The meteoric rise of Chris Ross from Atlantic City FC in the NPSL to the European game has been nothing short of amazing. Ross spent time as a Director for ACFC in 2018, leading the club in their first NPSL season. He was responsible for club development and operations, brand awareness, commercial activities, and community relations.
“As a director at the club, I was involved in working closely with the ownership as well as liaising with the manager, players, sponsors and key stakeholders,” Ross said. “My day-to-day work included a variety of actions from the chasing of sponsorship and commercial deals to their activation, community outreach work, developing partnerships and leads, match-day ops, player support, compliance and governance work. Back then it was but a pipe-dream vision Drew (Weilgus) and Nick (Bilotta) had of bringing the club from Stockton University located just outside in Galloway, NJ but to the Surf Stadium in the heart of Atlantic City. Then to see the club achieve that, long after I’d departed in 2020, was quite something!”
Weilgus, who serves as Atlantic City FC’s president, praised his work at the club and the impact he made for the New Jersey side.
“We really valued Chris’s work with our club, and it was fun to have him part of our inaugural season and bring his perspective and history to Atlantic City,” Weilgus said.
Ross was grateful for the opportunity to gain experience in the American game. He learned many lessons that would prove to be helpful later in his career.
“I could not have asked for a better experience and opportunity to learn,” Ross added. “The fact that Atlantic City was an expansion side at the time was in many ways a blessing. It’s very rare to have the opportunity to be involved in the building and creation of a football club from scratch with no history, no crowds, no marketing presence, and it really offered us the ability to push Atlantic City FC as a brand and to further develop and evolve the club in the way the ownership really wanted.”
His next stop would be overseas with Scottish Championship side Greenock Morton FC from August 2021- July 2022. Ross joined as General Manager before being promoted to CEO. He led the club through difficult times, including COVID-19 restrictions. He was also there when the club transitioned into fan ownership in September 2021.
Director Gordon Ritchie commended Ross for the important work he did for the club and the legacy he left behind.
“Based on his experience in America, he was very fan-centered and was more about the matchday experience,” Ritchie said. “He led interesting and exciting initiatives for the club that created a more inclusive environment.”
One of the initiatives led to the opening of Cappie’s Corner, a quiet room at Cappielow Park for fans and families with sensory needs.
Ross continued his climb up the European football ladder later that year after being hired as Chief Operating Officer of Stevenage FC, a club competing in the EFL League Two. He would serve in this role from July 2022 – February 2023.
Stevenage FC Chairman Phil Wallace spoke fondly of his work with the club.
“Chris came to us from Greenock Morton, where he had limited experience in a CEO role,” Wallace said. “The move up to an ambitious EFL club is a big step, and Chris was tasked with managing everything at Stevenage FC – from commercial to stadium management, to financial disciplines and marketing to grow the fan base. Chris took to the role with energy and enthusiasm. It’s a significant increase in workload and responsibility, but the main thing that attracted us to Chris was his enthusiasm and work ethic. He never let us down in either, and we made progress on all aspects of our growth plan. His overriding thought process is to always act in the best interest of the club and that quality endeared him to the board and to all staff.”
Ross gained valuable experience at two storied European clubs, and it clearly left a lasting impression on his career.
“I’ve learned the importance of managing a football club carefully and effectively,” Ross mentioned. “If you want to run a football club to the best of your ability, it is important to drive the off-the-pitch matters without interfering in the football and first-team affairs. Yes, be of support to the football management, coaching staff and players and set the budgets but really the role is about managing the business from compliance to finance. The important aspects of your role are effective administration, health and safety, stadium compliance, league compliance, managing cash flow and carefully achieving and delivering on or under budget. You need to understand the financial implications for everything on and off the pitch at all times to be able to effectively support both the club ownership and the football management.”
Ross provided great advice for those looking at a career in management and operations.
“You need to be a self-starter, manage your workload effectively and be able to delegate,” Ross concluded. “You’ll need to be as retentive as possible, with good accuracy and attention to detail and procedures will become your life. It’s important to speak to your peers at other clubs, and create a support network, as running a football club can at times be very isolating. My last piece of advice would be to try and not take it personally as you will be subject to criticism and your work will be scrutinized. You won’t be able to please everyone, and you will often have to make hard decisions in very fast-moving situations. As someone who has managed through the pandemic I would say leadership is your ability to hide panic from others, and you will not be able to run a front office administration effectively as a CEO unless you can lead and inspire your staff teams to success.”
NPSL alums have experienced great success on the pitch, playing professionally in over 35 countries around the world. But Chris Ross proves that same success can come off the field, leaving a legacy behind for others to follow.
Photo Credit: Stevenage FC and Greenock Morton FC