For fans of the Nashville Predators, it’s easy to see the organizational changes the club makes on the ice from season to season. What may not be as visible are the changes taking place within the Preds front office in a constant effort to improve the organization in all facets.
Just as the Predators coaches and players are preparing for another season, those in the club’s front office are doing the same, with a number of shifts and promotions occurring in time for the 2016-17 campaign.
Two of the individuals involved in the recent changes are Gerry Helper, transitioning to a senior vice president and senior advisor role, and Chris Junghans, recently named the club’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer. Both Junghans – who is beginning his 14th season with the organization – and Helper, a Day One employee of the Preds, have been through it all. Now, they both agree the best days are ahead for the Predators.
“To look at what we came here with, and it was a piece of paper… I don’t know that if you turn the clock back 20 years ago, you would have forecast this,” Helper said. “You would’ve hoped for it, but you couldn’t have been certain it would play out this way. When you take it step by step, the ups and downs, I really do believe that it was the ups and downs that have put us in the position we are in today. The fans that have been with us from Day One, they’re well known and very visible, I think they are so much further engaged with us as a result of having gone through it all, than if it had been clear sailing all along.”
“It’s hard when you’re in the moment to sit back and go, ‘wow,’” Junghans said. “You don’t get a chance to do that a lot in this business. But right now, I’m thinking back, and we’ve come a long way. And then the city itself too, it’s had great leadership from both the business and the community. It’s been fantastic, and what this city’s doing, it’s aided in the team’s growth for sure. It’s been awesome.”
Helper, who began his career in the game in 1979 with the Buffalo Sabres, has held a position with the NHL or one of its member clubs ever since. That includes what has been his final stop, landing in Nashville in October of 1997 to begin the journey with the expansion Predators.
From ownership transitions to postseason firsts, Helper has seen it all. What impresses him most is not only how the community continues to embrace the team, but in turn how the organization has expanded the brand outside of Bridgestone Arena.
“Whether it’s going to Wendy’s to get a Frosty, to special ticketing deals, to now with Ford Ice Center, where your kids can be playing youth hockey, you can be playing adult hockey and you’re still playing or experiencing it under the Predators brand, I think that has really come a long way in the last five years,” Helper said. “More and more people want to do business with Bridgestone Arena and the Predators because of the culture we’ve created and the results we then generate. I couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds for the team and the building.”
An 11th-round selection of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1993 Major League Baseball Draft, Junghans was brought to the organization with the purpose of renewing dozens of expiring suite contracts, which admittedly was a monumental task at the time. But Junghans handled his first task just fine – well enough to find himself now in charge of all areas impacting locally generated revenue.
The challenges are presented daily, and Junghans believes he’s been able to thrive under those pressures, doing so alongside those who he holds in high regard.
“The people that we have, they’re the resource to get us to where we need to go,” Junghans said. “This organization has the best people in sports, the best people in the city, and I don’t think there’s any way that, regardless of what happens, that we’re not going to meet our expectations. I’m bullish; I just think we’re going to get there, and while it’s a big job, I know we’re going to get it done.”
While the organization is closing in on its 20th anniversary, Junghans says there is still plenty to be done across all avenues. He believes the club has completed the process of building the foundation necessary to be viable long term; now it’s a matter of pushing the ceiling every day.
“We know where we want to go,” Junghans said. “We’re committed to winning a Stanley Cup, we’re committed to being the No. 1 venue in the United States, and I think the fans should be excited about that.
“The other thing is we have made it clear that our fans are our lifeblood. A lot of teams say it, not a lot of teams will actually do things that support that claim. For us, we listen to our fans, we do things for our fans, our players embrace our fans and we built Smashville for the fans. If fans really could take a peek behind the curtain and see where we want to take this thing in 10 or 20 or 50 years, they’d be extremely excited.”
While they’re in two different stages of their careers, both Helper and Junghans know potential when they see it. There’s a reason why they’ve remained in Nashville and have no plans of leaving anytime soon.
The drive to be part of a championship club has never been stronger, and while they’re not determining who should skate on the first line or working the phones leading up to the trade deadline, their tasks are just as important as the Predators strive for the ultimate prize.
“The office is largely a young, vibrant office, and I’ve reached a stage where after this many years of doing so many day-to-day things that it’s time to take a little bit of a step back,” Helper said. “I’m looking forward to that, and I’m anxious for a new season to start. The team that we have and all the things that go on within the building, there’s never been a better time to be part of the organization than right now. There’s so many positives going on and so many positives to come; it’s great to still be a part of.”
“I think we’re just scraping the surface,” Junghans said. “When I’m long gone, hopefully I’ll look back on this and say, ‘I was part of the regime that got it to a place where the next guys could come in and make it Nashville’s team, the state of Tennessee’s team, the region’s team,’ and that’s exciting.”