GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

 

Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United FC has been recognized in the sports industry for building a brand that embodies unity. But when 2020 hit us all in the face, “unity” was probably the last word anyone would use to describe its home, Minneapolis. As the racial hotpot community broiled in unrest with the murder of George Floyd, the team was confronted with the challenge of stepping up as a catalyst for inclusion and unity. Add to that the impact of the pandemic on the sports industry as a whole, and you’ve got a formidable conundrum to face. Despite his rich experience in the industry, Chris Wright found his leadership being put to the test with all these tough nuts to crack. If you can see what the team has done and become throughout the months, however, you would see how uniquely qualified Chris is to lead his team to greatness despite everything. Listen in as he shares with Rob Cornilles how he puts his game face on as he leads the team to its goals.

Watch the episode here:

Chris Wright | A Unifier Under United

CEO, Minnesota United FC

What’s your legacy play? If you could be defined by one event, movement or accomplishment, what would it be? My guest is Chris Wright, a long-time Senior Executive in the NBA. He was given an opportunity few sports leaders are ever afforded, the chance to take an expansive franchise backed by great owners in the game he loves and turned it into his own legacy play. A man of great influence and persuasion here’s Chris Wright, CEO of one of Major League Soccer’s most admired and exciting new clubs, the Minnesota United.

I have with me our guest on the show, someone who I have admired for a long time in the sports industry. When I was thinking about who would be a real gentlemanly voice that I could bring to the conversation, Chris Wright came to my mind immediately. Chris Wright is the CEO of Minnesota United Football Club based in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and a long-time well-respected sports executive. Chris, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Rob. I admire the backdrop that you’ve created for this call. You’re all branded up. You’ve got a Ronaldo jersey going. It’s so good to see you after such a long time.

Thank you, Chris. I want to get right into something that’s on the minds of everybody, whether they’re into sports or not, the progression or the digression, depending on how you look at it, the sports industry has been historic. You had a multi-decade career in the sports industry. We’ll talk about that here. You have a unique perspective for a number of reasons. As a leader of an MLS club and a leader of one that’s fairly new inside the league, I’d like to get some idea from you on what it was like back in the Spring of 2020 when the virus started to spread around the country. We started to take immediate precautions and your season, which had launched, was pulled out from under you. What were those conversations like with the league, with your fellow franchises, and also with your team, your staff?

To set a context for you, Rob, we opened the 2020 MLS season on the road. We played two games. We played one in your old city, Portland. We had the second game in San Jose, where we played the Quakes there on a Saturday night. We landed on a Thursday. Immediately when we landed, we heard that the San Jose Sharks versus Minnesota Wild game ironically was in jeopardy for Friday night because this thing called COVID-19 found its way to the San Jose San Francisco market. It had become a hotspot. We quickly began to work with not only the Quakes but also the Wild, the Sharks, and the city government in San Jose to begin to understand whether or not that game was even going to be played or not. The mayor had walked to a podium and said they were going to shut down all major gatherings inside of the market.

In the end, the Wild game got played. Our game got played on Saturday night. We got on a plane and came back. We were celebrating starting the season off 2-0. We’d arranged a meeting for our players with all of our owners in a hospitality area of a building in Downtown Saint Paul. We had an incredible night that night celebrating our fourth season and the incredible stop that we had made. Three days later, we were told to shut it down by our league, by our city, county, and state officials. We pulled an all-staff meeting together. Back then, you will not socially distance. You weren’t wearing masks. You had no idea of the protocols that were going to be put in place quickly. We gathered everybody in a room inside of our office and we said, “Starting tomorrow, you’ll be working from home. Here’s the IT department. Whatever you need, please go to them. We’ll begin to work through that process with you.”

As quickly as we were euphoric about our start of the season, three days later, we were shutting everything down, our training facility, our offices, our stadium because we did not know anywhere near the knowledge that we have now about how COVID spreads. One of the first things that we had to do was decide the cadence of meetings that we were then to have with all of our 120 employees and our players. We have to give them all of the information that they needed to be educated about what was going on, not only in the Twin Cities but around our league, relative to the pandemic. The precautions that they needed to make, testing protocols were starting to be developed at that point. It got complicated quickly because we never knew. We didn’t know when we were going to play.

