SBJ/20100308/Forty Under 40

Chris Canetti

 

Shortly before the 2006 MLS Cup at Pizza Hut Park, then-AEG executive Shawn Hunter gave a quick tour of the facility’s club to Phil Anschutz. When the two stopped and looked out at the field, Hunter caught a glimpse of Houston Dynamo executive Chris Canetti in the distance.

Chris
Canetti
Houston Dynamo

“You’ve got to meet him,” Hunter told Anschutz. “He’s one of our brightest young stars.”

Later that day, Canetti reddened when told what Hunter had said. It was Hunter, after all, who lured the reserved and unassuming executive from New York to Houston to lead the Dynamo’s business operations. It was a move that allowed Canetti to challenge himself and helped him become one of MLS’s top team executives.

“I would have never been here without Shawn,” Canetti said. “I owe him a lot.”

Age: 39
Title: Chief operating officer
Team: Houston Dynamo
Education: B.A., Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Conn.), 1992
Family: Wife, Judi; daughters Kara (5) and Ella (2)
Career: New Haven Ravens, 1994-2000 (various roles, including GM from 1997-2000); NY/NJ MetroStars, 2000-2006 (various positions, including assistant GM from 2005-2006); Houston Dynamo, COO, 2006-present
Last vacation: Connecticut shoreline
Favorite book: "The Score Takes Care of Itself," by Bill Walsh
Favorite movie: None
What’s on your iPod? U2, Dave Matthews, Third Eye Blind, Billy Joel, Journey, The Cure, Guns n Roses, Poison, Goo Goo Dolls, Barenaked Ladies
Pet peeve: Unappreciative people who take things for granted or feel a sense of entitlement
Greatest achievement: Becoming a baseball GM at age 26
Greatest disappointment: Losing to the New York Red Bulls in the 2008 playoffs
Fantasy job: President of a potential second New York MLS franchise
Executive you most admire: Bill Walsh (never met him)
Business advice: Focus on the right things. Execute fundamentals. There are no magic bullets. A strong culture will lead to results.

After relocating the San Jose Earthquakes to Houston, Hunter approached Canetti, former assistant general manager with the NY/NJ MetroStars, about leading business operations for the new Texas team. Hunter was willing to take a chance on a young but experienced executive, and Canetti has made it pay off. He was named MLS’s team executive of the year in 2008 when the club signed a jersey partnership with Amigo Energy and delivered the league’s second-highest attendance increase.

Last year, the team increased its sponsorship sales 16 percent and kept its ticket sales flat despite a challenging economy. It consistently ranks fourth or fifth in the league in sponsorship sales and sixth in ticket sales — not bad for a club that doesn’t own its stadium.

“He has a great combination of vision, creativity and persistence that really resonates with ownership, his staff and players,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “I truly believe he is one of the best young pro team executives in the sports business.”

Though the club remains fourth in its market behind the Texans, Astros and Rockets, the Dynamo is one of just a handful of MLS teams to be treated like a major league club. Canetti’s goal is to cement the club’s position as a major league brand.

“We want to be lumped in with those guys,” Canetti said of the city’s other major teams. “I think we’ve accomplished that. People know the Dynamo here.”

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