As the Chief Revenue Officer for the Houston Dynamo, Dash and BBVA Stadium, Dionna Widder oversees the club’s ticket sales and service teams, along with corporate partnership sales and service efforts, all in an effort to help create world-class experiences for fans. Widder’s rise to the C-suite has been rapid, especially being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and the 36-year-old wouldn’t trade her journey here for anything.
Growing up in a single-parent household, Widder was told she could play any sports that she could walk to, which meant basketball and soccer were her only two options. She quickly found a love for them both and the sense of community that a team provided, and they became a focal point of her life.
“I think where the love really stuck is that I didn’t feel like I had much of a purpose as a kid until I found the love of being an athlete and part of a team,” Widder recalled. “It was pretty clear that if you’re just good, you have a place, and how I felt about being an athlete and playing sports became how I wanted to feel the rest of my life, so I made that my purpose.”
While her passion for sports grew from playing, it wasn’t until she started attending live events and getting first-hand experience of the atmosphere and energy in an arena that Widder knew she wanted to work for a sports team. There was one game in particular that ultimately shaped Widder’s path through life, as she sat courtside at a Detroit Pistons game with her best friend.
“We were sitting there at this game and the one thing I remember most from that experience was all the people walking around in suits,” Widder said. “I told myself then that I didn’t know what these people do, but that’s what I want to do. So, I truly made it a statement and knew I needed to go to college to do what they did, and that turned into a guiding point for me, a focus.”
With an academic scholarship in hand, Widder attended Central Michigan University and received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration as a first-generation college graduate. While at CMU, Widder visited a career fair hosted by the Pistons each of her first three years, and that led to numerous internship opportunities and her eventual invitation to the NBA career fair upon graduation.
“The NBA career fair was basically a league-wide sales combine with 150-200 college graduates invited, and each team was competing for the top recruits,” Widder explained. “It was very cutthroat and competitive, but exciting all at the same time, and I walked away with six job offers, which was pretty amazing. I narrowed it down to the Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Phoenix Suns, but ultimately went with the Pacers.”
After two years with the Pacers as a member of the Group Sales team, Widder took a position with the Detroit Lions selling season tickets during their infamous 0-16 season, but it was short-lived as the Pacers hired her back later that year as the Director of Group Sales. By her second year in that role, Widder helped the Pacers go from 22nd in the league in group tickets sold to second.
From there, Widder took a position with the NBA’s league office Team Marketing and Business Operation Group as a Director. The position was another step in her journey to the executive level, but this one came with an unexpected twist.
“It was one of the best decisions I ever made and the growth I experienced there was phenomenal, but the crazy part about this position for me was that my husband and I found out we were having twins two weeks after I had accepted the position, which involved traveling like 95% of the time, if not more,” Widder said. “We moved to Michigan and I worked remotely, but once my maternity leave was up, I was back on the road every week. I would fly to New York on Monday morning to be at the 9am meeting, then I would spend the next three or four days with my set of teams before flying back home, and then do it all again.”
During her time with the league office, Widder made numerous connections around the NBA, and it was the Cleveland Cavaliers who would provide Widder her next opportunity, offering her the position of Vice President of Ticket Sales. With four straight Eastern Conference titles and Cleveland’s first championship of any kind in more than 50 years, her tenure with the Cavs was a remarkable experience.
“To be able to sell a team that’s going to the NBA Finals four years in a row and also win an NBA Championship was an experience that is almost hard to explain,” Widder admitted. “It was phenomenal the sense of accomplishment and selling out 250 consecutive home games, obviously you have the help of LeBron [James], but how you do it and the art of doing it is still so specific.”
It was these impressive feats and her vast wealth of experience that led to Widder being offered her current role of Chief Revenue Officer for the Houston Dynamo and Dash. For Widder, the opportunity piqued her interest of wanting to be a difference maker while also giving her the chance to test her leadership abilities, and she has hit the ground running from the moment she started in January 2019.
“I want to make an impact on the MLS and in Houston. That is ultimately the goal,” Widder stated. “How can I grow our fanbase and create a greater connection between our club and our fans so that the relationship can last a lifetime and go beyond whatever specific players are on the pitch or how the team is playing? This past year has been a really great opportunity to discover where we have been and define where we want to go as a club. I think some of the things we had instituted last season in preparation for 2020 really showed, and I think the home opener is a great example of seeing what we are capable of, so we want to see that on a consistent basis.”
With roots now planted in the Houston community with her husband and three children, Widder is focused on helping the Dynamo and Dash reach the next level of fan engagement and top-notch experience, while also making sure to give back to aspiring young professionals whenever she can.
“You only get one life, so you just got to live it to the best of your ability and hope at the end of it that you look back and have very minimal regrets,” she said. “Hopefully you did everything that you wanted to do, learned a lot, experienced a lot, and gave a lot too. I want to make sure I give as much as I can.”
To help reach a broader audience and allow others to join her in giving back and providing insight into the sports industry, Widder is also launching a podcast series at the end of March, titled “WOMEN BLAZERS.” The podcast can be followed on Spotify, Anchor, and Instagram, and will allow listeners to gain knowledge from a woman in the sports industry who is already breaking barriers or blazing new trails, in hopes of creating new opportunities and inspiring those who tune in.
When asked if there was one single piece of wisdom she would like to impart on those looking to be successful in their respective fields, Widder shared one of her favorite quotes: ‘Everyday, in Africa, a gazelle awakens knowing it must run faster than the fastest lion or else it will be eaten. On that same day, a lion awakens knowing it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or else it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or the gazelle, all that matters is when the sun rises, you’d better get running.’
“You see, the concept is, you have to know what your goal is, and you have to be running after it and working toward that goal every day,” Widder said. “Just get up, start running, and keeping running toward the things that you want in your life, and those things are defined by what you want and what makes you happy. So, I think it is defined off the individual. This is my path, my story, and what I love, so I don’t expect anybody to have the same. But I suggest that you determine who you are, who you want to be, and keep running towards that.”