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Q & A with New Minnesota Stars CEO, Djorn Buchholz

2011 January 6
by Brian Quarstad

IMS sat down with Djorn Buchholz yesterday immediately following the Minnesota Stars press conference where it was formally announced that former Thunder GM and Aztex CEO will now take the reigns of the Minnesota Stars.

A confident Djorn Buchholz listens to questions from the media during Wednesday's Minnesota Stars press conference. Photo by Jeremy Olson - digitalgopher.net

Buchholz talked to IMS about his feelings in coming back to the Twin Cities as well as his plans for the team. He spoke about his years with the Thunder and his career-changing year spent in Austin, Texas with the Aztex and the confidence that brought him. He also explains why he thinks things will be different this time around with the Stars.

IMS: Djorn, it has to feel pretty good to have left Minnesota for Austin where you were successful and then be asked by the league to come back to Minnesota, a market you’re already familiar with, and run the team?

Buchholz: Sure it does.

We did a lot of good things here in the 6 years I was here. We also had our ups and downs. The difference is there was a new opportunity in Austin. Unfortunately a lot of my time spent here in Minnesota was trying to figure out where the next paycheck was going to come from. To be honest that’s what we were fighting.

Going to Austin I didn’t have to worry about that. It allowed me to take a lot of these ideas I had in my head for 6 years and put them to use. I actually had a marketing budget and knew that if I came to the owner with a good idea that he liked he’d actually invest a little extra money into it. We did that and it worked. We increased attendance and we also did better on the field.

We always wanted to be able to do things and get creative but we were never able to because there was no funding and no one could write us a $10 thousand dollar check to take a chance. I did that in Austin and it worked.

Yeah, I have an affinity to be in Minnesota but now I have Aaron Davidson and  the NASL group who wants to make this thing work. I’ve got some ideas that someone can get behind now and put these things into action. We’re still going to be smart, but we don’t have to be desperate anymore. (Note: The Pioneer Press’s Tim Leighton reported today that the team will have just under a $2 million dollar budget for this year.)

IMS: Aaron Davidson has said he’s secured Michael Hitchcock and Playbook Management International, or PMI, to assist the league’s teams with “team services.” Can you explain how that will work with the Minnesota Stars? (Note: Michael Hitchcock is the former GM of FC Dallas and spent 12 years as an executive in MLS before launching PMI.)

Buchholz: Michael Hitchcock is a sales guy. That’s what he does. He’s going to help us devise a sales team, the strategies that go into it and our goal is to sell more tickets that this team ever has. He’s going to help us do that.

IMS: How many tickets sales people do you foresee hiring?

Buchholz: Our plan right now is to have 3 or 4 full time staff as ticket sales people. We’re trying to get that up and running right now. For now we’re using myself, Angie (Blaker), Alex (Haueter) and Manny (Lagos) to do that.

IMS: Last year there was talk of the NSC utilizing the MLS Sales Center on the NSC Campus to help but not a lot came of that. Do you have plans on tapping into the resource?

Buchholz: We are already in early discussions with them. We are going to try to utilize them and their people to help us in this process.

IMS: How about your sales people doing some training with them?

Buchholz: Definitely! They’ve placed 30 out of 31 individuals with MLS teams and that one they didn’t place was because he took a job doing something else. So we definitely would like to utilize that and have some of our people sit in on some of that training.

IMS: Will any part of your job now be to find a new owner for the team as quickly as possible?

Buchholz: Yes, we’re looking for new owners but we’re not going to jump at the first person that comes by. That’s not the plan. What we have to do is we have to clean our own house by doing well in ticket sales and sponsorships and we have to show the support. Then I think the ownership piece will come. Our focus is not on going out and finding a new owner. We need to fix ourselves and get ourselves looking attractive and get it firing on all cylinders and then when we get to that point someone will come along.

IMS: I’ve known you for quite a while and there is something strikingly different about you then there was a year and half ago, a confidence you seem to be carrying.

Buchholz: Yes, I think a lot of that comes from me walking into Austin in a brand new environment, spearheading a lot of that charge and having it work. That gives me the confidence that what we did there can be replicated here in Minnesota.

17 Responses
  1. MN Soccer Guy permalink
    January 6, 2011

    If things went so well in Austin last year, both on and off the field, why did the team move? And why didn’t Djorn go with them?

    Comparing what happened in Austin to what might happen in Minnesota doesn’t make a lot of sense. Austin is reportedly the largest U.S. city without a franchise in a major professional sports league and Minnesota has four along with minor-league baseball and lacrosse. Austin also had the benefit of a downtown stadium, something Minnesota obviously doesn’t have.

    Djorn seems to blame the Thunder’s trouble on “trying to figure out where the next paycheck was going to come from.” Does any minor-league sports franchise ever really know that? And if funding was the main problem, why didn’t a stable organization like NSC do better with the Stars last year?

  2. Soapy permalink
    January 6, 2011

    Just my two cents….

    I know Djorn is connected to MN and may have wanted to return, especially if NASL recruited him.

    As for finances, it is one thing to have funding be a problem, it is another if Dean Johnson is the one in charge.

  3. thesuperrookie permalink
    January 6, 2011

    Wow, it only took about 5 days for Soccer Guy to start discounting an attempt to have professional soccer here in Minnesota for 2011.

    Not a bad start to the year.

  4. ERic permalink
    January 6, 2011

    He also got a sun tan.;)

  5. January 6, 2011

    He’ll lose that soon enough.

