Veteran sports executive John Walker will serve as the new President of Business Operations for the Houston Dynamo and Dash, the club announced Thursday.
Walker brings more than 30 years of sports business experience to Houston, including his most recent post as executive vice president for business operations with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies over the last three years. His resume also includes roles in Major League Baseball, college athletics and with third-party ticketing companies.
Walker praised Houston in his remarks Thursday, noting, “When I think about the future of the club and how bright it is, it starts with this city, this amazing city. It’s incredibly diverse. It’s multinational, just like our club, and it’s getting younger as the influence of high tech attracts millennials, many of whom have grown up playing and following the game of soccer. Some of those are our fans today, and those will be our future fans.
“In addition,” he said, “it’s a great sports town, and although it’s a competitive sports market, and I understand that, there’s room in this market for everyone, and I’m a sports fan, so I’m happy to be in town.”
Walker also expressed excitement about the opportunity to land with an MLS club, noting the league’s growth and increasing popularity in his opening statements to media on Thursday.
Walker, touted in the club’s press release as “a data-focused leader” whose innovations with the Grizzlies included implementation of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to streamline the team’s ticketing, sponsorship and marketing efforts, is looking to boost fan support as an initial goal. Notably, the Dynamo was the only MLS squad in 2018 without a jersey sponsor.
“I know that in talking with the group here that some of that has fallen off a little bit, just in terms of the numbers, not in terms of the spirit and the love for the team,” Walker said of the fan base. “I think the opportunity to grow those [numbers] is what most excites me. And so that’s why I want to meet with [fans] first, because I want to find out how we can inject the passion that those that are part of those groups now [have], and we can double and triple the size.”
This past season, the Dynamo ranked 18th in attendance out of 23 MLS teams, according to Soccer Stadium Digest, with an average announced home crowd of just under 17,000.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be filling the building,” Walker remarked. “I mean, that’s the primary goal. I think at one point in this club’s history, there was a full building all the time, so you know it can happen. As I mentioned, the market is ripe to generate, create new fans, and that’s the goal. There’s no really easy answer for that. There’s not a relevance button that I can push to suddenly make that happen. We’re going to have to look at all facets of what we do from a business and the things we do in the community to be able to really drum up that interest, but that’s the challenge.
“From a business perspective, I’ll be working with the business team here to reshape the experience of what it means to be a Dynamo and a Dash fan. With all the different constituents, from community and civic leaders to our corporate partners, our members, the supporter clubs and just our plain ol’ fans, it’s about creating deeper and more meaningful and lasting relationships. And each of those groups deserves a fresh look at how they interact with the club.”
Chris Canetti, whose eight-year tenure as Dynamo and Dash president is the longest current among MLS clubs, will stay with the organization through Dec. 31 to help with the transition. Canetti announced last week he will move to the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority to become president of its Houston World Cup Bid Committee.
Houston, which was a host site for the 2016 Copa America Centenario (including the United States’ semifinal match against Argentina, is vying to be one of the host cities for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-hosted 2026 World Cup.