The art of engaging in dialogue and finding a middle ground has been lost to a great degree in our country. We need to address this chasm. Click To Tweet

Two months later, the MLS established a bubble in Orlando. Even as we went into the bubble to start off our season, we never knew whether or not we would be coming home to try and finish out our season. You can imagine all of the things that an organization has to go through to be able to manage those circumstances. Here we are, getting ready for our fifth season. On April 17th or whenever we played, we still don’t know whether or not there will be fans inside of our stadium cheering our team on.

The Minnesota United had a fantastic opening in 2018, 2019. In fact, ESPN gave you quite an award. Can you share with us that award? You had great momentum going before this. I don’t want to say it derailed your momentum but it certainly didn’t make it easier for you to continue the momentum you’d been building up. What was that award that ESPN gave your franchise?

We worked very hard, to open Allianz Field, our brand new $250 million, 20,000-seat purpose-built soccer stadium. We worked very hard to launch it in what I consider to be the right way. We had a tremendous number of events leading up to the opening of the stadium in 2019. We went into every space and brought all of our clients into every space and create an event for everybody all through the stadium to be able to look at their experience, feel their experience before we even played a game inside the stadium. That’s difficult in Minnesota because we get snow and yet, we created some remarkable events. The baptism of the stadium was wonderful. We worked very hard on our overall game-day experience.

Our supporter section is called Wonderwall. When we win games, 20,000 people inside of our stadium will sing the Oasis song, Wonderwall. That’s a big tradition inside of our stadium. We have multiple traditions that people resonated around that are truly Minnesotan. ESPN does a survey analysis every year and we were fortunate enough to win The Best Stadium Experience in the MLS of 2019 as we opened the stadium. That comes with people working hard but listening to your consumer, listening to your fan base, the stakeholders of every area, delivering on an experience that you know that they want, for the investment that they’re making inside of your club. We were fortunate enough also to have a winning team that year. We went to the playoffs for the first time. That all built towards this incredible crescendo at the end of the season when we played against the LA Galaxy and Ibrahimovic, which ended up being one of his last games inside of our league. Unfortunately, we lost that game but it set the tone for our franchise and the expectation and the vision for where we wanted to take this club longer-term.

We talk a little bit about the pandemic and how that created an instant pivot for you and your sister clubs around the league and in sports in general but something else happened in 2020 specific to your market. As everyone knows, back in the summer of 2020, riots broke out in Minneapolis because of the situation that happened there. We were talking about a market, the Twin Cities, that not only has the pandemic but also became the epicenter for social and civil unrest. You have been a long-time resident of the area. You’ve been in that community for a long time. I want to know from a perspective of a resident and one who makes his living downtown, what was going through your mind and your heart when you saw these events unfold?

As an individual club aside, I was devastated, number one, that there was another loss of life at the hands of the police. Societal racism, systemic racism does exist in our society. I felt awful that this was happening 11 miles away from where I live. It was about 11 miles from our stadium and 11 miles from where I myself have a home where I’ve raised our three kids. As much as I deplore what happened to George Floyd and many others before him and some since him, it was a massive wake-up call for me as an individual. With my family, it opened up an incredible dialogue with my kids, with my circle of friends, certainly inside of our club, certainly inside of our play circles.

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC: What made the MUFC win the best stadium experience distinction was its commitment to listening to its fan base.

 

In the end, you hope that the tragic loss of life leads to some level of deeper understanding and thinking about what is going on inside of this country. At times, the country is divisive and there are extremes. The middle ground where people, for me, are able to engage in dialogue, be accepting of dialogue, and be accepting of opinion that might be contrary or different to yours. The art of that to a degree, has been lost in certain areas of our country. I’ve endeavored as an individual. I’ve endeavored with my family, my circle of friends, and our club to begin to address it in a meaningful way. I’m not saying that we never addressed it in the past but what is it specifically that we can do as human beings to try to bridge this chasm?

In this particular case, it does speak to the African-Americans and the black people who live inside of our country, our neighbors, our friends, and our players. For me, it also goes deeper, regardless of race, religion, and lifestyle. Are we inclusive? Do we provide an inclusive environment for everyone? How do we open ourselves up to think about it in that way? It was devastating because it was in our backyard. It had incredible ramifications to us as a club and as a team and to our location in the Midwest.

