GSW President Rick Welts: How to be a Leader in Sports
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**Note: This conversation will be hosted digitally, not in the real live world.**
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What does it take to be a leader in the sports world? What's it been like to run the Warriors during their majorly successful run? How about doing all of it while gay? Are you interested in meeting a basketball legend? How about someone who is in charge of the business of running a new stadium in SF?
All this and more!
One of the most respected executives in the NBA and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018, Rick Welts owns 45 years of experience in the league and has spent the last eight seasons as president and chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors. In this role, reporting to Co-Executive Chairman & CEO Joe Lacob and Co-Executive Chairman Peter Guber, Welts oversees all business-related operations for the Warriors, including Chase Center and Thrive City, a privately financed sports and entertainment district in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood that opened in September 2019. To celebrate the opening of Chase Center, Welts rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on October 7, 2019. He owns the rare distinction of being part of championship teams in the NBA (4), WNBA (2) and NBA G League (1).
Under Welts’ direction, the organization has established several franchise benchmarks from a business standpoint, as the Warriors brand continues to grow in stature following five consecutive NBA Finals appearances and three NBA championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018. The organization has won numerous awards across all facets of the business in recent years, including the Warriors being named “Sports Team of the Year” across all sports in both 2014 and 2016 by the Sports Business Journal/Daily. The Warriors are the first professional team to win this coveted award twice.
The 66-year-old Welts owns an impressive and all-encompassing résumé that includes a myriad of different capacities spanning virtually every level of an NBA operation. Prior to joining the Warriors in October 2011, he spent nine years as president of the Phoenix Suns. Welts’ responsibilities in Phoenix included the supervision of all business operations for the Suns, while also overseeing the team’s interest in the management of the US Airways Center and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
Prior to joining the Suns, Welts enjoyed a successful 17-year (1982-1999) stint at the NBA league office in New York, where he ascended through the ranks to eventually become the league’s thirdin-command as the executive vice president, chief marketing officer and president of NBA Properties. In addition to his overall contributions to the revitalization of the league’s image and popularity, his notable accomplishments at the NBA include the creation of NBA All-Star Weekend in 1984 and the marketing program for USA Basketball for the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team.” Along with Val Ackerman, Welts was named “Marketer of the Year” by Brandweek in 1998 for his role in launching the WNBA. During his time at the NBA office, he supervised a wide-range of departments, including corporate sponsorship and media sales, consumer products, international business activities, media relations, community relations, team services, special events and creative services. Welts also played a prominent role in the organization of preseason games in international cities and the eventual opening of international NBA offices in Australia, Asia, Europe, Mexico and Canada.
A native of Seattle, Washington, Welts began his NBA career in 1969, at the age of 16, as a ball boy with the Seattle SuperSonics. He spent 10 years with his hometown team serving a number of roles, including as the team’s director of public relations during back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals (1978 and 1979) and the SuperSonics’ lone NBA Championship in 1979. In 2006, he was the recipient of the annual Splaver/McHugh “Tribute to Excellence Award,” which is given annually by the NBA Public Relations Directors’ Association to a current or former member of the NBA PR family who has demonstrated an outstanding level of performance and service during their NBA career. In June 2019, Welts delivered the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Washington, at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
After leaving the SuperSonics, the University of Washington product spent the following three years (1980-1982) at Bob Walsh & Associates, a sports marketing firm in the Seattle area. His non-NBA résumé also includes serving as president of Fox Sports Enterprises (1999-2000).
In May of 2011, in a frontpage story in the New York Times, Welts became the highest-ranking executive in men’s professional team sports to publicly acknowledge he is gay. He was presented with a United States Tennis Association 2011 ICON Award at the US Open in New York City, an award that recognizes and celebrates those who have had a positive impact on diversity and inclusion in the sports industry and society. Also in 2011, he was honored with GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) Respect Award, which honors those who have made a difference in the areas of diversity and inclusion. In September 2014, he was honored by GLAAD, the nation’s LGBT media advocacy organization, with the Davidson/Valentini Award, which is presented to an LGBT media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality for the LGBT community. He also served as the celebrity Grand Marshall of San Francisco’s Pride Parade in 2015. In 2016 he was honored by the Anti-Defamation League with its “Torch of Liberty Award.” A member of Delta Chi fraternity while attending the University of Washington, in 2015 he was named “Delta Chi of the Year” by the national organization.
Welts currently serves as a board member of the Bay Area Council and the Warriors Community Foundation. He is a member the NBA’s Team Advisory Committee and Global Inclusion Council.
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