  6. January 6, 2011

    It will be interesting to see how teams do with the help of PMI. Most of the teams that will use PMI have only had 1 or 2 sales people in the past. Going from 1 or 2 to 3 or 4 should make for a big difference.

  7. GumbyGrrl permalink
    January 6, 2011

    MN Soccer Guy said “why didn’t a stable organization like NSC do better with the Stars last year?”
    Do you have any idea just how much NSC did with the Stars last year? They fielded a team 3 1/2 months after deciding to step in. That team went on to the second round of playoffs.

    As a bonus, they improved the beer garden and they gave us the great fun of Stars TV.
    Who knows what they could have accomplished if they had 4 or 5 years, but for the little time they had, the little budget they had, they did remarkably well.

  8. January 6, 2011

    I agree and don’t know if it’s going to turn the corner but it certainly has to help. I know several people involved with ticket sales in MLS and the bottom line is: it’s not a magic formula. You just need good sales people making a lot of calls and really working all the angles to get butts in the seats. That along with some clever use of marketing money will start to get people through the gates and into the stadium.

    There are of course other issues that each market must deal with. Here, I believe it’s the perception that Blaine is a long ways away. Truth is I’d rather have a closer stadium but I don’t. So look what else takes 20 minutes to get to in the Twin Cities. Lots of things but it’s more about the perception and they will need a plan to fight that.

  9. Strikers Return permalink
    January 6, 2011

    Great as always keeping us informed BQ. I am very happy to hear Traffic is going to make PMI a resource available to the entire league. Marketing has been the key missing ingredient for D2 all along. I agree with the comments of GumbyGrrl too. Considering the short time they had, MSC did a great job with the team last year, including one of the best online game streaming feeds of any of the teams in my opinion. I hope Buchholz can helm growth and stability for you guys up there!

  10. MichiganMike permalink
    January 6, 2011

    They should consider the approach the T-Wolves are using. I had a gentlemen come into my office yesterday offering a ticket package for $29.99 (three free tickets, 4-5 buy one get ones, and $500 off an executive suite). I understand that the T-Wolves attendance is crap but it got me to open my wallett and buy tickets. I have been to two T-wolves games lifetime… The T-wolves are scraping the bottom of the barrell with this idea but I could see this being a positive for the Stars. The growing number of youths playing soccer in comparison basketball is pretty staggering I am guessing. I would think there are plenty of parents with children aged 5-13 that would maybe consider purchasing some sort of ticket package if they can get a good deal.

    I do not know the prices to the Stars games for youths, but, I do know that parents aren’t likely to pay full price to bring there family to watch a semi-pro soccer team.

    Pay $40 for your family to watch semi-pro athletes making $10k or less a year isn’t as appealing as paying $29.99 for your family to watch pro athletes that are making $5mil a year.

  11. Soccer Boy permalink
    January 6, 2011

    @GumbyGrrl–Excellent points, and I agree 100% that the NSC really rolled up their sleeves and put a great product on the pitch this past summer. While some things did not go so well (tickets), I would give the NSC high marks overall. I am looking forward to another fun summer out at the Nessy. Come on you Stars!

  12. Ric permalink
    January 6, 2011

    All this talk about location, how hard it is to get to the stadium, etc. I live 90 miles west of the Twin Cities, attend 15-20 Twins games a year and about 15 T-wolves. I have attended several Thunder/Stars games over the past couple of years and plan on purchasing season tickets this year. You give the fans a reason for coming and they will come. Blaine has some real advantages, parking for instance, and tail gating. Here’s hoping the entire soccer community of Minnesota gets behind the team this years and shows up for the games!

  13. January 7, 2011

    You are totally right Ric. Sure a stadium in the heart of the city is ideal. But a few miles up to Blaine is just a completely lame excuse.

    On the other hand, the Twin Cities is becoming more and more a bicycle centric place to live. I know that sounds insane with our winters but it is a fact of life for many 20-40 year olds, and that is a prime target age group that the Stars must get the attention of if they are to genuinely succeed.

    You can’t win sometimes.

  14. Zlatan permalink
    January 7, 2011

    I’m with soccer guy. I’m not sure DB was a good choice. His claimed success can not be substantiated. The blame storm around the previous ownership was not entirely accurate as some others in management were also to blame. While not gloating, I was one of the few who pointed out that the NSC arrangement could not be successful…all they ended up being able to offer was a field. I believe Manny was an excellent choice last year and again this year. They will have some success on the field. I don’t believe Traffic will be around to help for more than one year. Additionally, what Traffic *actually does* will disappoint most/all clubs. D2 will fail in its current configuration…but alas, we will have D3 USL back in 2012.

  15. January 7, 2011

    You made many other predictions as well. Like that the Stars would not win a game. How’d that prediction work out for you? 😉 Haven’t heard from you for a while Zlatan. How’d the move go?

  16. Nsmsoccergirl permalink
    January 8, 2011

    For those of you who doubt Djorn’s abilities and/or claims of success, you should maybe do a little research on the subject. He did amazing things in Austin and Im sure will be a large part of an exciting season for Minnesota.

  17. Zlatan permalink
    January 9, 2011

    Predictions about on the field performance are always tricky 😉 Move has been very positive. We have seen more cricket that soccer, but did get to see Arsenal twice and Ajax at home. Will be back in the summer for 2 weeks and hope to catch a stars game.

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