I have to assume that because it originated in your market, that as one who runs a sports franchise within that market, where you are inviting tens of thousands of people to come to enjoy an experience together, both as families and as companies, that it gives you certain challenges and opportunities when you do reopen. Those people are able to come back maybe in part or in whole. Give us some insight as to what your franchise is doing and how you’re leading this effort to prepare for that eventuality in light of everything that’s gone on since then.

I’ll give you the top line for me inside of our club. There were a number of different things. We have nine black players on our roster. They came together as a group. They approached me and said, “Chris, we want regular meetings with you because we want to understand, number one, what is your philosophy and what is the club’s philosophy. Also, what are the action items, and what are the things that we can build out together that can eradicate racism inside of our club, our market, throughout the nation? What is going to be our role?” They helped us identify a number of different things that we weren’t doing that we should have been doing. I give them all of the credit in the world because they worked very hard on educating us about what it was like to be in their shoes. I don’t think any of us who are Caucasians have a real deep understanding of what African-Americans and black people inside of our country go through on a day-to-day basis.

One of the things that we did that was unique but I’m not sure that many of the teams did around the country. Most teams came out with a DEI statement, “This is who we are. This is what we believe in.” We said that we want to be authentic about whatever we do and whatever we say. We want this to be meaningful. We want people to understand why we’re doing it this way. For about a two-month period of time, immediately after the George Floyd murder, what we did was we gave all of our social media channels over to our players.

Whether that’s Twitter, whether that’s Facebook, whether that’s Instagram, whether it’s articles on our own digital space, our website. We said, “We want you to help us with and control the content from a messaging standpoint.” Honestly, they so appreciated that. It came from a point of view of, “I’m not qualified to talk about what you’re going through as a human being, as an individual with your families, with your circle of friends. I can’t talk about your history. I can’t talk about things that have happened to you in your life that would be great examples of systemic racism in that particular situation. You can tell that story.”

We have some young Black players on our roster who were incredibly well-educated, beautifully articulate, that wrote some editorials for people to read that would make you cry. It would make you have tears rolling down your face. We became good listeners to them. Everybody in our market, in the end, said, “This is different.” It’s not just a statement from the team. It’s allowing the members who have been impacted by racism inside of that club. Let them be the voice. Even with Black History Month, that same group of people providing the majority of the content for us to go out and celebrate Black History Month. There are many other examples that I could bring but that is the most meaningful example of the way that we have looked at it, treated it, and try to be authentic around the issues that exist inside of that world.

As a symbol of unity, the stadium offers a big opportunity to celebrate diversity and promote inclusivity. Click To Tweet

Chris, what you described is something that you’re doing internally as a club to create a culture that is full of openness and transparency. I appreciate that example that you shared with us. As we consider the fan experience, which you’ve been awarded for and you’re noted for throughout the league and throughout sports, there are some very unusual challenges coming your way because of safety concerns related to the pandemic and distancing but also safety concerns perhaps to go into a downtown location. I don’t know if that’s true in your case but can you speak to that a little bit about some of the plans that are being put into place for Allianz Field? I know that you can’t share everything with us. I know it’s constantly changing but any insight you can give us so far?

What I try to do is lean into philosophically where we are as a club on all of the above. I’ll give you a couple of examples relative to racism, the treatment of racism, and how we can utilize our stadium as an opportunity for healing, inclusivity, diversity. When I first got to the club, you know that I’m an avid reader and I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek. I’ll read anything that this guy puts out. I listen to his podcasts. I’ve always been a big believer in his book Start with Why. “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” What I did when I first got to the club, I put about 72 people through a two-day workshop. The Brave New Workshop, John Sweeney, a comedian, helped us with it. It was a fascinating opportunity for us to all get on the same page relative to this one question. What are our clubs? Why? What is our purpose?

We’re a soccer team. We’re going to build a stadium but truly, what is it all about? One of the things that people fail to understand about the Minneapolis marketplace is that there are 251 languages that are spoken here. If there were 251 languages spoken and dialects inside of our market, that means that all of those good people came from somewhere, whether you’re 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation. You arrive from somewhere around the world and you landed in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. You made this place your home. All of those people have a history in our game, in the beautiful game, the great game, the world’s game. We came out of that meeting with a why that was through the world’s game, through the beautiful game. “Let’s inspire and unite, our community of 251 languages. How do we make Allianz Field that? Wherever they come from, whoever they are, they are welcomed, they’re embraced, they’re part of our family, they are fans of our club?”

