John Walker began his first day as President of Business Operations for the Houston Dynamo and Dash not only armed with the experience and expertise to excel at the position, he arrived with his eyes intently fixed on the primary challenge awaiting the commencement of his tenure.
The Dynamo, having failed to qualify for the MLS playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, capped the 2018 schedule with an average attendance of 16,906, their 76.7 percent capacity representing the lowest in club history since the 2012 relocation to BBVA Compass Stadium.
Upon his introduction on Thursday, Walker acknowledged both the competitive professional sports market in Houston and the task of reigniting the passions of casual Dynamo fans. Team success is the salve most organizations apply to attendance wounds, but Walker understands that rekindling interest requires more than triumph. He grasps the scope of the chore ahead.
“There are a lot of levers we’re going to have to pull,” Walker said. “And until I get a chance to dive in and see what it is that we’ve done previously in the organization – stuff we’ve done from a sales, marketing, and community engagement perspective – it’s going to be difficult to tell exactly what to do. Winning certainly helps that. But I think there are some other things that we can do to be more relevant, to be creative, maybe try some things that are out of the box.”
In Walker, the Dynamo have an executive capable of thriving in demanding environs. Walker comes equipped with more than three decades of experience in the sports industry, his résumé highligh stops with the University of Oklahoma, the Kansas City Royals, the Phoenix Suns and, most recently, a three-season stint as Executive Vice President for Business Operations with the Memphis Grizzlies. Wedged between his employment with the Suns and Grizzlies, both small-market NBA franchises, Walker served successfully as President and CEO of Tickets.com.
What Walker gleaned over 10 years with the Suns, first as Vice President of Business Development and then Senior Vice President, influenced his achievements with the Grizzlies, whose business operations unit set franchise records in ticket sales and total revenue. Walker spearheaded initiatives on jersey advertisement partnerships, a new G-League franchise purchase (the Memphis Hustle), and the launch of an NBA2K e-sports franchise, Grizz Gaming.
The Memphis connection is noteworthy for Walker, the Dynamo, and MLS: Tom Penn (President and Co-Owner of Los Angeles FC), Jason M. Levien (Co-Chairman and CEO of D.C. United), and Mike Golub (Portland Timbers President of Business) have ties with the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies serving as Memphis’ lone professional franchise presented a unique set of challenges. Walker will face different obstacles in Houston, but he aims to rely on the innovation that yielded fruit with the Grizzlies, using a methodology that has proven viable.
“We had to get really creative,” said Walker, who follows Oliver Luck and Chris Canetti in this role. “And I think that’s the kind of creativity we’re going to need to instill here.
“Different audiences will come to matches for different reasons. We need to find the best mix of things that touch on a lot of different audiences. Some of that will be around the game experience, some of it will be around the competitiveness on the pitch, some of it may be through the use of technology, some of it might be all about drinking a beer and having a good time. All of those things have to be put in play to appeal to multiple audiences in order to pack the house.”