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Volume 20 No. 42

People and Pop Culture

Incoming CEO, Minnesota United

Chris Wright said he was “returning to his roots” last week as he was appointed the first CEO of MLS club Minnesota United, now playing its inaugural season. Wright, president of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, will join United on Oct. 5 after the Lynx’s season ends and will oversee both the business and sporting sides of the club. President Nick Rogers and the rest of the front office will report to Wright.

Wright has been with the Timberwolves for 26 years.
Growing up in England, Wright was a semipro soccer player and coach, and initially made the move to the U.S. to become the general manager for a team in the Major Indoor Soccer League in the 1980s. When Timberwolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor joined the Minnesota United ownership group in 2014 as the club was angling for an MLS expansion spot, it was Wright who oversaw the investment for Taylor.

Minnesota United has strung together business-side successes that include naming- and jersey-rights deals with Allianz and Target, respectively, and the continued work on its 20,000-seat stadium, set to open next year.

After the announcement of his new role, Wright spoke to staff writer Ian Thomas.

What convinced you to make the switch from the NBA and WNBA to MLS?
Wright: The ownership group. This is a group where the majority of the people in it have Minnesota roots and are clearly invested across the state. They’ve self-financed everything, from the expansion fees to the $200 million stadium — all by people in this community. I’ve built an incredible relationship with [owner] Bill McGuire over the years. He’s been a Timberwolves season-ticket holder for many years.

You’ll be coming on board near the end of the season. What will be some of your early challenges?
I think harnessing the strength of that ownership group, because they’re so embedded in the community.

The club is building Allianz Field with the goal of opening at the start of next season. What are your expectations for the project?
I love what a number of teams do around the league, and the Portland Timbers come to mind. I think everything [owner] Merritt Paulson and [president of business] Mike Golub have done is impressive. We want to replicate that. I believe we have the fans to do that with our supporter’s club, the Dark Clouds. We will have a safe standing area, which as you’ve seen in Orlando’s new stadium, provides an unique atmosphere.

Comparisons to Atlanta United are inevitable, given that both teams launched in MLS at the same time. How do you view Minnesota United’s growth alongside them?
I want all of these franchises to be healthy, so I’m very happy for them. While we face some of the same issues, there are many differences. When you look at the horsepower behind them, the incredible people they have at the top of their organization and the way that they created their own identity in the market, I can’t praise them enough. …

I think we can learn from the different ways that clubs like Orlando and Atlanta launched, but also how clubs like Kansas City and Portland reinvented themselves when they came into the league. I’m a big believer in taking a look at clubs that have built purpose-built stadiums for soccer, learning from their best practices, give them our own twists and tweaks and decide what is the United way.

You’ve worked in the WNBA for a number of years. How do you view the women’s soccer audience?
My daughter, who is 26, grew up around the Minnesota Lynx, and I saw her personal growth by being around the incredible role models on that team. I was at a Portland Thorns game a few weekends ago, where there were 20,000 people watching. The momentum is incredible, and I think we can do even more to help that. Are we interested in investing in NWSL? Absolutely, but we would do that when our business model is sustainable, when we’ve launched our reserve team, when we’re able to put resources into our academy team, and so on.

The Oakland Athletics hired Juan Chavez, Jordan Kurtz and Victoria Ress as sales consultants.

Minor League Baseball named Stefanie Loncarich director of special events, Courtney Nehls assistant director of community engagement and Mark Labban senior manager of special events and affiliate programming, and hired Katie Davison as senior vice president of digital strategy and business development, Tara Thornton as manager of human resources, Shannon Finucane as associate counsel, Belicia Montgomery as analytics specialist, Will Kent as manager of partnership marketing and Brad Friedman as social media marketing coordinator.

The Atlanta Braves hired Adam Fisher as assistant general manager and Perry Minasian as director of player personnel. Fisher was senior director of baseball operations for the New York Mets, and Minasian was special assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Atlanta Hawks promoted Daniel Bove to sports scientist and assistant strength and conditioning coach, Scottie Parker to head athletic trainer, Zach Peterson to video coordinator and Daniel Starkman to manager of basketball information and scouting coordinator, and named Brady Howe assistant athletic trainer, Adam Loiacono performance therapist and Dan Martinez senior director of team operations.

The Los Angeles Lakers hired Erika Singal as senior director of corporate partnerships.

The Toronto Raptors hired Luke Winn as director of prospect strategy. Winn was a senior writer covering college basketball for Sports Illustrated.