Our staff reflects those 251 languages. Our part-time staff reflects those 251 languages. Our food and beverage opportunities inside of our stadium reflect those 251 languages. When people come into Allianz Field, it becomes this place where they’re going home, they’re coming together, being inspired, and uniting them around our brand. That has resonated in our community in the biggest of voice. When you walk into our stadium and you see all of the different ethnicities from people all over the world inside of our stadium, it is remarkable. I honestly believe that although the George Floyd situation is a massive setback. We as a club, because of our why, our purpose, and the core values that back all of that up, we’re in a great place to bring those people back and say, “We care about everybody. I don’t care where you’re from, about your religion and your lifestyle. I care about you as a human being and as an individual. We want you to come back and support your team.” That’s one thing.

COVID, on the other hand, is interesting because we have not hosted one supporter for an entire season having sold out Allianz Field 20,000 people in 2019. Imagine our staff who basically won that award with ESPN hosted 22,000 people for nineteen games and hosted a whole season on the back end of that with not one fan inside of the stadium. I think that there will be some resistance in certain states where you have not been able to open your doors and welcome people back. There will be some resistance to fans returning to games. The great thing about us is that we know that it will be a ramp-up. We might be able to host 2,500 people initially when we opened our season all the way, hopefully to a false stadium by the end of 2021. We have 15,500 season ticket holders and we have 5,000 people on a waitlist to become season ticket holders.

Inside of those season ticket holders, there’ll be 2,500 of them who will want to come to games that will live in that world and will be open to masking up, socially distance, and want to be part of an Allianz Field experience. If for whatever reason, there are not, then we will go back to our group sales leads. We will go back single-game buyers. We will go down the channels that you have worked in all of your life to see whether or not we can get to capacity based on whatever the guidelines that the governor gives us are.

 

My audience, Chris, need to understand that this is someone who’s speaking and you don’t speak off the cuff. You’re a strategic thinker. You plan well. On top of your smarts, you also have a tremendous amount of experience and history in that market. You and I first met many years ago when you were the President of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lynx Organization, the NBA, WNBA franchises. You were in the NBA for 25-plus years. Many people associated with the NBA thought you’d never leave. Not because anyone was pushing you out or wanted you to leave but because you were becoming an institution. This is for people who are maybe new to the sports industry or aren’t in the sports industry at all, historically, the Minnesota Timberwolves in particular, when they began in the ’80s, began to produce talent out of the front office, out of the business office that was spreading throughout sports and making a tremendous positive impact throughout the industry.

You were right there in the center of it all. You were training. You were mentoring. You were identifying good talent. You and I could talk about names that came out of your system and the system that you helped build. Could you help my audience understand why would you leave such a great environment, such a comfortable situation with the Timberwolves? You have a wonderful relationship with the owner of the Timberwolves and the Lynx, Glen Taylor. Why would you leave that to go start up an expansion franchise across town?

It is a good story because I started off in the beautiful game. I played a little bit in England. I got injured and I coached over there. I came to the United States and work for Edward J. DeBartolo who owned the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Penguins and he bought a soccer team. He needed a general manager. I was the guy that he chose. He gave me a PhD in running a professional sports organization. From there, I moved to Minnesota to work for Joe Robbie, another NFL owner who owned the Miami Dolphins. I worked for him and then closed the Minnesota Strikers down. I did work for Rudy Perpich, the Governor of the State of Minnesota, for a little bit. We built something called the National Sports Center up in Blaine, Minnesota but the NBA expanded to the Twin Cities.

A good friend of mine coming out of soccer, Tim Leiweke got the job as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He said, “Wright, Come on down.” Ironically, I was on a Zoom call with him and we’re telling a lot of the stories from the early days. You’re right. The names that came out of that franchise were incredible. In 1995, the franchise almost moved to New Orleans. A white knight on a big white horse called Glen Taylor rode in from Mankato, Minnesota, and took the franchise away from Bob Arum, the boxing promoter who was trying to buy it and move it down to New Orleans. Twelve years in with Glen, he made me the president of the team. I was the president for the last twelve years that I was there. Along the way, I try to encourage him to look at other investments in different sports teams and try to do what a lot of professional franchises have done, which has grown their stable of different operations.

