Working for the home team
CHC Class: 2021
Majors: Sports Business and Finance
Current Job: Customer Insights Coordinator for the Portland Trail Blazers
Song on Repeat: “I KNOW?”“ by Travis Scott
Coffee or Tea: Unfortunately, now a coffee person, but I used to drink strictly tea.
Favorite Concert: Dua Lipa
Advice for CHC Students: Be curious. Ask questions and lead with your passions. If you lead with your passions, you will accomplish all the goals that you want to accomplish.
Ryan Horiuchi has May 2, 2014, ingrained in his memory. Horiuchi was sitting courtside with his dad at a Portland Trail Blazer game, and the Blazers were down two points with 0.9 seconds remaining on the clock. All-star guard Damian Lillard took a shot from behind the three-point line. The arena erupted as the ball swooshed through the net, and the Blazers won the game.
Horiuchi, a member of the Clark Honors College Class of 2021, recalls the moment with awe. This once-in-a-lifetime fan experience was one of the many moments that contributed to him pursuing a career in sports.
As a CHC student, Horiuchi was a double major in sports business and finance. And he has spent the past year working as a customer insights coordinator for the Blazers, helping curate experiences for fans of the team.
Working for the Trail Blazers is a dream come true. “I’m still trying to pinch my arm and figure out if this is reality or not,” he says. “It feels like home.”
A center of gravity
Horiuchi was born in San Jose, California. He moved to Portland with his parents—a Japanese father and a Cuban mother—when he was three.
His dad played basketball as a youth and his grandfather was always playing baseball in his neighborhood. Horiuchi says his family always encouraged him to play sports as a way to stay healthy and be involved in the community.
Besides playing sports with his family, Horiuchi tried out for a bevy of sports as a student —baseball, soccer, football, basketball and lacrosse.
“It was a stress relief,” he recalls. “After doing school all day, getting work done, really for me, it was getting my body moving and being able to have a break from the other stuff.”
School and sports had one thing in common for him. They were both places where he could be a leader.
His fourth-grade class was rowdy. A number of the students liked to make trouble and Horiuchi found himself as the grounding force of the class. His leadership didn’t go unnoticed. His homeroom teacher empowered him to be a leader and showed him the right way to do it, he says.
“She just identified me as a leader super early on,” he says. “And helped me to be that person…showing how to lead with care and love, as opposed to leading with force and aggression.”
Then, when he graduated from high school, the teacher gave him a book about UCLA’s legendary college basketball coach John Wooden called “The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership.” “It’s one of those things that I always refer back to,” Horiuchi says, “I'm still trying to fully absorb all the learnings in it.”
Together count on me
When Horiuchi got to high school, he was still playing football, basketball and lacrosse. High school is where he met one of his mentors, Steve Pyne, the football coach at Central Catholic High School.
For Horiuchi, Pyne was a reliable person in his life and someone who led by example: “someone who shows integrity; someone who works hard; someone who cares about people for who they are beyond the surface,” he says.
Specifically, he remembers Pyne’s pregame routine of giving the team pep talks to lift their spirits, which included a saying that stuck with Horiuchi.
“TCOM. ‘Together, count on me.’ You can count on me to be a leader and do what I’m supposed to do in my role, but also doing it together,” Horiuchi says.
Pyne says Horiuchi was a picture of hard work, humility and teamwork. “Ryan was that guy you could count on to be in the right place at the right time. doing the right thing,” Pyne recalls, “without any expectation of glory or accolades or anything.”
After high school, Horiuchi knew he was going to continue pursuing sports and joined the UO’s club lacrosse team. He became captain of the team his junior year and worked as an officer off the field. That role involved helping other sports teams to improve their own organizations.
He found what he considers the “perfect fit” —a place to mix his sports business knowledge and team sports experience, all while growing in leadership.
“I realized that people look to me for a confidence boost or validation of what their ideas are, or just being a grounding force,” he says. His goal back then was always to be “someone that people can turn to and rely on and build a relationship with.”
He was also hired as a football ambassador for the UO’s athletic department while the new Hayward Field was being built. He collected names and data about historic track and field athletes to include in Hayward’s design.
That was the first time Horiuchi saw how research and sports combined could become a career for him. It was also where he found the Honors College to be a significant resource.
“The Honors College had a huge impact on who I grew into and how these values that I learned early on manifested in actual work,” Horiuchi says. “On top of being a critical thinker and learning how to unpack complex thoughts and complex situations, it helped me be able to focus my thoughts and turn to a clear path forward for what it means to get my views across.”
For his honors college thesis project, called “Pace in Music and Sports: The Importance of Fit,” Horiuchi combined research, a survey and experiments to look deep into the relationship between hip hop and basketball and measure how the pace of the sport and music paired together impacts consumer perception. “It really forced me to put those things that I learned through various different topics in those Honors classes into action, and unpack the things that I was passionate about, being music and sports,” he says.
He was hired for multiple sports and research roles, including for FOX Sports University and NBC Sports Group during the Olympics.
The summer after Horiuchi graduated, he traveled to Louisiana to take a job as a counselor for the Manning Passing Academy, a high-end football camp. At the end of the camp, he received the 2021 Osiel Mendoza Award for outstanding ambassador. Mendoza, a UO grad, was a coordinator at the academy and was diagnosed with ALS at age 21.
“(It was) really just validating for me that I’m impacting people in a positive way,” Horiuchi says. “Proving to me that I’m on the right path and can be a leader for folks.”
Later that year, the Blazers hired him as an intern. He worked on surveys, consumer insights, marketing, and events to curate the fan experience at Trail Blazers home games. The summer after his internship, Horiuchi found himself back at Hayward, helping coordinate events for the World Athletics Championships Oregon ‘22.
Working as a family experience coordinator, he found a unique way to bring his identity into his work.
“The delegate for the Angola track and field team was having issues with his accommodations,” Horiuchi remembers. “I had to bring my Spanish-speaking identity in to try to have a conversation and understand what this gentleman was looking to accomplish…That was a super cool opportunity for me to try to communicate with somebody who was from a different background and bring my own Hispanic experience in on that.”
Horiuchi says bringing his identity into his current job is also extremely important. Understanding the Latin fan experience is a mission for him as part of the community, as he’s been working to include Spanish translations into the Trail Blazer experience.
“The Honors College had a huge impact on who I grew into and how these values that I learned early on manifested in actual work. On top of being a critical thinker and learning how to unpack complex thoughts and complex situations, it helped me be able to focus my thoughts and turn to a clear path forward for what it means to get my views across.”
Blazing a trail of his own
All the work Horiuchi does helps to enhance the Trail Blazer fan experience comes from his childhood memories of the home arena.
He’s inspired by “those exciting moments that bring Portland together,” he says. “That really impacted my work and how I approach listening to our fans, listening to employees.”
Still, after two years working for the Trail Blazers, Horiuchi can’t believe he gets to walk into the arena and work for “the home team.”
Horiuchi’s boss, Matthew Gardner, thinks highly of him. “Put simply,” Gardner says, “Ryan is dedicated to ensuring each department in our business keeps the fan experience at the center of everything we do. His passion, background, and attention to detail have set (him) up for success in a major way.”
As for the future, Horiuchi says he’s planning on following opportunities wherever they take him. The support of his family and hometown have made Portland the perfect place to start a long career.