By Jim Baer
The date is May 28, 2008, and the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa
Senators are battling for the National Hockey League’s Stanley
Cup. Chris Kerber, the radio voice of the Blues, is counting
the game down:
“There are just seconds to go…Manny Legace clears the puck from
behind the net… passes it to Erik Johnson who blasts it along
the boards to the blue line. Three, two, one… the game is over
and you can bring out the Stanley Cup! The St. Louis Blues have
WON the Stanley Cup as delirious teammates swarm the ice and
start the celebration.”
This may be fiction, but it could happen to our fair city. We
could win the Stanley Cup for the first time in 40 years, and
it could be sooner than later.
It will take a great visionary leader to lead the team out of
the wilderness, and that person is sports’ highly recognized
team owner Dave Checketts, who brings to St. Louis an orderly
plan, with passion and vision, that will put fans back in the
seats and wins on the scoreboard. The right management team
is firmly in place to make all this happen.
So, is Checketts really a famous team owner? Is he known worldwide?
Here are some examples of his hard-earned status:
Checketts was doing advance work for the National Basketball
Association (NBA) in Japan a number of years ago. A curious
fan came up, scratched his chin and said “Aren’t you Michael
Now, it’s hard to confuse Checketts at 6-foot-5 with Michael
J. Fox who stands all of 5-foot-6 wearing platformed shoes.
Another time, Checketts was with his family on a very solemn
visit to the Holy Land and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Displaying
the deepest of reverence, Checketts was paying homage at the
site where the oldest religions in the world come together.
Just at that very moment at the wall, a guy came up to him,
poked an elbow into his ribs, and said: “Hey, what’d we gonna
do about those (New York) Knicks?”
Checketts can hardly hide, whether in Japan, back home in Connecticut,
walking the wide boulevards of Salt Lake City, or even strolling
down Madison Avenue in New York City. As a matter of fact, recently
he was on one of those Manhattan strolls on a pleasant spring
day when he bumped into his fellow St. Louisan and good friend
Bob Costas. And now, Checketts—world traveler and recognized
entrepreneur extraordinaire— has become a focal point of local
sports as principal owner of the St. Louis Blues and Scottrade
On June 30, 2006, SCP Worldwide closed ownership of the Blues.
SCP is a growing sports, entertainment and media company founded
in 2002. A hallowed and beloved 40-year-old franchise was, well,
in somewhat of disarray.
But that’s just a perfect challenge for SCP Worldwide. The international
firm takes perfect storms and creates orderly results.
The Blues’ new team president, legendary goalie and National
Hockey League announcer John Davidson, clearly states the challenge
is rebuilding the Blues—one brick at a time. His goal is to
win back fans—one fan at a time.
Checketts thrives on passion and a burning desire to have the
partners names etched into Lord Stanley’s Cup. It’s one thing
to amass all the riches in the world, and another to float around
the arena ice, hoisting that cup for the world to see.
“There is passion for our St. Louis Cardinals, and we need that
same kind of passion for our Blues,” says Checketts. “We need
Scottrade Center rocking and full. We need to restore pride
to our proud franchise,” he says, not mincing a single word.
Owning sports teams is nothing new for the 51-year-old New Yorker.
At the tender age of 28, he became president and general manager
of the Utah Jazz, making him the youngest chief executive in
NBA history. He became president of the New York Knicks in 1991,
and he went on to become president and CEO of Madison Square
Garden, the company that owns the New York Rangers, New York
Knicks, and the New York Liberty of the WNBA. In 1997, MSG acquired
Radio City Music Hall and rebuilt it on a $70 million dollar
Owning the local hockey team is just a notch of a long string
of enterprises directed by Checketts and SCP Worldwide.
Checketts is particularly big on that “vision thing.”
From the executive quarters at the Pointe 400 building downtown
(the refurbished Pet Milk Building) he can gaze at the right
field side of Busch Stadium, peer over the top to see a portion
of the Scottrade Center, and look east overlooking the Mississippi
From here, critical meetings with staff, coaches, executives
and movers and shakers are held on the top floor of a two-story
luxury apartment decorated by Checketts’ wife Deb. Nothing on
the walls or counters would suggest this is the home of a transplanted
New Yorker. From the framed Manny Legace print to a bowl of
Blues-logoed hockey pucks, and from the “Note By Note” coffee
table book to the Blue Note emblem etched into the spiral staircase
railing, the appointments are clearly all about the St. Louis
And, as his long-term lease in Pointe 400 proves, Checketts
is a firm believer in downtown St. Louis’ future, and the role
the Blues and Scottrade Center will play in its continuing revitalization.
“Everyone is pulling for us,” Checketts says. “I was having
dinner at Tony’s and the owner (Vince Bommarito) came by our
table to wish us best of luck.” Put the luck aside, success
is coming mainly from roll-up-the-sleeves, blue collar-styled
This past May 10, the Blues hosted a cocktail party for prospective
season ticket buyers. Fans got to mingle with the likes of Davidson,
Bryce Salvador, Bernie Federko and Bob Plager and try out their
seats. From all accounts, the sales day event was a huge success
and season ticket sales are once again bustling after several
years of malaise.
Checketts now has his sights clearly set on corporate support
and tabbed a local businessman, Tom Stillman, as the team’s
new minority owner to help make that happen.
“Corporate support, that’s key to me,” Checketts says. “The
fans are coming back. We’re filling the upper bowl with the
‘face painters’ and now we need corporate help to pack the lower
bowl. We are reaching out to business people and companies of
all sizes to introduce them to the new St. Louis Blues, and
showing them why buying a season ticket package or becoming
a sponsor or corporate partner makes sense.