There are so many synergies that evolve when you’ve got multiple properties. I tried often to encourage Glen to get into European soccer, where I’ve got a background and I know a little bit about what is going on over there. Years ago, a group led by Dr. Bill McGuire wanted to apply for the expansion rights for Minneapolis. They went up against the Wilfs, the family who own the Vikings to see who would get the rights. Glen said, “Go and meet with Bill. Let’s see if you can get me as part of that group. Let me be one of the investors in that group. You’ve always wanted to be in the game. Now, you can look after my investment in the game.” I did. I met with Bill and in the end became part of a group that put together the presentation to Don Garber and the expansion committee inside of the MLS. We won the rights to bring the franchise here. I went back to my day job, which was running the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minnesota Lynx.

As we went down a path with Bill, it was obvious that there were only a couple of real opportunities that franchises have to establish themselves in markets and gather a share of voice in a very cluttered market. We’re the fifteenth largest marketplace in the country. We have all of the different professional sports leagues here. We have Minor League Baseball here. We have a Division One university in downtown Minneapolis. We’re a destination for all of the major events that happen around our country. It’s very competitive. The ownership felt that as we started to go down a path of securing the site for Allianz Field, they wanted somebody experienced to run the franchise, build a team, build the business, and then build the stadium.

Glen said, “Chris, this is an opportunity for you to return to your roots, the game that you love, the game that you’re passionate about. What an incredible legacy play this could be for you.” I met with Bill McGuire. I met with the Pohlad family, who were also big investors in Minnesota United. In the end, I decided to accept the role of first CEO of the team. I work day-to-day with the Pohlad family, with Glen Taylor, with Bill McGuire, and this incredible group of owners that have been put together that have vested in the MLS inside of our market.

Never lose sight of exemplary fan experience. Click To Tweet

Now that you’re in MLS, you’ve been in it for a few years and you’ve got your hands dirty, so to speak, what have you learned in the MLS that has surprised you? Do you think that this is something that maybe your former league, the NBA or the NFL, because you have relationships there as well, that perhaps they could learn from the Major League Soccer experience? Is there anything that comes to mind?

The incredible thing about the MLS is that it just celebrated its anniversary. Think about the longevity of all of the other leagues on where they were at after many years as compared to this incredible beast of a league that is building purpose-built stadiums everywhere. The crafts are trying to figure one out in Boston. New York City Football Club trying to figure one out in New York, as well as all of the expansion teams of Nashville, Austin, St. Louis, the potential of Sacramento, Cincinnati, ourselves, all building purpose-built soccer stadiums. The development of the stadiums, generally speaking, the land around it is providing incredible opportunities for this to go again.

When you think about the World Cup coming back here in 2026, it’s going to be another incredible opportunity for to grow the game dramatically. Sometimes I don’t think in other leads you’ve got these major tent pole events that come in that are out at your control to a degree that are going to elevate the awareness perception following of the game. I’m not sure that those exist. People might say, “Super Bowl do that or the NBA Championships do that.” We also have our championships that are relatable to those big events inside of those other leagues. I would say that also from a participation standpoint, the MLS franchises, everybody that I talked to in our league is vested in growing the game. They’re all vested in young players, male and female. They have the growth of the game at heart.

Not always do you necessarily see that in all leagues. The NBA did. The amount of opportunity resources that you pour into the development of the game itself and the young lives that are looking for a sport to be able to play is remarkable. With the advent of all of these young American players being farmed by your top European teams and playing over there. Watch out when we play Christian Pulisic, Reyna, everybody else’s desks, and all of the young talent that is on Greg Bird holder’s team and squad, watch out if they make some noise in the World Cup. There were some amazing things happening inside of our game that I don’t necessarily believe are happening in a lot of the other professional sports in the United States.

You mentioned that the MLS just celebrated its anniversary. Not to put myself in that same class, but so did my business. The reason I say that is that in our first or second year of business, we were invited by Major League Soccer when it was twelve franchises who work with those initial twelve and building their sales operations. Mark Abbott, one of the founders of the league, as far as writing the original business plan, now the President of Major League Soccer, not the commissioner. He called us the official sales coach of Major League Soccer. We held that role for about three years as an advisor, a consultant trainer to the league. Now it’s at 27 franchises with three on the horizon. It’s a couple of short of all the other major leagues. That growth you spoke of is real and impressive.

