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Volume 21 No. 6
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Forty Under 40

David Wright planned to coach soccer, not sell it. But that all changed when he went to the University of Massachusetts to be a graduate assistant.

He spent his evenings and weekends walking the sidelines as an assistant coach for the school’s soccer team and most of his days taking classes in the school’s well-regarded sports business program. By the time his two-year stint at the school was over, he had decided to trade in his warm-up suit and ball bag for a business suit and briefcase.

“I have absolutely no doubts I could have succeeded as a coach, but I realized my long-term passion was on the business side,” Wright said.

After having that realization, Major League Soccer was the only place the former soccer player at Indiana University could imagine working. He started at the league as the manager of its fan development efforts and spent five years developing fan outreach efforts like Futbolito, a four-on-four soccer tournament aimed at Hispanic communities that has more than 50,000 participants annually. He moved to the commercial side of the business in 2005 to work on sponsorship marketing and today oversees a staff of 17 that manages all of Soccer United Marketing’s corporate partners across Major League Soccer, U.S. Soccer, the Mexican national soccer team and other properties.

Jennifer Storms, Gatorade’s senior vice president of global sports marketing, said what makes Wright so effective at his job is his collaborative approach. She negotiated a new agreement between PepsiCo and MLS a year ago, and the company needed to change some key components of its agreement so that Gatorade and PepsiCo were a single deal.

“It could have been a difficult negotiation, but he made it smooth,” Storms said. “He has such a calm demeanor and negotiations can get tricky and emotional, but he remains calm and collaborative. He does a nice job of trying not to act like he knows your business. He truly wants to know your business, and that’s important.”

Age: 39
Title: Senior vice president, global sponsorship
OrganizationS: Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing
Education: B.S., kinesiology, Indiana University; M.S., sports business, University of Massachusetts
Family: Wife, Jaren; son Braeden (8); daughter Riley (6)
Career: Manager, fan development, MLS; transitioned to senior director, partnership marketing, in 2005; became SVP, global sponsorship, in January
FIRST JOB: Paper route (trekking through three feet of snow in Lincoln, Neb., was a blast!)
Last vacation: Long Beach Island, N.J., in August
what's on your ipod? What iPod?
Guilty pleasure: A good pinot noir; hot apple crisp with vanilla ice cream
Best stress release: Running and playing soccer
Pet peeve: The words “I can’t,” and long airport security lines
Fantasy job: Lead singer for IU cover band Situation Grey
WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT: The day our kids leave for college in 2022 and 2024, respectively
Business advice: 1) Do the simple things well; 2) Embrace hard work and healthy competition (something only you can control); 3) Surround yourself with incredible people (personally and professionally); 4) Seek balance (I’m proud to say that I look forward to going into the office in the morning and I look forward to going home at night); and 5) Have fun!