The Utah Jazz promoted Steven Schwartz to director of basketball operations and Derek Garduño to vice president of communications, and hired David Morway and Justin Zanik as assistant general managers, Lindsay Twiss as director of communications and Danny Franks as communications manager.

The NCAA hired Katrice Albert as executive vice president of inclusion and human resources. Albert was vice president for equity and diversity for the University of Minnesota system.

The University of Colorado hired Ben Broussard as assistant vice chancellor of advancement and associate athletic director overseeing the Buff Club. Broussard was vice president for development for Louisiana State University’s Tiger Athletic Foundation.

Oregon State University and the Oregon State University Foundation hired Alex Gary as senior associate athletic director and senior director of development for intercollegiate athletics. Gary was associate athletic director for development and external services at the University of Maryland.

Saint Peter’s University named Bryan Felt athletic director. Felt was senior associate athletic director at Seton Hall University.

Tulane University hired Carey Goodman as director of major gifts for the Green Wave Club. Goodman was assistant director of athletics development at the College of William & Mary.

Coastal Carolina University hired Ashleigh Gunning Alcorn as director of major gifts for the university’s Chanticleer Athletic Foundation.

Louisiana Tech University hired Andrea Alfano as assistant athletic director for business operations. Alfano was human resources coordinator at Georgia State University.

The U.S. Naval Academy named Amanda Gates director for administration and marketing for the Naval Academy Golf Association.

The University of New Orleans hired Kelvin Queliz as director of athletic communications. Queliz was director of sports information at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Northwestern State University hired Presley Owens as assistant director of compliance.

Stephen F. Austin State University promoted Matt Fenley to senior associate athletic director for compliance, John Branch to senior associate athletic director for external affairs, Rob Meyers to associate athletic director for business affairs, Rob McDermand to associate athletic director for academic affairs and Loree McCary to assistant athletic director, in addition to her role as the senior woman administrator. The university hired Tyler Boone as its director of athletic development.

Sacred Heart University hired Mike Morrison as director of athletic development. Morrison was senior director of major gifts at the University of Connecticut.

In Demand hired Dale Hopkins as president and chief executive officer. Hopkins was executive vice president of distribution for GSN.

People news
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It’s the rare on-air talent that also doubles as a de facto producer behind the scenes, but that’s life for NHRA pit reporter Amanda Busick. The North Carolina native is part of a small broadcast team that is employed by the drag racing series and whose coverage appears on Fox channels. Busick — whose former stops include CampusInsiders as a reporter and ESPN as a stage manager — opens up about juggling duties in front of, and behind, the camera.

We’re lean and mean — we pull off things that you would think we have probably three times the workforce.

Photo by: NHRA
Working as a producer and on-air host: I used to go on auditions and it would always be, “Do you want to be a producer or do you want to be a talent?” And it was always pick one, and I could never understand that because I feel like my work on camera can only breathe and represent itself from the work you do on the research and development side. It’s definitely not similar to my past roles; there’s a difference in gathering information for game day to this role where it’s more a newsroom role. What other organization could I dip in and pitch content ideas to our sales team or directly engage with our sponsorship team? That’s where it extends beyond just being in the broadcast department.

Working with the small NHRA content team: We’re lean and mean — we pull off things that you would think we have probably three times the workforce. It’s around 10 people (on the internal team), including the editing and shooting. For the shows, we probably have 65 to 80 people working. We’re working February to November, so these people are your family; you spend more time with them than you do your own family, so it becomes a lifestyle and you’re ingrained with wanting to build the profiles of these drivers. In college sports, you have to go through so many processes to get an interview with a player or coach. The idea that we can just kind of show up to some driver’s pit and they’re so welcoming — it’s just refreshing and it becomes you.

On working in tandem with Fox Sports: They believe in us. I think they’ve been just as open with us as we’ve been with them. On the programming side, [NHRA broadcast executive Ken Adelson] is constantly working with them and they’ve been brilliant with the opportunities they’ve allowed us. Having better time slots — the audience has always been there; now we just can find them. … We had three Fox Sports guys at our sponsorship summit we did in Sonoma speaking to the health of the sport on their side and what they’re seeing with numbers and how the NHRA is growing. To have a TV partner that is working so closely with the health and success of the NHRA, I think that’s a big testament to what we’re doing on all sides.

