Atlanta Dream chief operating officer Toby Wyman formerly worked for the Gwinnett Braves.
Former Gwinnett Braves executive Toby Wyman was hired as the WNBA Atlanta Dream's chief operating officer in January.
Wyman worked for the Richmond Braves from 2001-06 before leaving to start up his own mobile sports marketing company. He returned to the Braves organization in 2008 when their Triple-A team moved from Richmond to Gwinnett.
The Bridgewater, Mass., native has also worked in the corporate world at the executive level, including as vice president of advertising for Foot Locker. Wyman is a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and holds an MBA from Wagner College, where he was the youngest Division I wrestling head coach in the nation.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...", Wyman talks with staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including the move from baseball to basketball, his competitive nature and moments that make you reevaluate your priorities.
CT: What appealed to you about the job with the Dream?
TW: I think just the opportunity to kind of build a franchise. We're 3 years old, but we're kind of restarting the franchise, given some of the recent success on the court. Going from an expansion team in '08 to a playoff team last year and now just really trying to establish the organization, from top to bottom, and move us forward to more relevance across the Atlanta landscape.
CT: Was it a difficult decision?
TW: It definitely was. I'd been with the Braves for a while. And just being part of coming here to work on opening up the (Gwinnett) ballpark, it was a great experience. Yeah, it was a very unexpected opportunity. I was just really impressed with Kathy (Betty) and had a shared vision on what we wanted to do.
I've always wanted to run my own franchise -- I just didn't expect it to happen as quickly as it did.
CT: What is your vision for the Atlanta Dream?
TW: I think what we want to do is, No. 1, it's like anything else, we want to be a viable, successful franchise that is relevant in this marketplace. Which means putting people in the seats every night.
Having a viable business model, but larger than that, I think we have a unique position based on being the only WNBA team in the Southeast. What we certainly mean to just a actual sports fan and then providing family entertainment, but also from a community aspect to what we mean to young girls and youth in general.
The impact we can make in the community is different than any other franchise in the metro area. A lot of that is based on that if young girls are involved in sports, they're just more likely to be successful in education, successful in the work force and in life in general. That's true no matter what gender you are, but because there's certainly less professional (sports) opportunities for women, I think that's why it's such an important platform.
CT: Does the promotion of the WNBA need to be handled a little more like Triple-A baseball in terms of it being the product and the entertainment value being paramount because the players names aren't as well-known?
TW: I think it's a yes and no answer. Certainly we are putting the best women's players in the world on the court. And some very high-profile players. Chamique Holdsclaw, who was legendary at Tennessee and a perennial All-Star in the WNBA. Angel McCoughtry who was the No. 1 pick overall last year and is really an up-and-comer.
I think certainly what we're able to do -- and hopefully what I can bring from my minor-league experience -- is we have an ability to be more accessible than some of the other major franchises. Just by the nature of who we are and the commitment these women have to the league. Many of them play overseas in Europe so in some cases, they're literally playing 11 months out of the year. So they're committed to making this a viable league and providing that world-class experience.
And I think the quality of play is exceptional right now. It's really grown over the 13 years the league's been in existence.
But, yes, absolutely, from an accessibility standpoint, from and entertainment standpoint, one of our goals is we need to broaden ourselves out a bit. Certainly we're a women's product, but at the end of the day we just want to be perceived as good, sports, family entertainment.
That means we're also committed to winning on the court. We want to win championships. But certainly we want people to feel like it's a great entertainment product and, just like anything else, enjoy themselves and keep coming back.
CT: People think of summer being meant for outdoors, but frankly, it's too dang hot here most of the time -- I'd like to be in an air-conditioned arena, you know?
TW: It's funny because I won't miss having to worry about rain and pulling tarps, which is a staple in minor-league baseball.
CT: How important is it, especially in a metro area like Atlanta that does have a rich pool of female basketball talent, to incorporate that some on your roster?
TW: In this market, especially where college is very important to people and people have tight allegiances to Tech and UGA -- Coco Miller who went to Georgia, played with us last year and this year we signed Kelly, her twin sister -- but that decision, first and foremost is about the most competitive team we can put on the floor. It's a plus that they're both from Georgia and we hope that we can take advantage of their college background here. I think you've just got to take a look at those opportunities, but, again, this is where it's a little bit different. We're always going to be about putting the best team on the court.
CT: So you're not going to try to lose all your games so you can draft Maya (Moore) in a year?
TW: No (smiling). Being from Boston, Red Auerbach drafted Larry Bird a year early. They closed that loophole and that was my first question to our GM, has the WNBA closed that same loophole?
CT: What sports did you participate in growing up?
TW: I'm the youngest of four boys, so I played football and wrestled, baseball, track. I wrestled in college and coached coming out of college. So that's been a pretty major part of my life.
Two of my older brothers, the three of us wrestled at the same college for a couple years.
I think anybody who's competed athletically, it's hard to fill that void. That's why it's great to work in sports.
CT: Do you have any games or matches that stand out to you still?
TW: I was a match away from All-American in college and lost to the No. 1 seed and the eventual national champion. It's always the losses you remember. It's one of those where you can recall every last second of it.
(Laughing) But I'm totally over it, as you can see.
CT: Where did you grow up?
TW: Outside Bridgewater, Mass., which is about 30 miles south of Boston. And I went to Worcester Poly Tech, a D-III in Massachusetts.
CT: When you went off to college, what kind of career did you have in mind?
TW: Twenty-something years ago, sports has grown so dramatically, especially from the business side. Growing up I was good at math and science. But I didn't know you could have a career in sports. It's come such a long way in such a short period of time.
I graduated with an engineering degree and started looking for, basically, manufacturing management jobs and so forth, trying to find someplace I wanted to be every day.
Until I ended up going to get my MBA at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y. That's where I coached wrestling team there for two years and how I kind of repositioned myself to get into sales and marketing.
CT: Yeah, I read you were the youngest Division I wrestling coach.
TW: We weren't very good though (chuckling). I came there and half the guys had transferred out and it was not a well-funded program. We had a killer schedule. It might have been the only time I was glad I was coaching and not actually competing.
CT: After you got your MBA, what avenue did you pursue?
TW: I went into advertising, on the agency side for a while, basically in account management and working on branding, creating media strategies. Then I went to the client side with Foot Locker, which is where I got that experience of working with a lot of the major brands like Nike and adidas and so forth. That's kind of where I got introduced to athlete marketing and things of that nature.
Then I actually just kind of fell into the Braves' opportunity.
It was after 9/11, actually. I was with a start-up when 9/11 happened and I think everybody just assessed what they wanted to do. After leaving Foot Locker, I wanted to get back into sports.
It was offseason for baseball and I made a list of organizations I'd want to work for. I happened to connect with Bruce Baldwin, the former GM here (in Gwinnett) and just was fortunate that there was something open and it got worked out. That's how I started for the Braves.
CT: So you were in Boston when 9/11 happened?
TW: Yeah. But I worked at the Woolworth Building. We were right across from City Hall. So actually my subway stop was the World Trade Center stop. I left in '99.
CT: Was it connections from Foot Locker that you ended up in baseball at all?
TW: No, I did not have any connections. I made a list of teams, not thinking much was going to happen. Bruce happened to answer the phone. I think he had something that didn't quite match and so forth, but literally that weekend, his assistant general manager resigned and he called me. I drove 10 hours from Boston to Richmond and that was it. My wife (Nancy) and I were married that July and we basically moved that December down to Richmond.