“I assure you of this—we are going to deliver an excellent return
on the investment by the business sector in St. Louis. We’re
on the rise as a hockey team, the game-night experience in Scottrade
Center will be unequaled, and we’re committed to partnership
with our corporate community. We expect success in all facets
of our operation, and that should be exactly what our business
partners want to hear. Whether a company has a marketing package
or four club seats for employees and clients, we will be a terrific
Ken Munoz, one of his two major SCP partners, has been associated
with Checketts going on 17 years and believes in Checketts’
promise to deliver. “Dave is just a good friend, and this whole
thing is all about being entrepreneurial,” he says. “When we
walk around, I’m always looking down to see what we’re stepping
into, and Dave is always looking up to see what’s ahead.”
Munoz says the key to success is having multiple revenue streams
from which to draw. The owners did a quick due diligence of
team finances when considering the purchase, and made a rapid
deal when they realized the stars were all lined up properly.
“We have revenues coming from various sources. We get the concessions,
the ticket sales, the advertising, the broadcast rights; it
all helps us to be potentially successful,” says Munoz. “What
is really required is for the Blues to be a big part of the
fabric of the City. St. Louis is a great sports town and the
Blues fit right in.”
Mike McCarthy, Checketts’ other major partner, agrees.
“St. Louis is a helluva sports town,” McCarthy says. “You give
the fans a product and they will come out and support your team.
Attendance has always been good with the Blues. You only have
to go back five years, not 40 years, to see big crowds night
McCarthy points to Scottrade Center as an impressive home for
all-around entertainment. “St. Louis is the seventh largest
market in the country in terms of entertainment,” he notes,
“and, in population count, we are 17th overall.”
The John Davidson Factor
The partnership needed the perfect executive to run the team.
Not just anyone would do. Their man was the Rangers’ great—and
popular—goaltender John Davidson.
Davidson revealed that he came to St. Louis for exactly one
reason—admiration for Dave Checketts. “It’s a trust/value thing.
My wife and daughters know the Checketts family well. We are
all good friends.”
“I could still be back in New York and I could still be in the
broadcast booth,” says the new president. Davidson had what
was considered near-perfect job security as an NHL announcer
and broadcaster for the New York Rangers. He could always make
tee time every afternoon during his off-season summers.
But he’s been in the game of hockey for 35 years without ever
having his name etched on the cup.
“I see a lot of upside to owning this team,” says Davidson.
“Dave and his team think big and the team is very important
to downtown St. Louis. This team (SCP) owns entertainment properties
all over the world and Dave is a very likeable guy. His presence
is extraordinary. He relies on good people to make things happen.
He’s not a ‘do it my way’ type of guy.
“We are turning this thing around, and we are turning it around
The moves made by the franchise owners speak volumes. For one,
they hired Anheuser-Busch sports and media executive Peter McLoughlin
to run all operations outside of actual team management in the
capacity of CEO of Blues Enterprises. Getting Andy Murray to
coach the team was still another major step forward. What looked
like a hopeless season almost ended in a playoff berth this
Furthermore, the team is investing heavily in Peoria, their
American Hockey League player development franchise, and they
have become very competitive.
Checketts says there’s much work still to be done.
For one thing, ownership stumbled out the gate, prematurely
upping season ticket prices. A howling outcry by loyal fans
quickly dashed that plan with an apology by the management team
and the lowering of prices. Fans can still get into single games
for as little as $7 a ticket at season prices.
“We are starting to establish a pipeline of talent and we have
what we think is a recipe for success. We’ve made physical improvements
to the building (new display board and new message ribbons and
refurbished locker rooms.) We are crafting our message and we
are putting together all kinds of promotions for next year,”
says Checketts. “The arrival of 6-foot-5 defenseman Erik Johnson
from the University of Minnesota (last year’s No. 1 overall
NHL draft selection) has excited everyone.”
Media interest could not be stronger. Checketts is perfectly
satisfied with the television work done by Fox Sports Net Midwest
and KPLR CW 11, and the new contract with 50,000 watt KMOX Radio
will put radio listenership into nine states on any given night.
What will the future bring?
Don’t laugh. St. Louis could get NBA basketball. As McCarthy
points out: “Dave has such strong connections to the commissioner
(David Stern) and the league in general that getting a pro basketball
franchise here is always a possibility.” Scottrade Center clearly
needs more tenants with the Saint Louis University Billikens
moving to an on-campus arena in 2008.
Another opportunity is reopening the historic Kiel Opera House.
As both Checketts and McCarthy pointed out, they amassed $70
million and put Radio City Music Hall back in full operation.
For now, Checketts says identifying resources will be the first
step towards re-opening the Opera House. He estimates the project
to cost anywhere from $30 to $40 million.
Is there more? Sure, why not. Checketts and SCP Worldwide own
the Real Salt Lake club in Major League Soccer, and are solidly
supporting the efforts of Jeff Cooper and his St. Louis Soccer
United group to bring an MLS expansion team to the St. Louis
region. “St. Louis is a great soccer town and has a great legacy,”
says McCarthy, “and Jeff Cooper is a friend of ours.”
For now, however, emphasis on the Blues’ operation is the focal
point for the future. As McCarthy says: “Employees are now re-energized
and we feel good about the direction we are headed.”
Checketts wants the building full every single night, and he
wants all the corporate suites sold. McLoughlin has set a personal
goal of upping season tickets by a resounding 30 percent.
“It’s all about supply and demand,” Checketts says. “Previous
ownership (the Lauries) claimed the building was just too large.
We don’t see it that way. What we need to do is deliver a winning
product. We need to finally give St. Louis a Stanley Cup winner.”
Checketts is an accomplished entrepreneur, a man with a plan
and the vision to to pull it off. When he strolls down the street,
he stands tall and erect, always striding forward. He knows precisely
where he wants to go and has the road map to get him there.