GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. – For incoming Minnesota United FC CEO Chris Wright, taking the helm of the expansion club is bringing him “back to his roots.”
The longtime Minnesota Timberwolves executive has taken a long and winding road to get to this point, as he was announced to be joining the Loons’ hierarchy in a press conference on Monday afternoon. Growing up in England, Wright was a goalkeeper in the Hull City youth ranks before playing non-league and semi-pro soccer. He earned his UEFA A coaching badges at 22, and made the moves Stateside to become the general manager of the Major Indoor Soccer League’s Pittsburgh Spirit in 1981.
“I’m happy to return to my roots with the game,” Wright told the media. “One of the things I’ve been involved in my whole life is startups. I know the way these franchises grow. My wife talks to me about the growth curve all of the time. Two years ago in Blaine, the franchise was averaging 5,000 people per game. Over the last five games, they’re averaging 21,000 in TCF Bank Stadium.”
Wright had been with the Timberwolves for 26 years, taking over as team president 13 years ago. He helped launch the Minnesota Lynx in 1999, who this past weekend punched their ticket to their sixth WNBA Finals in seven seasons. Still, the beautiful game has always held a grasp on Wright’s heart. He spoke of waking up every Saturday and Sunday morning to watch his native country’s Premier League, and was a key figure in Minnesota United’s MLS expansion bid.
“I tried to convince [Timberwolves owner] Glen Taylor 12-14 years ago, so we had many conversations around soccer and whether that team would be in MLS or in Europe. I knew the leaders of the [Minnesota Vikings owners the Wilf family’s MLS] bid. I partnered with [MNUFC managing partner Dr. Bill McGuire] to add whatever my expertise is to the already incredible work that was being done by the franchise. I was mostly working on the presentation package.”
Now, Wright will join the leadership ranks of the MLS franchise he helped bring to fruition. McGuire confirmed that Wright would be “responsible for business and sporting operations,” and that “everything would roll through Chris” moving forward. To McGuire, this marks the last major front office hire for the foreseeable future.
“I think we’re pretty well set with the key people that we need in each of our major areas. People need to work together and with the people we have, I think we’re in good shape.” McGuire continued by deadpanning: “Now somebody’s gonna ask about that [first] [Designated Player], but…”
Wright will use his business acumen and love of the game to help continue to build the foundation to acquire that marquee player. While he’s caught many Loons games this year, he’s gotten to know the league very well over the years.
“My two sons are out in Portland watching this,” he said. “One of our sons is actually a season ticket member with the Timbers, so we’ve got to change that in a hurry. There will be lots of arguments in our household from here on.”
Wright will leave his post with the Timberwolves and Lynx on Oct. 5, set to join on as Minnesota United winds down their season. He’s likely to look at his sons’ beloved Timbers as a potential model franchise. After all, he set some lofty goals for his tenure as CEO.
“I want Adrian Heath to win an MLS championship. I want Allianz Field to be the best fan experience in the Twin Cities, driven by the fans. I want our business to be profitable. How about that?”