On experimenting with different content ideas, like the “Walk 1,000 Feet” feature she created this year to showcase drivers: The 2018 season starts in five months and I like to use the phrase “failing forward,” so when you try things and you push yourself and it fails, just always move forward with it. It’s a good learning tool and we’re all striving for bigger and better things. It takes that to make it happen. “Walk 1,000 Feet” was rooted in, “How do we show our drivers with their helmets off in a fun and engaging way?” I was really big on calling it “Walk 1,000 Feet” based on our measurement (of the standard drag strip) being 1,000 feet.

                                                                                                                            — Adam Stern

Buck to the future

Original Milwaukee Bucks player Jon McGlocklin, mascot Bango and Bucks player Jabari Parker introduced the team’s classic edition uniform, which will make its debut for the Oct. 26 “Return to the MECCA” game against the Celtics at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, formally the MECCA. The jersey, unveiled last month, is a Nike version of the team’s original 1968 uniform.
Massage is the message

A downtown Chicago Massage Envy held a meet-and-greet with endorser and PGA Tour player Jamie Lovemark during BMW Championship week earlier this month. With Lovemark is franchise owner Wesley Yee (gray shirt). The tour and Massage Envy announced a four-year partnership in June.
Engaging Asia excursion

University of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center MBA students visited NBA China offices during their annual two-week Engaging Asia excursion. Joining them were Warsaw Board Chair David Higdon and MBA Program Manager Craig Leon (right), and Hong Yuan, university associate professor of marketing (front row, blue dress), as guests of David Wang (middle, back row), NBA China senior vice president, global partnerships.
Garden games

Delaware North CMO Todd Merry (right) and TD Garden President Amy Latimer presented Riot Games co-head Jarred Kennedy with a custom TD Garden banner to commemorate the playing of the North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer Finals over Labor Day Weekend at the arena.
Eagles help launch new initiative

The Philadelphia Eagles, the mayor’s office, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University and Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health on Sept. 15 announced the Eagles Autism Challenge and its first cycling and 5K run/walk event set for May 19. Among those on hand were Mayor Jim Kenney (second from left), Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie (third from left); Eagles President Don Smolenski (center) and Christina Weiss Lurie, president, Eagles Charitable Foundation, Eagles Social Responsibility (third from right).
Detroit’s WISE

The launch party for the Women In Sports and Events Detroit chapter took place last month at the downtown deck of sports architecture firm Rossetti: WISE Detroit President Chloe Siamof of Rossetti; honorary committee members Alicia Jeffreys, Detroit Pistons VP; Michele Bartos, Olympia Entertainment Detroit Red Wings VP; Marcia Turner, Fox Sports Detroit VP and general sales manager; and WISE Detroit VP Elizabeth Godek of the Pistons.
NFF honors UCLA’s Guerrero

National Football Foundation board member Dave Davis (left) honored UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero as the NFF John L. Toner Award recipient during the UCLA-Texas A&M game Sept. 3 in Pasadena, Calif.

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Octagon's new office in Stamford, Conn. offers a more tranquil view with a marina and Long Island Sound.
All photos by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
A dozen years after departing Stamford, Conn., for Norwalk, Octagon’s HQ is back in Stamford. But instead of looking at I-95, Octagon’s new 60,000-square-foot offices in the Shippan Landing six-building complex offer more tranquil vistas: a marina and Long Island Sound. The space houses 275 of Octagon’s employees, and includes two balconies for al fresco dining or working and a game room. Many employees are gathered by community: Functions such as creative, digital or analytics are together, as are client groups.

It took Octagon about 18 months to find the right space, negotiate a deal and complete the buildout.

The company wanted a way to attract and keep employees from what seemed to be the irresistible attraction of nearby New York City. “I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s part of our compensation package per se,” longtime Octagon Chairman and CEO Rick Dudley said. “But in today’s world, the workspace is a vital part of the package we can deliver to employees or even prospective employees.”

Octagon Chairman and CEO Rick Dudley.
Dudley's office comes with a nautical scope.
Dudley's office views include the Long Island Sound.
The large common area known as Grand Central gives employees a chance to change spaces.
A peek inside the office of SVP and Olympic specialist Nick Griffith, complete with Games memorabilia.
A variety of waterside seating on two floors is available to Octagon’s 275 employees at the site.
Stadium seats from Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium made the trip from the old headquarters.
Plenty of seating on one of two balconies.
Every desk adjusts for standing or sitting.
The game room offers pool and popcorn.
Common space offers room for meeting and eating.