When I think back to those original owners, the Anschutz, the Hunt family, I think about their vision for this sport and their commitment that come hell or high water, they were going to make this thing work. It wasn’t going to be the old NASL. It was going to be Major League Soccer. What a testament to their vision, to their commitment, to their resources, and all of the people around them, including as you mentioned, Don Garber, the Commissioner and the fantastic job he’s done. I have to ask you. Let’s come back a little bit to reality after all of those accolades. All of sports are suffering and that we don’t have any attendance going on largely speaking because of the pandemic. Television ratings have been going down pretty dramatically in sports. The Super Bowl, had about a fifteen-year low in viewership. Chris Wright, as seasoned as you are, what is your prescription to draw people’s attention back to sports, not only in buying tickets but also sitting in front of the television watching like they used to?

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC: The biggest challenge for MLS right now is how to come out of its complete reliance on local market revenue.

 

I don’t know that there’s a silver bullet, Rob, because you’ve got to do an awful lot of different things right. We talked a little bit about purpose, our why. That’s got to be right. That’s going to wonder pin everything that you do. You’ve got to believe in that. When our fans and supporters do come back into our stadium, the fan experience has got to be exemplary. We can never ever lose sight of that. Going forward, it’s also going to be a safe environment. You’ve got to figure out a way to make all of your facilities safe. There is science and different studies that have been done around large outdoor events. Fortunately, we have an outdoor stadium. I was reading a report where it’s almost 1,000 different outdoor events since the pandemic struck us. There’s only one that can be deemed a super spreader event. This particular study was aware of all found.

We’ve got to educate our fans that the environments that we’re going to create for them are going to be safe. You’ve got a chance. You’ve got to make sure that your product on the field of play is exemplary. We don’t have the millions of dollars of some of the other leagues to be able to spend on players. It’s important that you have systems in place that allow you to target identify and procure talent that is additive to the way you want to play. I think that the MLS style is growing. It’s getting much younger. It’s getting more creative. It’s getting more skillful and technical and the product in the end has got to lead. On the social and digital media side, the content that you allow your fans access to, behind the scenes access, the storytelling, the background of players. We have some incredible players from South America. People understood where they came from and how soccer became their way out. It’s compelling content storytelling around our players particularly.

I would say that the biggest challenge for our league is to find the balance between revenues that are generated by the league and local market revenues. We’re completely reliant on local market revenue. In 2020, which was devastating, your reliance on those 20,000 people coming to Allianz Field. If you have a season where zero fans come in, you get zero revenue. We’re in a fortunate place to have 74 corporate partners. We saved around 60% of the resources inside of those deals by coming up with unique activations. Some of it is community-based, social media-based, around our games that were all televised, and some of the assets that we were able to control around all of the television games. We’ve got to grow that support as well with our local partners.

The league is looking at different revenue streams out of television agreements that are up in 2022. It will be interesting to see by then where the rights fees go. We do about $19 million a year on an annual basis into our league, which is then distributed down into the teams. It’ll be interesting to see where that goes, given cord cutters, given the diversification of what people are claiming the content, where they’re going for content. It’ll be interesting to see where that bar that needs to be moved upwards goes in 2023.

My readers appreciate this insight you’re giving us into the mind of a sports executive. Thank you for that. In the few remaining moments that we’ve got, I’d like to ask you about more Chris Wright, just the person. I want to go back to your sports roots. You and I both know you were a keeper in soccer. I don’t know if you’re a great keeper but I got to think you were. I like to have this conversation with students. If you were to pick one position in sports and turn that person into an executive after they retired from the game, with the characteristics inherent with that position, what position is most likely become an effective executive? I want to ask you, is it a keeper or you have a different idea?

If I think of what Tom Brady has done with his career as a quarterback in the team, the only problem that I have with the analogy that you’re trying to have me make is that Tom Brady is only on the field half the time. He’s controlling the entire game. A lot of people would argue that he is. At the same time, the defense is on for half the time but the quarterback sees it all. He’s got to make a lot of tough decisions. He might call a play but he’s got to be nimble. There are things that open up in front of him that he’s got to take advantage of rather than pull his arm back and make the play that was prescribed at that particular moment in the game. He’s also going to be able to work in the pocket.

