” Emerson said. “Taking advantage of those opportunities is sometimes harder than you'd think.”
If anyone is up for a challenge, though, it’s Emerson, who left a stable post, moved half a country away, entered a new sport and did so at a time when St. Louis wasn’t exactly teeming with female executives. In fact, when hired, she was often the only woman at the table. But changing that is also what drives her. Naturally shy, she’s forced herself out of her shell, forced herself to speak up and have her voice heard and forced herself to express her ideas. Already, the path she’s helped carve has paid some dividends. She’s seen the landscape change over her past 15 years in professional sports, and even in St. Louis, she’s watched as more women have risen to mid-level management and is no longer the only female executive.
Have there been naysayers along the way? Surely, but Emerson isn’t listening.
“Yes, it's true, I did not play baseball. Yes, it's true, I did not play hockey. But that doesn't mean that I don't know the business side of things,” she said. “So trying to get past that, whether it’s coming externally or internally, and being able to push through and keep striving, even though I often still am the only woman in a room, is important to me so that I can be a good representative for the people that are coming behind me.”