Steve Griggs powered through crisis with positivity

Steve Griggs’ first question to a recent interviewer was, “How are you and your family doing?”

This interview took place in June. The day before the Lightning practice arena reopened after three members of the team tested positive for COVID-19.

Yet, his first question was to ask about the family of someone he had never spoken to before that day. It’s a testament to his character and leadership style.

Steve Griggs (Tampa Bay Lightning Photo/Scott Audette)

Griggs, a Canadian-born sports business industry veteran, has built a reputation for successfully building up sports teams’ brands through the years.

“It’s all about how you treat people,” Griggs says. “It’s the culture of family that allows us to also extend that to our fans, our sponsors and the community.”

Griggs started in the sports business game in ticket sales for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and, through strong mentorship, elevated in his career to vice president, sales and service for Minnesota Sports and Entertainment, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Orlando Magic, eventually finding his way to Tampa becoming first chief operating officer, and eventually, CEO and president of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“You take the opportunity in front of you,” Griggs says. “I was blessed to have great bosses. I tried to be a good student.”

One of those bosses is former CEO of the Lightning Tod Leiweke, who is now CEO, and team president, for the Seattle NHL team.

He says he learned about culture and creating a positive organization committed to the community and to fans, from Leiweke.

“I learned how to create the right vision, assemble the right staff and how to talk the talk and walk the walk,” he says.

This directly helped him lead through the current crisis.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as most of us were driving ourselves insane with counting the days, Griggs wanted a more forward-thinking approach so he started looking at the weeks passed as “phases.” For example, Phase 1, week 1.

“It changes the mindset. We’re looking forward,” Griggs says. “Everyone is watching. I have to show hope and transparency. Be truthful and authentic.”

As everyone has struggled in their own ways with working from home, feeling isolated or even scared, sports teams are a unique breed of industry. They are centered around a team spirit and thrive on the excitement and stress of the game. They celebrate together when things are good and lean on each other when things are bad.

In 2020, it’s a contactless world. Tough on such a team-oriented operation.

“Our communication has gotten better, believe it or not,” Griggs says. “Mental health has been a big focus. Making sure we have our people fully engaged.”

The team took the opportunity to immediately shift gears and look at how they could directly support the needs of the community, and fast.

At Amalie Arena, 3,000 meals were made every day and donated to Feeding Tampa Bay. In addition to the huge financial commitment to Metropolitan Ministries, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik also decided to use marketing assets leased by the Lightning, like digital billboards, to direct people to local organizations to get help.

“We get to work for Jeff Vinik, so every day we come to work saying we have to do the right thing,” Griggs says. “We’re committed to the community.”

The volunteer program also helped out with Meals on Wheels, writing get-well cards and organizing teacher clap outs.

“We wanted to make people feel good during a time of despair,” he says.

For now, while things are still up and down, and we are all managing, Griggs stays positive.

He believes the team will be able to enter back into the arena in July and will partake in the playoff hub. The team has even put a new spin on their “Be the Thunder” campaign for the playoffs: “Be the Distant Thunder.”

The Lightning team, and staff, no doubt miss their fans, miss the roar of the crowd and the delight that those winning games bring. But for now, we will all have to be a little distant. But still like thunder. It’s the Lightning way.

“We are an organization that unites people,” Griggs says.

Even if it’s from a distance, for now. ♦

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