Posted: June 24, 2002
The Phoenix Suns announced the hiring of 30-year industry veteran and highly respected marketing executive Rick Welts as its President and Chief Operating Officer today . The newly created executive position is part of a front office restructuring, separating the business and basketball functions of the NBA club. Welts will directly oversee all business operations of the Phoenix Suns and he will generally oversee the club’s interests in Phoenix Arena Development, managing company of America West Arena, and Phoenix Arena Sports, owning entity of the Arizona Rattlers (AFL) and operating entity of the Phoenix Mercury (WNBA). Bryan Colangelo will retain the title of President and General Manager and will continue to oversee all basketball related business and operations.
Commenting on the restructuring, Bryan Colangelo said, “ When (Suns CEO) Jerry (Colangelo) approved my proposed restructuring plan, we set the bar very high to establish the right hire. Without question, Rick Welts was the highest ranking and most successful sports industry executive and was our first and only choice. This new structure puts us on par with other professional sports teams and I anticipate tremendous growth for this company in the coming years.”
Jerry Colangelo commented, ” Rick’s reputation is that of being one of the top executives in the industry. To have him join our organization is a tremendous plus. We are excited about this addition and it speaks well for our future.”
Welts served the majority of his career in the NBA, including 17 years with the league office in New York City. His association with the NBA spanned from1982 through 1999, and he departed as the league’s Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer. His tenure at the league office coincided with the revitalization of the league and it’s image through strong marketing initiated by the NBA. He is credited with the creation of the NBA All-Star Weekend concept in 1984, which is now a league highlight and a standard in both the NHL and MLB. He was responsible for the 1992 Olympics “Dream Team” marketing program as the agent for USA Basketball. In 1998, Brandweek magazine named Welts “Marketer of the Year” for his role in creating and launching the WNBA. It was an honor he shared with WNBA President Val Ackerman.
Commenting on the announcement, NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "We are delighted to welcome Rick Welts back to the NBA family as President and COO of the Phoenix Suns. Rick's 17 years at the NBA was a time of extraordinary growth and we congratulate the Suns who will benefit by having one of the outstanding marketers and executives not only in basketball but in all of sports."
Recruited by David Stern, then the NBA’s Executive Vice President for Business and Legal Affairs, in 1982, Welts joined the NBA as director of national promotions for NBA Properties (NBAP). He established the corporate sponsorship department for the league and in 1983 was named Vice President of Marketing, NBAP. When Stern became NBA Commissioner in February 1984, he promoted Welts to Vice-President, Marketing and Communications. Four years later he was promoted again to President of NBA Properties, responsible for virtually all the league’s off-court revenue businesses and marketing activities.
At some point during that span Welts supervised league departments including Corporate Sponsorship and Media Sales, Consumer Products, Media Relations, Community Relations, Team Services, Special Events, Creative Services, and Retail including the NBA Store and the “NBA City” restaurant. He was also responsible for the NBA’s international business activities, from opening the league’s first international office in Australia, to supervising six regional offices and 75 international employees in Asia, Europe, Australia, Mexico and Canada. He added the title of NBA Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer in 1996.
Welts left the NBA in June 1999 when presented an opportunity to become President of Fox Sports Enterprises (FSE). FSE managed Fox interests in facilities and sports teams including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dodger Stadium, Staples Center, the L.A. Kings, Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks and New York Rangers. In May of 2000 he became President of “First In Line”, a joint venture between USA Network’s Ticketmaster & SFX.
In June 2001 along with two partners, Casey Wasserman and Gary Stevenson, Welts became a partner in a sports consulting firm, ONSPORT. He worked there until assuming his role in Phoenix.
Welts’ entree into the NBA came in 1969 as a ball boy for the Seattle SuperSonics. He was with the Sonics for 10 years handling a number of positions including director of public relations during Seattle’s back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals and their NBA Championship in 1979.
He left the Sonics in 1979 for an opportunity with a one of the first sports marketing business of its kind, Bob Walsh & Associates. As vice-president he was involved in creating the first sports subscription cable service (Sonics SuperChannel) as well as representation of athletes in the NBA, MLB, and NFL.
A native of Seattle, he attended the University of Washington.