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Volume 21 No. 13
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New swimming CEO sets off on 100-day plan


Tim Hinchey left the Colorado Rapids earlier this summer to take what is perhaps the biggest single-sport job in the American Olympic movement: president and CEO of USA Swimming. He steps into big shoes and big expectations. The national governing body was led by Chuck Wielgus for nearly 20 years until this year, and has produced the most U.S. medals at six straight Olympics. But Michael Phelps has retired, and it’s time to reboot the organization for a new day.

TITLE: President & CEO
EDUCATION: B.A., economics, UC Irvine, 1991

— Colorado Rapids, president, 2011-17; CMO, 2010-11
— Derby County FC (EPL), VP/commercial & CMO, 2007-10
— Charlotte Bobcats, EVP, 2006-07
— New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, SVP & CMO, 2005-06
— Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, VP, brand marketing, 2002-04
— Sacramento Kings, director, strategic alliances, 2000-02
— Utah Grizzlies, VP, marketing & administration, 1996-99

Hinchey started July 12 and spoke with SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Ben Fischer shortly before flying to Ireland, where he participated in a 13-kilometer open water swim relay for charity — he’s a longtime swimmer, including in college. Then, he went to Budapest for last week’s FINA World Championships, his first appearance on the international swimming stage.

Why did you take the job?
: I loved MLS, we did an amazing job. I’ve enjoyed every aspect of it, the challenges, the growth. … It’s tough because we’ve put together a great team, and it takes a while to put talent in place. This is probably the only thing I’d consider leaving for, because swimming has always been an important part of my life. I do think it defines who I am, from being a rec swimmer to college swimmer, and an ocean lifeguard for five years. It’s an entire lifestyle for me. When something like this calls, to be responsible for the entire country, it’s a call you take.

What’s your first priority?
: I’ve gone out on my first grip-and-grin tour to listen and learn. That was my platform, my 100-day plan. Primarily because it is different [from MLS]. We have 400,000 members, the coaches, the volunteers … there are significant stakeholders you don’t really think about in a pro sports environment. There are lots of layers, lots of people involved from all four corners of America. First and foremost is just understanding what it means to all the different stakeholder groups. I don’t think there’s anything like that in dealing with a pro sports team and even the season-ticket base. It’s daunting in that respect.

In terms of executive management, how will this job be similar and different?
: In a pro league, there are 34 matches a year, and you’re executing on a week-by-week basis. Here, I’m walking into a plan (a strategic plan culminating with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics) that was already approved, and an organization that is working at a high performance level already. …

What is similar is the commercial side of the business. The majority of my career has been on the commercial side, selling the sport and building the brand. From my perspective, [USA Swimming CEO] Matt Farrell has done an amazing job as CMO. I just think when you look at my background, most of my career has been there, so that’s an area I’m comfortable in and look forward to working alongside him to build membership and maintain sponsorships.

The organization is at something of an inflection point, now that Michael Phelps has retired. What’s your plan for keeping USA Swimming growing without its biggest star?
: First and foremost, I hope we find a way to keep Michael involved in the organization, somehow, some way. That’s certainly on my list of meetings, to get out there and meet with Michael, to find ways to keep working with him. Not to be overly dramatic, but we went through this in the NBA — “Are you worried about basketball, post-Michael Jordan?” Well, LeBron has done well, and Steph Curry has done well. I think in our country we have a great ability to find talent, and we’re going to have to keep doing that here. And by the way, Katie Ledecky is pretty good.

Are there particular goals you have for your first six months?
: There are 400,000 members. It’s an amazing number, but I do think there are some opportunities there. When I first started swimming, I was on summer rec teams, and currently summer rec teams are not part of USA Swimming. So if there’s a way to include that pool of possible members, I hope to do that. … It seems to be that’s a potentially natural pathway.

Then again I’m probably overstating this, and I might not know some of the politics. But if these people are loving the sport, we need to find a way to keep them involved.