Ryan Gustafson is no stranger to Seattle sports.
The Bellevue product most recently was the vice president of business strategy and development for the Seattle Sounders. Prior to spending four years with the San Diego Padres, he worked in ticket sales and customer service for the Seahawks and Sounders from 2008 to 2010. Gustafson grew up less than 10 miles from CenturyLink Field.
And though he’s changing jobs, he won’t be changing stadiums.
Tuesday, Gustafson will be named president of the XFL’s new Seattle franchise. The rebooted eight-team league will begin play in February 2020.
“It’s the most amazing opportunity I can think of,” Gustafson said in a phone interview Monday. “I think that this city has the best sports fans in the world, and I’m happy to be one of them. That’s a cool thing, to be able to create something from scratch that could have a real impact on this community.
“This place is where I grew up. It’s part of my DNA. I am Seattle, and I am so proud to be from Seattle. So the ability to really build something that I think is going to be incredibly special and connect with fans that I have such a close connection with already and do it in a way that is uniquely Seattle is something that is such a cool thing. I’m very lucky and grateful for the chance to do it.”
Gustafson — who earned a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from the University of Puget Sound in 2008 and a master’s degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School in 2012 — also will have the chance to work with the first starting quarterback in Seahawks history.
Jim Zorn, who was named the team’s coach and general manager in late February, said in a statement that he’s “looking forward to working side-by-side with (Gustafson) to bring to life our team here in Seattle.”
Both hires came complete with considerable Seattle ties, and not by accident.
“For me, it’s critical,” Jeffrey Pollack, the XFL’s president and chief operating officer, said in a phone interview Monday. “Certainly on the side of the team presidents, we have a big lift in a relatively short period of time, and I’m looking for local leadership that already understands the market.
“I’m looking for people that are connected to the communities in which they will lead teams, so that as we lift up the league and get up to speed we already can benefit from a local perspective that’s informed and meaningful and current. That is absolutely critical to me and to us.”
When Pollack says “us,” he’s referring to XFL founder and chairman Vince McMahon, who also operates as the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and originally launched the football league — though it lasted just one year — in 2001 to compete with the NFL. He’s also referring to Seattle’s fellow XFL franchises in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C.
Those eight teams will play a 10-game schedule — starting Feb. 8-9, 2020 — followed by a four-team playoff. The league, to quote the XFL’s official release, will offer “fast-paced games with fewer play stoppages and simpler rules.”
Gustafson also used the phrases “reimagining football” and “family affordable” multiple times, and he emphasized that the XFL is not intended to compete with the NFL.
Still, there’s no guarantee the XFL will catch on in Seattle (or anywhere else).
But if anyone knows these fans, and what they want, it’s one of them.
“Ryan comes across and has a track record of someone who has really dedicated their career to the Seattle sports industry and sports community,” Pollack said. “That was exciting to us. He knows what makes Seattle tick. His executive presence, strategic thinking and entrepreneurial energy really were all very attractive to us.
“This is going to be a fun and exciting adventure, but it’s going to require an extraordinary amount of energy and commitment and focus. Ryan has all that, but he also has DNA that’s infused with Seattle sports.”