As the Seattle Sounders navigate a time of unprecedented opportunities in the build-up to their 50th anniversary and the 2026 World Cup, they have hired a new President of Business Operations who has navigated his fair share of unprecedented circumstances.
Hugh Weber, who is filling the role vacated as Peter Tomozawa transitions into a leadership role in World Cup preparations, was given a difficult task as the new president of the New Orleans Hornets in 2005. The city had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and the NBA franchise was forced to relocate to Oklahoma City for two seasons just a few years after arriving from Charlotte in 2002.
With the organization in dire financial straits, the NBA assumed ownership of the franchise and gave Weber a difficult task: increase their season-ticket numbers to over 10,000 in order to attract a local buyer, or risk the team leaving New Orleans for good. Weber orchestrated an outside-the-box marketing campaign to renew community excitement in the team by networking with local business leaders and connecting with fans. In the end, the 10,000 season tickets were sold, and a local owner eventually stepped up to purchase the team in 2012, at which point the team rebranded as the Pelicans.
While Weber departed from the Hornets after the sale, he found a new challenge as president of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and their home arena, the Prudential Center. The Devils were in financial straits of their own. Under Weber’s leadership from 2013 to 2019, the team became profitable again through improvements to the organization’s culture and community engagement that led to impressive gains in season ticket sales. Weber also was credited with developing structure within the club’s parent organization, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HSBE), as the company looked to expand.
These successes earned Weber a promotion to become the president of HSBE, which controls both the Devils and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, among other brands. Before stepping down this year, Weber oversaw impressive growth in both revenue and company value. His leadership put an emphasis on personnel development, community connection, and innovation.
Some of Weber’s key projects at HSBE may be of significant interest to the Sounders. On the marketing side, the Devils were the first team in the NHL to introduce helmet decal sponsorships, which the team has used to promote minority-owned businesses as well as corporate advertising. The 76ers drove the inclusion of NBA jersey patches, most recently used to advertise a cryptocurrency platform.
With sports betting on the rise in New Jersey, the Devils and 76ers have entered into official partnerships with various gambling companies, and were the first American pro-sports franchises to partner with an online betting platform. Whether or not such marketing and gambling deals align with the culture of the Sounders is up for debate, but the team has already entered into a partnership with the Emerald Queen Casino and the Puyallup Tribe in 2022.
Finally, Weber supervised the construction of the 76ers 125,000-square-foot training facility, the largest in the NBA at the time, which opened in 2016. As the Sounders break ground on a state-of-the-art training facility of their own with the goal of completing the project by the club’s 50th anniversary in 2024, Weber’s experience may be invaluable.
So, after having such success with HSBE over the last decade, why is Weber joining the Sounders? One key factor is his northwest roots. He grew up in Tacoma, attended the University of Puget Sound, and listed the Seahawks and Sonics as his favorite childhood sports teams. His mother still lives in Tacoma, as well.
As the Sounders aim to take full advantage of the opportunities surrounding the club’s 50th anniversary, impending brand refresh, new training facility, and 2026 World Cup, Weber’s hire is a statement that the team’s ambitions are as great as ever.