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.
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?
Wright: 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?
Wright: 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?
Wright: 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?
Wright: 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.