Rocky Harris, a multifaceted professional sports executive and collegiate athletics administrator, has been announced by USA Triathlon (USAT) President Barry Siff as the new Chief Executive Officer for the national governing body.
Harris, who was named to SportsBusiness Journal’s prestigious ‘Forty Under 40’ list in April, has spent the past five-plus years as an athletics administrator at his alma mater, Arizona State University, and heads to USAT in Colorado Springs with two decades of experience across professional and collegiate sports, as well as the corporate sector. An age-group triathlete, Harris has been ‘instrumental in helping grow triathlon at the collegiate level and has been recognized for developing and implementing innovative initiatives throughout his career.’
“The USA Triathlon Board of Directors is unanimously enthusiastic about welcoming Rocky to help lead our sport forward here in the US and on the international stage,” said Barry Siff. “Rocky brings 20 years of demonstrated leadership in key areas consistent with our new strategic plan: building collaborative partnerships, listening and working closely with key constituents and stakeholders, and being an inspiring leader of people. His passion for triathlon is extremely high, and we are confident he can help grow our sport in an effort to make a healthier America.”
“I want to thank Barry, the USA Triathlon Board of Directors and members of the hiring committee for the opportunity to work with a sport I’m truly passionate about and to serve the triathlon community,” Rocky Harris said. “I look forward to furthering a culture of excellence at USA Triathlon and working alongside the talented staff already in place who share my belief in triathlon’s special ability to bring people with different backgrounds together from across the world.
“The chance to take a sport I love and make it accessible to all communities and relevant to all generations, as well as build upon USA Triathlon as an inspirational and innovative brand, will be an exciting and fulfilling challenge. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made at ASU and confident the athletics department is set up for long-term success under Ray Anderson’s leadership.”
Harris and the USA Triathlon Board of Directors have already identified a number of priorities to advance the organization’s strategic plan, including creating collaborative partnerships within the sport and enhancing technology to engage new audiences. Additionally, Harris will look to collaborate with the High Performance department in support of the US National Team, and find ways to increase value for members, coaches, race directors, clubs, elite athletes, volunteers, officials, corporate partners and others touched by the sport.
Harris’ role at ASU evolved throughout his tenure, with his most recent position as Chief Operating Officer, a role that included direct oversight of the strategic planning, implementation, administration and day-to-day operations of Sun Devil Athletics.
“Simply put, Rocky is not only one of the best administrators I have worked with in my career, but he is also one of the most well-rounded individuals I know,” ASU Athletics Director Ray Anderson said. “He is passionate, genuine, dynamic and strategic, and his unique skill set and perspective will undoubtedly help him flourish in this new role.”
As COO, one of Harris’ varied accomplishments was implementing a vision of expanding sport offerings at ASU, with an emphasis on Olympic sports. To that end, Harris and his staff created a comprehensive plan that led to the addition of women’s triathlon, men’s ice hockey, women’s lacrosse and men’s tennis. Harris was one of the key proponents in helping ASU become the first NCAA Power Five conference institution to officially adopt the sport of triathlon as an Emerging Sport for Women and, in its first year, the team won the USA Triathlon Women’s Collegiate National Championship. The Sun Devils are set to host the 2017 Women’s Collegiate National Championship this November in Tempe, Arizona.
Upon his arrival at ASU, Harris led an overhaul of communication and brand strategies and placed a renewed emphasis on digital media and direct brand-based public relations. Harris also helped lead the Pac-12 Fan Engagement Project to advance data analytics and business intelligence across all 12 member schools. Under Harris’ direction, the Sun Devil Club, the primary fundraising arm for Sun Devil Athletics, broke numerous fundraising records, including US$86 million in donations for FY15 (compared to US$7.47 million in FY11), and memberships more than doubled.
Harris arrived at ASU after serving as Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo and AEG Global Partnerships. In his tenure with the Dynamo and AEG, Harris helped initiate a US$110 million stadium project in downtown Houston, and assisted in doubling the season ticket base and sponsorship revenue.
Before the Dynamo, Harris was the Director of Sports and Marketing Sponsorships at Reliant Energy, an NRG Energy, where he oversaw the largest naming rights deal in the National Football League (NFL).
His other work on the professional sports level included two stops in the NFL as Director of Communication with the Houston Texans and Media Relations Coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers. Prior to joining the NFL, Harris worked at a digital-marketing agency in San Francisco and a sports marketing agency in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Harris has been a member of the Houston World Cup Host Committee, Super Bowl XXXVIII Host Committee, as well as an NFL Media Representative for Super Bowls XXXVII, XXXVIII, and XXXIX. He was awarded the Houston Business Journal 40 Under 40 Award, the Major League Soccer Marketing Executive of the Year Award and the Pete Rozelle Award for the NFL’s top public relations staff.
Harris taught a graduate-level course for the past three years in ASU’s Sports Law and Business program, which he was instrumental in developing and designing. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Community Resources and Development at ASU and attended management programs at Rice University and Purdue University. He received his master’s degree in sport management from the University of San Francisco (USF), where he graduated summa cum laude and earned the 2002 Director’s Award for being the top graduate student in the program. Before USF, Harris earned his bachelor’s degree in communications from Arizona State University.