Wolves’ new ‘chief experience officer’ sees endless possibility

Marquise Watts
Courtesy of MN Timberwolves

Since the untimely death of George Floyd and the racial reckoning of 2020 both locally and nationally, corporations, organizations and sports teams have pledged they would be increasing diversity among their senior staff, especially in C-suite positions.

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, both under the new co-ownership of Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore, have been the leaders among local pro teams when it comes to creating new executive positions. Marquise Watts will begin this spring as the organization’s chief experience officer, a newly created and first-of-its-kind position.  

Watts has deep connections with the Twin Cities, dating back to his basketball playing days at the University of Minnesota-Morris, and the Milwaukee native told the MSR that he looks forward to returning to the area in his new job. He will report to CEO Ethan Casson.

“It’s unique,” said Watts of his new job. “[It] bridges over both basketball operations and the business [side]. I’m responsible for the players’ experience of what you would call ‘player programming.’ That would be anything that touches the players, [that] helps elevate their lives and elevate their resources.”

The new Wolves-Lynx exec has extensive brand and sports management experience. Watts is currently with the Klutch Sports Group, where he led marketing and corporate partnership efforts, connecting mostly pro-athlete clients with corporate brands. 

Before that, he oversaw the signings of some of the NBA’s and WNBA’s top players with Adidas. Also, Watts played an integral role that launched Under Armour Basketball in its sports marketing initiatives.

Pro athletes, especially Black athletes, want to be involved in the community in which they are primarily located but often don’t know-how. Too often teams have been restrictive in where they could lend their efforts in improving life outside of sports.  

“For many, many years if you talk to current [and] past players, there was a gaping need,” recalled Watts of pro teams doing more to foster social change. “I’ve listened to players and been around them as clients or partners. I’ve listened to and seen what our agents and other colleagues at agencies have said and done].”

“The one great thing is, athletes and their families and teams do care,” he stressed. “So, if you don’t care about the community, and you don’t care [that] the players are part of the community, we all have to be looking to make better changes and better things. You can’t have one without the other.”

His new job could involve “anything from how we interact, how we communicate with [the players], how internally we connect them to the community or interest that they want to be, how we interact with their agents, their brand partners, and their families.

“If you’re going to invest [in the players], you also have to invest in getting to know them, and also know what they need,” Watts said. “That’s not a one-size fit.

“I think what is unique [about the chief experience officer position] is…to be innovative to the rest of the league,” stated Watts, who added that the new job fits in his overall advocacy for education and closing the achievement gap since he left college. “I knew that I wanted to do something that would be impactful,” he continued. “I always knew that basketball and sport, in general, being my first love, I wanted to be able to see how I can live my passion and also be impactful.”

Soon Watts will do this back in the Twin Cities. “I’m extremely humbled,” he said. “From a legacy piece, I look at it twofold. The ability for us to grow and create something is always super exciting. It’s a blank canvas. Anything is possible, anything that we need to get done. I think that’s exciting for our players to know that [this] position was created to help the entire organization be better.”

More importantly, “Every day it dawns on me as a Black man,” concluded Watts, “I hope that there are little boys and girls out there in the community that look like me or across the country or wherever that understand that these things are possible. Let’s do what we can to show that this becomes the norm and not the exception.”