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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Washington Freedom's Mark Washo brings wealth of sports industry success to DC SCORES board

When Mark Washo joined the DC SCORES board of directors last September, it didn't take long for him to give us a huge boost.

Not only did the Washington Freedom President & General Manager bring a wealth of experience and connections in the sports industry to the position, but within a couple months the Freedom had agreed to partner with us and host the DC SCORES Cup at the Maryland SoccerPlex -- where the team plays its games.

Thanks to Mark, his staff and the SoccerPlex, the 2010 Cup, to be held July 10, will be played on pristine turf fields and will include free admission for all participants to that night's Washington Freedom game -- as well as many other benefits.

So you can see, right off the bat, the impact Mark has had on DC SCORES. It shouldn't be surprising, considering what he's accomplished over a short period of time. Mark's background includes working in ticket sales for three of the most successful Major League Soccer franchises.

He spent five seasons with D.C. United, helping the team lead all MLS franchises in group sales in 2000; then he joined the NY/NJ MetroStars, which saw an 18 percent increase in season ticket revenue under Mark's leadership; and he followed that by leading the Chicago Fire to achieve the highest total ticket sales revenue in the team's history in 2008.

Washo has also written a book, "Break Into Sports Through Ticket Sales," which is considered a must-read for students interested in the sports industry; he's a sports management instructor with Sports Management Worldwide; he launched his own ticket sales consulting firm, MMW Marketing; and he teaches a pair of classes to graduate students at Georgetown.

So, yes, he's kind of busy. But somehow he found the time -- even with the Freedom's season opener Saturday at the SoccerPlex -- to answer a few questions about his sterling career and his role on DC SCORES' board:

What inspired you to become a board member of DC SCORES?

"Back in my early days with D.C. United, our President Kevin Payne helped DC SCORES launch. Kevin was supportive of DC SCORES, and by extension made sure the entire D.C. United organization supported them. Therefore I was familiar with the organization and helped support DC SCORES from its inception, when (founder) Julie Kennedy was involved.

"When I relocated to the NY/NJ area and Chicago, there were SCORES chapters in each community, so I stayed involved. When I was the EVP of the Chicago Fire, I was asked to join the board of America SCORES Chicago. … I was thrilled when DC SCORES told me they would accept me as a board member."

Since joining the board, what have you found most fulfilling about the experience?

"Always the events and times I get to see the kids. Sitting in on all of the board meetings, we spend a lot of time discussing development, sustainability and growth -- clearly business issues. But the few times when we actually get to see the kids in person, these are the times when you see that this program is really touching and impacting young lives.

"The smiles on the kids’ faces, the proud moments after a performance or after they score a goal, are the most fulfilling times when you know the hard work and support of the cause are worth it. There is no question DC SCORES is impacting many kids in a positive way at the right age when they are exposed to many negative things that can pull them in the wrong direction."

Looking back, you have a ton of experience in sports ticket sales and even wrote a book that is considered required reading for anyone entering the industry. What got you interested in such work?

"I appreciate the acknowledgment of my book and reference that it is considered required reading. ... My inspiration for writing the book actually came out of sheer frustration. When I was trying to hire entry-level ticket sales professionals as the VP of Ticket Sales for the MetroStars (now Red Bull NY), I noticed more and more Sports Management undergraduate degrees popping up on resumes. When I went to interview all of the recent graduates, they all wanted to be in PR, CR and Marketing, the ‘glamorous’ side of sports business with the fewest opportunities.

"No one wanted to be in ticket sales, and worse yet, I was told they never even learned about sales during their undergraduate sports marketing classes. The good news is, more and more sports management programs are now teaching about the importance of ticket sales, and most students graduating are now aware that ticket sales is the easiest way to break into sports business."

What have you enjoyed most about your work with six professional sports teams?

"While moving around the country has been challenging personally at times (and I’ve mostly lived in large cities with horrible traffic), the best part about moving to different teams and different markets are the new experiences and relationships that are gained along the way. When I look back on my experiences in New Jersey (selling tickets at Giants stadium and trying to build a new stadium in Harrison) or opening TOYOTA PARK in Chicago, those experiences cannot be replicated. ... Some of my strongest and deepest relationships come from time spent with other teams, and in other markets."

You also launched your own ticket sales consulting firm MMW ; you host weekly Sports Marketing chats for Sports Management Worldwide; and you teach classes to graduate students at Georgetown. What do you enjoy most about the diversity of your engagements?

"I appreciate you acknowledging a few of my other projects. At times I feel like perhaps I am spreading myself too thin. ... The Washington Freedom is without a doubt my full-time focus and priority. However, being able to teach and give back to those interested in sports business has been rewarding to me via my SMWW relationship and Georgetown. It also helps for me to stay active in Sports Business. This is a competitive profession, and one can quickly be forgotten."

The Freedom is set to begin its season Saturday at the Maryland SoccerPlex. What can we look forward to over the course of the season?

"I am excited for this new season to begin because it is time for us to see how far we can push this business this year. I came into the Freedom right at the start of the season (last year), therefore by the time I got here it was very difficult to have any type of significant impact (on the structure of the team). ...

"In June/July of last we year, we began a total reorganization of our front office, which was completed by August (including a new front office space build out). It has been a long offseason, and we have experienced positive growth in ticket sales and sponsorship. … The team on the field should be extremely exciting (with) new draft picks like Nikki Marshall, a new international player from Norway, Lene Mykjaland, and Brittney Bock acquired via the LA Sol dispersion draft."

The Freedom is partnering with DC SCORES to host the SCORES Cup tournament July 10 at the SoccerPlex. Why should companies, law firms and others get involved with this year’s Cup?

"We are really excited to be partnering with DC SCORES for the 2010 SCORES Cup. Our facility here at the MD SoccerPlex is one of the best soccer facilities in the entire country. Therefore, teams will get the opportunity to play on the best fields in the area. We also have many exciting events planned around the Freedom game after the tournament concludes. It will truly be a unique one-day experience and an event that can be enjoyed by soccer players as well as those with families."

What are your goals as a DCS board member and how would you like to see the organization develop?

"My goals as a DCS board member are simply to help the organization build and grow. It seems like the sport of soccer continues to be on a 'crusade' here in the United States -- a crusade that I’ve been on for over 14 years. Since DC SCORES is tied to soccer, it is natural that I have the opportunity to help DC SCORES grow. The program speaks for itself, so it is simply a matter of introducing more people to it.

"I hope the program can continue to bring in the appropriate amount of funds via donors and events, continue to expand and hopefully eventually move into Virginia and Maryland. Selfishly for the Freedom, we hope DC SCORES can find a school in Montgomery County to work with in our ‘backyard.’ I hope I can continue to support them as best I can, while balancing my primary commitments to the Freedom and other endeavors I am a part of."

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