Newcastle’s Chuck Arnold began his career with the Seattle Seahawks in 1993 as a do-everything intern. Now, he’s the powerful NFL franchise’s chief operating officer.
The career path charted by Seattle Seahawks chief operating officer Chuck Arnold is laced with opportunities, hard work, and some amount of serendipity. Arnold is the rare employee who worked his way up from an internship to an office in the company’s executive suite.
“It’s a fun story,” Arnold said during an interview at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center (VMAC), the Seahawks’ Renton headquarters. “When I started as an intern, I didn’t know I wanted to be a chief operating officer. I could look back at it and say, ‘Gosh, what were the moments that were created for this to be able to happen?’ I don’t know if there was one exact moment. I don’t think there is.”
Born and raised in Tacoma, Arnold earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management from Washington State University in 1993 and landed an internship with the Tacoma Tigers minor-league baseball team during his senior year. But he found that the team didn’t really have anything for him to do. Three days after starting with the Tigers, he was invited to interview for a more-active internship with the Seahawks. Arnold was offered the position, left the Tigers, and later worked his way up through increasingly more-visible and -responsible roles within the Seahawks organization.
He was promoted to account executive in 1994, director of ticket operations in 1997, director of ticket sales and service in 2001, vice president of sales and marketing in 2010, and chief operating officer in 2013. When Seattle Sounders FC was founded in 2007, its ownership group included Microsoft co-founder and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen — a move that allowed the soccer team and the football team to share front-office staff. Arnold became the director of ticket sales and operations for both teams, as well as chief operating officer for both teams when he was promoted in 2013. In 2014, Seattle Sounders FC became its own organization and established its own front office staff, relieving Arnold of the responsibility of being the soccer team’s chief operating officer.
A visit to VMAC is a dream come true for most Seattle Seahawks fans. A trophy case in the lobby holds the sterling-silver Vince Lombardi Trophy, a sparkling and angular prize that represents the team’s 2014 Super Bowl victory (it’s impossible not to lean in for a closer look and fog up the glass). A brief elevator ride to the third floor opens to a landing that offers a sweeping view of the team’s indoor practice field. And from his roomy office, Arnold can watch players run drills and execute play patterns on the team’s verdurous outdoor field, which sits on Lake Washington’s shoreline.
Arnold is only 45 years old, but his long tenure with the team affords him the institutional knowledge of someone much older.
He worked for the team while it competed in three stadiums (Kingdome, Husky Stadium, and CenturyLink Field), ran plays under five head coaches (Tom Flores, Dennis Erickson, Mike Holmgren, Jim Mora, and Pete Carroll), nearly moved out of town (to Anaheim in 1996), advanced to the postseason 12 times (reaching the Super Bowl three times, and winning one Super Bowl championship), and operated under several owners (co-owners Ken Behring and Ken Hoffman, and current owner Allen).
Arnold lives in Newcastle with his wife, Jana, and two children: daughter Jordan, 9, and son Charlie, 12. Both children are competitive swimmers, and Arnold can be found poolside at most of their weekend swim meets.
Arnold recently spoke with 425 Business and reflected on his career. His observations are excerpted in the following interview:
ON EARLY INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCES
“I thought I was just going to go in and (the internship) was going to be very specific. It didn’t work out that way. I got to do a little bit of everything. I did community outreach and helped with some of the community events that were going on. I helped with public relations. Once my internship was over, it was the summertime and (the team) said, ‘Would you like to stay and help us out a little bit in the scouting department?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ Well, I wasn’t scouting players or anything. I was picking guys up from the airport to bring them in for tryouts, or taking them to doctors’ offices for physicals, or picking them up from surgeries and making sure they got home.”
ON BEING HIRED BY THE SEAHAWKS
“When I finished my internship, my intention was to take the LSAT, go to law school, and maybe become a sports agent. But when the team asked me if I wanted to stick around, I loved my experience as an intern, I loved the people in the building, and I couldn’t say no to that. I always said yes to opportunities, and I was always really nimble. Whatever it was, I was up for it. I was flexible, and that gave me a lot of opportunities to be involved in a number of different things and show that I could excel or lead.”
ON ROAD GAMES WITH THE SEAHAWKS
“I can remember one (of my first) season(s). It was the last game of the year, and it was at Cleveland Stadium. The weather was nasty and cold, and our team was not very good. The baseball dugout was behind Cleveland’s bench, and our bench was on the other side. (The team) would take the pictures from above (and send them) down to a fax machine (near the dugout). I would run over, rip it off the machine, and run it back through the back of the end zone to the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and special teams coordinator. It was cold, so I was in this Stay Puft Marshmallow Man coat and running right in front of The Dawg Pound, and people were hucking Milk-Bones at me. I remember thinking, ‘All right. This is great. This is awesome.’ That was my first road game experience.”
ON SEAHAWKS TEAM OWNERSHIP
“I got a chance to (go to) the NFL draft (in 1996 and) sit at the table where they’ve got the helmet phones and things like that. It was myself and Tag Ribary, who worked in our scouting department at that time. When you are on the line, you are constantly on the phone back to the (Seahawks) facility, to the war room. Someone walked into the war room and said Paul Allen had purchased the option to buy the team predicated on the results of an election (by the National Football League). They were telling that to us over the phone. Whoa! We thought (the team was moving) to Los Angeles and there wasn’t anything we could do about it. So I took a red-eye home that night, and Tag took over the rest of the (draft) rounds. I came home because the team was not going anywhere — (we had to) start working in the ticket office because people are going to have questions. Paul said he wanted to bring fans back into the building and make it a home-field advantage. So we had a $10 ticket, or you could buy a season ticket for $100. We had great things with the Behrings, but when Mr. Allen took over, I think he is by far the best owner in pro sports. He has given us every tool that we can to succeed. We have never had a reason not to do our best. Just the change that we’ve seen since he’s been the owner — we’ve been to three Super Bowls and won one of the three. We have the new (stadium). We’ve had 122 consecutive sellouts. The team transfer from the Behrings to Mr. Allen, and what that has done for the brand and the team, the success has been incredible. Our culture here is fantastic, and it starts with our president, Peter McLoughlin. We respect everybody. We all have common goals, great work ethic.”
ON EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS OF FANS
“My responsibilities are the stadium itself, from stadium operations to stadium sales to everything that goes on there. From a team perspective and revenue-generating side of things, I am responsible for our corporate partnership group, our ticket sales, suite sales, and retail sales. And then from a fan-experience side of things, there’s game presentation, fan development, community outreach, and marketing. When a guest comes to the stadium, we have a saying: ‘Exceed Expectations. Every Guest, Every Time.’ We try to make sure that we are putting on the best show for the fans in the building. After each game, the NFL does a survey called ‘NFL Voice of the Fan.’ We’ve consistently ranked, and we are right now, at the number-one standing in the NFL for game-day experience for our fans. When you are number one, you don’t want to go any other direction but to stay number one. We work our butts off trying to make sure that we maintain that number-one ranking. That goes from everything from the moment you are thinking about going to the game at home all the way through the experience of getting through the gates, to getting to your seat, to entertaining you all the way through. We want to make sure that experience exceeds your expectations, not just once, but every time.”
ON SEIZING OPPORTUNITIES
“I always said yes, no matter what it was. Give me the chance to do it. Now my goal is that every time I get a new opportunity, I knock it out of the park. I act almost as if every day is a one-day contract. Today, my contract says that this is my responsibility. But you also need to perform at your highest level. I’m always keeping that mentality: Act as if every day is a one-day contract because you want to make sure that you will have that next opportunity, and when that next opportunity comes in, you seize it and excel.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of “425 Business.”