SBD/Issue 165/Sports Industrialists

Catching Up With MLS Rapids Managing Dir Jeff Plush

Rapids Managing
Dir Jeff Plush
MLS Rapids Managing Dir JEFF PLUSH has spent his entire career on the business side of sports. Having served previously as IMG Denver Dir of Corporate Development, Plush negotiated endorsement deals for a slew of athletes, including U.S. Olympians MICHAEL JOHNSON and PICABO STREET. Since joining Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE), Plush has overseen a number of the company's key projects, including the '05 NBA All-Star Game, the acquisition of the NLL Colorado Mammoth and the development of the Rapids' new Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Before Thursday night's Real Salt Lake-Rapids game, Plush spoke with Staff Writer Brian Helfrich.

Champions League winner: Manchester United
World Cup or Olympics: World Cup
On Your Bookshelf: "The Miracle of Castel di Sangro" by JOE MCGINNISS 
First live sporting event: An Orioles game at the old Memorial Stadium
Dream acquisition for the Rapids: ManU MF CRISTIANO RONALDO

Q: Having missed the playoffs in ’07, how critical is making the postseason this year to the overall success of the franchise?

Plush: It’s always important, and having been in the playoffs virtually every year, you never take it for granted, but we sure missed being a part of it. It’s important for our business. Sports are about competition and winning. I don’t know if it’s any more important because you missed it, but it’s just always important to win because that’s what supporters want to see.

Q: Do you see other KSE franchises, such as the Nuggets, as competition, especially for putting fans in the seats?

Plush: No, I don’t and I never have. I think when our teams are winning in the winter and the spring, it just leads to more thirst for people to experience spectator sports. I’ve never viewed them as competition, clearly because they’re our own franchises anyway. They’re our partners, they’re our friends, so we want us all to do well. Obviously we didn’t go as far as we’d have liked to, but the Nuggets and Avalanche both made the playoffs, and we hope to follow suit. 

Q: How do you see the Rapids expanding on the partnership with Arsenal?

Plush: Who knows what the future holds, but soccer is that one sport that crosses borders and cultures and time zones and allows us to think about our business and our sport in a different way. The relationship will continue to evolve. We’re partners with them on the football side, and we’re helping them from a brand-building exercise here in the U.S. They’re helping us understand and become more knowledgeable about soccer globally, whether it’s scouting, coaching, or how to set up a youth academy in a way that bears fruit. And we will see where the business world takes us. We are partners with them as well on their online and digital media assets, so in a time and place where content is king, they have compelling content. Who knows where we’ll be in 2018, but I think it will be exciting.

Q: What do you think is the most underrated aspect of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park? 

Plush: I think people sometimes lose sight of how valuable and how exciting the fields are on the exterior of the building. Obviously the stadium is the crown jewel in the complex. But we have 24 fields that surround it that are being used by 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds, all the way up to U-18s and then adult leagues of all ethnicities, both genders and all age groups. I think it speaks to the relevance of the sport and the great potential of the league.

Q: If you could change one thing about the facility, what would it be? 

Plush: We had talked about field-level suites, and we didn’t. I wish we would have. I think it would’ve been a really unique experience: the idea of being able to be pitch-side, but have a suite hospitality experience. I think it was a great idea, but you can’t do it all. You have to make choices at some point. But that’s the one thing I miss. I think it’s still a fantastic building, but I would have liked to see how that would have been accepted by the marketplace. 

Q: The Rapids hosted the MLS All-Star Game in ’07, and you played an integral role in the Nuggets hosting the ’05 NBA All-Star Game, Which event is better?

Plush: It’s hard to say. We’re very proud of hosting the MLS All-Star Game, and I think the league and the commissioner would agree that we put on a great event. Celtic FC was a great, globally recognized partner. But the NBA All-Star Game is a completely different animal. About 30,000-40,000 descend upon the city, and it’s an event that goes beyond sport. It goes to culture, music and all sorts of other things. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison – both great events, but the NBA All-Star Game has a lot of years on us on the MLS side. 

Q: Is there anything MLS could learn from the NBA’s event? 

Plush: I think you could see certain things evolve. I think things like the All-Star Saturday night and just making a more fun atmosphere, a fun skills competition. People have really no idea the athletic abilities of our players, and how hard they strike the ball. So I could see things evolving in that respect that adds another layer of activities and another opportunity for the local community to get involved. 

Plush Calls Leiweke Most
Innovative Exec In MLS
Q: Who is the most innovative executive in MLS right now?

Plush: It’s a name that everyone knows, but [AEG President & CEO] TIM LEIWEKE. Tim is a giant in the industry, and he’s the first name that comes to my mind when I think about people that are changing the way people view sports business. And it’s gone well beyond the United States now. Tim’s doing things all over the world, and I’m always interested to see what AEG is up to next. 

Q: What’s one marketing or sales idea you’ve read about recently that you could use with the Rapids?

Plush: I hope not to be able to use it, but I really loved [Nets President & CEO] BRETT YORMARK selling the postseason sponsorship even when the Nets didn’t make the playoffs. I read it and thought, “That’s smart.” It just shows you the benefit of being in tune with your clients. I think he knew very quickly that T-Mobile still would see value in something looked at from a completely different perspective. I hope to be in the playoffs, but if I’m not, I’ll steal it. 

Q: Finish the sentence: I spend most of my day working on …

Plush: Managing people. We have a young league and a young staff and so just trying to cultivate a culture here that people are excited to be a part of and hope to try to teach people to do business how we consider the right way, with integrity and honesty. We’re going to make some good decisions and we’re going to mess some up, and we’re going to do some good stuff and make some mistakes. 

Q: What sports business issue do you have your eye on at the moment?

Plush: The continued globalization of sports. Obviously what the NBA is doing in China with AEG, and how that’s going to evolve. And conversely with the English Premier League and how they might want to do things outside of their borders. Sports cuts through all the clutter and it’s a language everyone speaks. I think it can be reflective of where society in general is.

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