President of We R Tacoma
By Marguerite Cleveland
Photo by Samantha Elise Tillman
Aaron Artman, president of We R Tacoma, became a part of the South Sound community in 2007 with a goal of using his 10 years of professional sports experience to turn around the Tacoma Rainiers. In 2018 soccer became a part of the Cheney Stadium lineup. In addition to his professional life, Artman gives back to the community with his roles serving on the Museum of Glass Board, Mayor’s Business Advisory Council, Greater Seattle Partnership Executive Council and recently spearheaded, with his fellow investors, the endowment of a sports management program with the University of Washington Tacoma. He lives in the Stadium District with his wife Leslie and their six children.
Q. What prompted the decision to bring soccer to Cheney Stadium?
A. It started out as a longer term approach. We’ve always had a good relationship with Sounders FC. Originally their ownership and I discussed the potential to build a new soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma and bring their USL franchise to Tacoma when it was finished. When U.S. Soccer determined that S2 needed to play in a compliant stadium, they asked if we’d consider playing at Cheney until we get the new stadium. We decided to start the partnership early, and it has worked well, and even evolved into an additional partnership with Reign FC.
Q. Creatively reusing waste materials is a trend now. Can you tell us about We R Tacoma's "Sod for a Cause" program, in which the pallets of sod left over from converting the playing service from soccer to baseball, are sold by donation and benefit a local nonprofit?
A. Most of the cool stuff we do comes from a random problem, which hopefully leads to a less random solution. Our point person on the Defiance (Nick Cherniske), our VP of marketing (Megan Mead) and our head groundskeeper (Michael Huie) came up with the idea, and we love it, and hope the community loves it.
Our teams are dependent on the community trusting us. We literally make our living off hundreds of thousands of people supporting our venue. When we get to do something cool, like raise money for the community based off of sod, it feels pretty good.
Q. Can you tell our readers more about your partnership with the City of Tacoma and Metro Parks for a new soccer-specific stadium and the effort to transform Central Tacoma?
A. We partnered with both municipalities to engage in a feasibility study that would look at a soccer-specific stadium, a mixed-use development (with Cheney and the soccer stadium as the anchor for the development) and badly needed eight to 10 field youth soccer complex.
The goal, with our business partners—Sounders FC and Reign FC—as well as the city and Metro Parks, is to be ground zero for the way we operate soccer franchises in the U.S. and create a platform that uses the stadium as a catalyst to re-invigorate Central Tacoma, create equity for our most underserved areas and have a professional sports stadium that provides more public benefit than any venue in the country.
It’s lofty, but it’s real, and we think it’s the right thing to do. We hope to have something more concrete to communicate this fall.
Q. With six children, what role do sports have in your family life? What is life like juggling the schedules of everybody for games, practices, etc.?
A. Funny thing happens when your kids grow up at a stadium. They tend to see the sport at that stadium as ‘work.’ Even when they come to games, especially the older kids, who have spent between nine and 13 years here, they realize they have to go around with Dad and visit sponsors, investors, season ticket holders and staff. They all have firm handshakes and will look you in the eye, but they didn’t have much interest in baseball. My 4-year-old, Brooks, loves baseball though, so he may be my baseball player.
The kids play basketball, volleyball and lacrosse, but they also love music and sing and play various instruments. I have a great wife, Leslie, who helps keep us sane, as practices, games, concerts and tournaments can create chaos.
I think we juggle about as well as most families, and I have a keen appreciation for summer, as all the sports, school and music activities wind down a little bit, even if summer is when I’m at the stadium the most.