Outside of the pocket, he’s got to be able to run. He’s got to be able to sprint. He’s got to be mobile. He’s got to be nimble. He’s got to have one heck of an arm that executes all of the different strategies that are put in place for his organization. Of all of the positions that I see in sports that I think would make a great executive when you think of the traits, the skills, the techniques, and the execution of all of those, a quarterback in football is where I would go.

Life is much easier when you’re on the same page with your loved one. Click To Tweet

You were half a homer, you said football, but we all have to recognize you’re talking about American football.

I get into trouble with that all the time. I did a spot for SPIRE Credit Union in our market. They asked me a question and I had the audacity to say, “Soccer is the real football. Football is not football.” They edit. I can’t tell you how my Twitter account lit up.

Second personal question, you and your lovely wife, Walla have been married for years and yet you are in an industry, Chris, where the pressure is on you to be at the facility, be at the venue, late in the evenings, weekends, holidays, then you got to be back at it the next morning running the business. It takes its toll on a marriage. May I ask for my sake, for my reader’s sake, I am fortunate, blessed to have the woman in my life that I do who I’ve been married to for years. What’s your secret? How do you and Walla maintain a love affair?

There are two things that I would talk to. Number one, you’ve got to find your soulmate. You’ve got to find somebody who believes in you but you also believe in her. I hope that your readers take this in the right way but I am a believer in purpose. I’m a believer in why. What is your personal why? What we talk about all the time is not necessarily the club’s why but what is Walla Wright’s why and what is Chris Wright’s why. I can articulate it the same way that I can articulate my club’s why. My personal why is to live my life every single day through my three Fs, my Faith, my Family, and my Franchise. They’ve got to be in that order. My wife lives her life in exactly the same way. She lives her life through her faith. She lives it through her family. She’s in your business. She works for a company called Wilson Learning owned by the Japanese. They are a training company in sales, service, and executive coaching.

The good news is that I have a wife who I go to bed with every night who there isn’t one problem that Chris Wright has that she can’t have an answer for. Synergistically, when you are on the same page with your loved one the way that we are on the same page with each other, life is easy. It is easy because you’ve got your priorities right. We can celebrate our faith together. We can celebrate our family together. We certainly celebrate on both ends of the spectrum. She’s into MNUFC, and is into the Minnesota Timberwolves. I’m also into Wilson Learning and all of the events that she’s got to go to as well. I’m there with her holding her hand. That’s where I play second fiddle where she plays second fiddle at all of my events but it works.

Chris, I wish we could talk longer. There’s so much more I’d like to inquire and learn from you about. Thank you for your insights. Thank you for being an inspiration to so many people. You’ve been persuasive in my career. I think that this conversation we’ve had will have an impact on others as well. I wish you the best, you and your team. Are there any final thoughts from you?

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC: The quarterback role in football illustrates the traits, skills, techniques, and execution that make an effective executive.

 

I appreciate the opportunity. It’s wonderful connecting with you again. Thank you for everything that you’ve done for my franchises along the way, all of the experience and the professionalism that you brought to every single session, training session that we’ve participated in. I appreciate you. I appreciate the Game Face. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.

Thank you, sir. Go loons. Chris Wright, thank you very much.

Thanks, Rob.

Chris and his club have been recognized in sports for building a brand that reflects its name, Unity. In 2020, that was the last word observers would use to describe the community of Minneapolis, where so much social and civil unrest occurred. Catch the rest of our heartfelt conversation to learn how Chris’s leadership was and is being tested. How will he bring Minnesota together through the beautiful game? If you’d like to learn some marital advice from a man who’s been blissfully wedded to the same wife for years, stick around for the end of my conversation with Chris Wright, a Unifier under United.

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About Chris Wright

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Chris Wright joins Minnesota United as the organization’s first CEO after 26 years with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx, including the last 13 years as President.

Growing up in England, though his first love was soccer, and it was only after a — by his account — brief career as a player and then a coach and manager that he came stateside to work in the Major Indoor Soccer League. He eventually made his way to Minnesota to serve as the general manager of the Minnesota Strikers.