Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
Eau Claire native Chris Thompson is a business intelligence manager with Minnesota United FC. The team in 2017 joined Major League Soccer, the top professional level for the sport in the U.S. The franchise just recently opened a soccer-only facility in St. Paul.
“I’ve been following MNUFC since around 2015 when the team rebranded and started to make some noise in the (North American Soccer League),” he said. “But I didn’t really realize how special the team was to the community until I got here.”
Thompson works within the business side of the club, he said, answering questions and providing actionable data to help guide decision-makers. The sponsorship team might ask about fan base demographics or the sales department could have a question about ticket sales trends.
As the new stadium was being built, Thompson was involved in the pricing strategy and ticket operations, which required significant new technologies and a host of analytics.
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Thompson got his professional start with the Eau Claire Express. He started as an intern in 2013 and left, armed with a degree from UW-Eau Claire, as director of food and beverage about four years later.
“Chris was a big contributor to the team’s success off the field the past few seasons,” Express part-owner Andy Neborak said in a news release announcing Thompson’s departure.
Thompson said the Eau Claire Express provided a “wonderful” place to start his career — as an intern during college and as a full-time employee after graduating.
“With that level of baseball, you have to wear several hats in order for the organization to be successful,” he said. “I was able to learn about the sales process, how to run an event operationally and financially, and it really molded my management skills.
“On top of all that, you learned time management, as baseball is a nonstop sport with games every day at Carson Park.”
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Minnesota’s first-ever game at Allianz Field on April 13 ended in a 3-3 tie with New York City FC. The facility cost $250 million to build, all of which was generated through private funding. Its seating capacity is 19,400.
“The stadium has been mind-blowing — even touring it the first few times when it was a skeleton I was in awe,” Thompson said. “Allianz Field really will be a ‘mecca’ for soccer in the United States.”
And fans have taken notice. With a season-ticket base of 14,500, each home game is expected to be a sellout. The team was 1-0-1 heading into a road game Friday with Toronto FC.
“The sound from the supporters and fans is immense and it made me shiver hearing everyone cheer during the home opener,” Thompson said. “Being a part of this journey is really a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. I mean, who gets to say they played a big part in opening a stadium?
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of it and meet everyone that I’ve worked with along the way.”
Despite the experience and his new environment, Thompson pledged that his allegiance to at least one professional team — a certain football franchise that calls Green Bay home — won’t be altered.
“Of course,” he said. “That will never change.”
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