Express Alumni Update: Chris Thompson
The Northwoods League has been proven to develop top talent. This development takes place both on the field and off it as players, coaches, interns and front office staff have all made the most out of their time in the NWL. In today's Alumni Update presented by Lakeland University, the Express sat down with former Front Office Staff Member Chris Thompson to reflect upon his time here in Eau Claire.
Thompson joined the Express in 2013 as a Stadium Operation Intern and departed the club in 2017 as the Director of Food & Beverage. With a stop in Minneapolis, Thompson has found his way to Oregon, taking over the role of Director of CRM and Analytics with the Portland Timbers in the MLS and Portland Thorns in the NWSL.
Below are a few thoughts and suggestions from Thompson:
Eau Claire Express: What made you pursue a position in sports?
Chris Thompson: It all kind of happened on accident. I was looking for internships at the time as an Economics student and applied for the Express along with other intern positions around the Eau Claire area that could relate to my degree. While a Stadium Operations Intern has a lot more labor involved than other Economics related internships, it did provide an outlet for me to explore how sports and my degree could come together - especially when running the food and beverage side of the operation.
From there, I fell in love with the sports business and started to see how I could potentially make a career there in my second-year internship and my eventual transition into a full-time position. I knew that there would be opportunities down the line for me to advance my career and the Express provided me a foot in the door - especially coming from a University that doesn't necessarily provide a path into the sports business world.
ECE: Why did you choose to join the Express when you did?
CT: The Express was my first full-time job out of college, and it made sense that after my two years of interning that I should continue to be at the Express in order to stay within the sports business world.
ECE: What was your most memorable experience with the team?
CT:Â I think my most memorable experience was just my first summer internship year in its entirety. The Express hosted the 2013 NWL All-Star and the interns I worked with that year were friends for life. While I talk to a lot of our former interns that I worked with since, and love them all as well, that first year was special and it helped me realize the potential of having an actual career in the sports industry.
ECE: Where did your journey take you after leaving the team and where are you now?
CT:Â When I left in 2017, I took a job with Minnesota United FC who had just started their first season in Major League Soccer as an expansion club. I joined as a Ticket Operations and Business Intelligence Coordinator, which leveraged my skills from my degree and my experience with the Express on how a business in sports works.
From there, I played a part in the transition from playing at TCF Bank Stadium in MNUFC's first two seasons, to their 1st season playing in brand new Allianz Field; a state-of-the-art soccer-specific stadium. During my 3 seasons with MNUFC, my role there developed and changed a lot over time from being a dual role in overseeing the ticketing operations and assisting in the business analytics of the club, to taking on a full role in helping shape the club's direction in the analytics sphere that played a part in the operations of the transition for Season Ticket Members, the pricing of multiple ticketing products, and assisting in the marketing of the club across various streams.
About halfway through the 3rd season, an opportunity came up that provided me the chance to run my own Business Intelligence department with two clubs that were very well respected in both Major League Soccer and the National Womens Soccer League. The Portland Timbers has some of the best soccer atmosphere in the US with a ravenous following, and the Portland Thorns is one of the most successful Womens clubs in the entire world. Both teams have consistently averaged 20,000 per match and being able apart in the growth, and having such a huge part in shaping that direction was something I just couldn't pass up.
ECE: What are your current roles with the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns?
CT: As the Director, CRM and Analytics, I help oversee the CRM for the club, which manages our customer data for all of our sales and services reps in order for them to be able to manage their day-to-day activities for all of their leads and contacts. I also manage our entire data structure as we move to connect everything together, from our ticketing system, our food and beverage systems, the website, etc. in order to better understand our customers and their needs and to help shape our long-term strategy surrounding our ticket sales, sponsorship, and operations. From this, I take deep dives into this data in order to analyze and make recommendations to our executive team about the various questions they have, as well as what I'm seeing that would make sense for our clubs to do in order to improve both the fan experience, but to improve our revenue streams. I will also work closely with our marketing team to help shape what our email marketing strategy is and to create customer profiles for our marketing team to use in order to more efficiently target fans for products that would fit those profiles.
ECE: Are there any similarities to the positions that you have held at the different levels of sport?
CT:Â My current position is fairly similar to the role I held towards the end of my time at MNUFC, where I finished in the role of Business Intelligence Manager, with the difference being the amount of responsibility I now take on running the department and how I have more of a shape in how we can improve the club's future on the business side, as well as being responsible for the equivalent of two MLS sized clubs instead of one. However, my current role is vastly different than my position with the Express - at the minor levels of sport, it was hard to not only have much time to do what I did now as we all wear multiple hats in order to make the business successful. I couldn't go through the analyzing of various revenue streams, build complex pricing models, and build robust email marketing just because the time and resources weren't there. I did learn though how much work is needed to make any sports franchise successful and that translates across all levels of sport.
ECE: What keeps you motivated in your career?
CT: My constant motivation is knowing that what I do affects everyone and that I'm always looking for something new. I'm basically a scientist, looking for relationships in my data constantly and that constant search is always pushing me to learn more about our fans and our business. Trying to innovate what we do is a constant driver and my hunger and curiosity about the data we get from fans is a big driving force behind that.
ECE: How do you think the Express helped you grow as a professional?
CT: I think the biggest thing the Express helped me with is how to be a leader and a manager - both of which are very different things. Sure, my schooling career taught me how to do a lot of what I do now on the back end for analyzing data, but the Express were the first club that forced me to learn how to act like a professional around others, how to interact in a way to get across a complex message simply, and most importantly, how to manage and lead a team of people to accomplish our goals.
ECE: Any advice you would give interns in sport or young professionals starting out?
CT: First, I would say that they should always spend time trying to reach out and network with others in the industry. Part of the reason I got to where I am today is the effort I took to reach out and meet people from around the industry - in both cases when I advanced from the Express, I knew the people who were hiring before the job posting and was able to get my foot in the door with each of them and stand out against the other candidates.
Secondly, be open to new experiences during their internships. Get creative and do projects that you find interesting that will benefit the club you're working or interning for. If you do what you love within the industry, you'll be taken care of and you'll find joy in your work! Who knows - maybe you'll find that instead of marketing, you really love working with data and want to be an analyst - or maybe you work in sales, but find that operations is far more rewarding.
ECE: When you think about your time with the Express, what comes to mind?
CT: When I think about the time I had with the Express, I think of all the people I met, all the fans I interacted with (Shout out to the host families!) and the friends I made. While we might not talk all the time, I still value their friendship and the connections we made and the time we shared.
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