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Volume 22 No. 19
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Forty Under 40: Christopher Lee

Photo: mason foster photography

The Golden State Warriors have won three championships in the past four years, and that organization is now as revered off the court as much as it is on. Yet, Christopher Lee says leaving his hometown team in 2012 was his best career move.

Vice President, Head of Sponsorships and Experiential Marketing, U.S. Bank

Age: 39

Born: San Francisco

Education: San Diego State University, B.A., communications; University of San Francisco, M.A., sports management

Family: Wife, Stephanie; daughter, Campbell (5); son, Colin (6 months)

You wish you knew 10 years ago: Nice guys can win; integrity is important.

Profession you’d most like to attempt: Pro golfer. (Has a 12 handicap).

Guilty pleasure: Secretly watching the reality shows that my wife admits to watching.

Something your friends would consider “so you”: Getting upset at them mixing sports apparel brands; like a Nike cap with an Adidas shirt.

Cause supported: I am on the national board of JUMA Ventures, a nonprofit that provides jobs and training at sports venues to disconnected youth.

Ideal day off … : Taking my wife and kids to a [San Francisco] Giants game.

Most thrilling/adventurous thing you’ve done … : I dressed in a hot dog suit for a halftime on-court promotion while I was an intern at the Warriors.

Lee, who joined the Warriors as an intern when the team won 17 games in 2000-01, could see the Warriors were improving. Still, after a decade in corporate sales, he wanted to be “not just a sports guy, but a marketing guy,” he said. Esurance, a Warriors corporate sponsor, made that decision easy by offering Lee the keys to its expanding sponsorship department. 

Esurance sponsorship spending rose from $3 million to $20 million a year during Lee’s tenure. Tennis properties such as the U.S. Open helped establish the brand. Later, MLB and digital All-Star balloting became Esurance’s largest platform, and Lee rose to director of brand partnerships and social media engagement.

Five years in, Lee had a good idea of what the view was from the brand side of the table, but not at the scale of U.S. Bank, the nation’s fifth-largest and his next stop in 2017.

“Chris has an uncanny ability to develop consensus internally,” said Adam Lippard, chief partnership officer at GMR Marketing, who worked with Lee as a client at Esurance and now at U.S. Bank. “That’s important, since neither company had a long-standing culture of sponsorship.”

Lee has since trimmed a sponsorship portfolio of 110 properties to fewer than 60, while resetting the agenda.

“Five years ago, it was about tabling to sign up checking accounts,” he said. “Now we’re doing things from a social media perspective and developing content. … We have great awareness, now we’re building consideration.” Lee also noted the marketing cacophony from competitors including Citi, Chase and Bank of America: “We’re still a community bank at our core, but the long-term goal is having a handful of national relationships we can still activate locally.”