|Position:||Director of Athletics|
Since arriving on the Kingston campus in July 2007 as the 11th Director of Athletics in University of Rhode Island history, Thorr Bjorn has worked tirelessly to build a new vision and championship culture for the school’s athletics department.
"We want to be champions in the three most important areas: in competition, in the classroom, and in the community," Bjorn said. "Our athletics department is wholly committed to making the necessary changes in order to achieve a true winning attitude."
To build his championship culture, the native of Salem, Conn. has made it a priority over his tenure to design, enhance, remodel and build the URI Athletics infrastructure and facilities from the ground up.
In April, 2014, the Ryan Family Student-Athlete Center was officially opened to the public. Originally designated as the Student-Athlete Development Center (SADC), it was Bjorn’s vision and drive that brought the $5 million state-of-the-art facility to fruition. The RFSAC includes the Eleanor Carlson Strength & Conditioning Center, the Anthony J. Rose Athletic Training Room & Sports Medicine Center, the Katie DeCubellis Memorial Foundation Student-Athlete Athletic Commons & Advising Center, and the Winter Family Foundation & Wick Family Champions Gallery.
Under Bjorn’s guidance, the Thomas M. Ryan Center received a major technological upgrade and a new playing surface. Already one of the top basketball facilities in the Northeast, the game day atmosphere at the Ryan Center will be greatly enhanced with new main and auxiliary LED video boards as well as an LED ribbon wrap throughout the arena bowl. Bjorn also played a major role in the newly named and redesigned playing surface at the Ryan Center - the Alex and Ani Court.
In total, Bjorn has been directly responsible for securing a total of $15 million from external and internal sources for facility enhancements. These projects include over $500,000 for renovations to the men’s and women’s basketball office suites, $300,000 for the men’s basketball locker room, $500,000 for construction of eight new varsity tennis courts, $300,000 for tennis pavilion, $500,000 for new indoor batting barn used by baseball and softball, $1 million for Meade Stadium bleachers and press box renovation, $1.3 million for new baseball playing surface (FieldTurf), $1 million of resurfacing indoor track with state-of-the-art Mondo surface, soccer practice facility, $200,000 to renovate volleyball and women’s soccer locker rooms.
Rhode Island’s external revenue efforts have reached unprecedented heights under Bjorn. He rebuilt and reenergized the business development and corporate partnership office. In 2013, he orchestrated the partnership between URI and Nelligan Sports which provided NSM with the exclusive rights to manage the athletics sponsorship and multimedia rights. In 2014, Rhody Sports Properties was introduced, as the dedicated corporate sales unit through Learfield Sports.
Fundraising and development have also achieved record levels. During that time span, total philanthropic donations from FY 2007-14 reached over $15 million dollars.
He helped cultivate the first-ever $1 million dollar gift in Rhody athletics history in November, 2007. That gift helped to transform Bill Beck Field - home of the highly successful URI baseball program - into one of the top facilities in the Northeast. Upgrades included a new synthetic surface installed in the infield, a sod and sprinkler system in the outfield, and an indoor training facility that can be used by the baseball and softball teams.
In competition, Rhode Island has captured 11 Atlantic 10 championships under Bjorn. The rowing team has won four Atlantic 10 championships, including their first-ever bid to the NCAA Championship in the 2012-13 season. The men's track and field have dominated the conference championships, winning seven of the last 12 indoor and outdoor titles combined.
In the classroom, over 200 Rhode Island student-athletes earned a 3.5 grade-point average or better during the 2013-14 academic year and were named to the Atlantic 10 Commissioner's Honor Roll. In the spring 2012 semester, a record 33% of all URI student-athletes earned a spot on the Dean’s List. In May, 2014, two teams - volleyball and women’s tennis - earned NCAA Public Recognition Awards for their latest multi-year Academic Progress Rates (APR).
Many of the Rams' athletic programs and student-athletes have made an impact in the community. Many participated in the annual Reading Week promotion - a department-wide venture which places student-athletes and coaches in local elementary schools in April to read and interact with the students. The volleyball team took part in a Habitat for Humanity activity, while the baseball team participated in the Rhode Island Autism Project walk during the fall. The football program organized a bone marrow drive during the spring, which has led to 11 individuals associated with the University of Rhode Island making a donation to help save the lives of leukemia patients.
Additionally, URI Athletics continues to sponsor its annual "Pink Out" men's basketball game, which raised more than $15,000 for a the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation. Bjorn's championship attitude is rooted in a philosophy in which everyone in the URI athletics department is a fundraiser and marketer.
"We need to be tireless in our efforts to bring in external dollars - not just to sustain, but rather to grow all of our programs," Bjorn explained. "As we go out into the community, we have the opportunity to 'sell' URI and our mission to our current and future donors, sponsors and ticket buyers. We have to continue to move forward and become increasingly creative in how we accomplish our goals."
He served as chairman of the Atlantic 10 scheduling policy committee in 2009. On the national level he sat on the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Rowing Committee from 2009-2013. He currently sits on nine separate committees: NCAA Division I Legislative Council, the Atlantic 10 Conference Realignment Committee, the FCS Athletic Directors Association-Executive Committee, Mentor to RisingAD’s, the Atlantic 10 Revenue Distribution Subcommittee, the Atlantic 10 Television Committee, the Atlantic 10 Membership Committee, the Atlantic 10 administrative committee and the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Committee where he serves as a co-chair.
Bjorn came to Kingston after spending 15 years at his alma mater - the University of Massachusetts - in a variety of athletic administrative roles. At the time of his hire, Bjorn had entered his fourth year as the senior associate athletic director at UMass, serving as the day-to-day sport supervisor for football and ice hockey, while also overseeing the men's and women's lacrosse programs. He directly supervised the UMass athletic marketing staff, corporate sales - including the UMass Radio Network, coaches shows and signage - and ticket operations. Bjorn also served as liaison between the athletic department and Global Spectrum - the management company for the William D. Mullins Center, home of UMass basketball and hockey.
He played an integral role in UMass' department-wide apparel deal with adidas, oversaw all aspects of the funding and installation of a multi-million dollar video scoreboard system in the Mullins Center, and helped to secure funding sources for a new artificial surface at Alumni Stadium - home of the nationally-ranked Minutemen football program.
From Sept. 2003-Feb. 2004, Bjorn was the interim athletic director at UMass. In that role, he oversaw all the department, including supervising a senior administrative staff of 10 associate and assistant athletic directors, as well as the head football, men's basketball, and men's ice hockey. During his tenure, he negotiated a contract extension with Don "Toot" Cahoon, head men's ice hockey coach, and was the athletic department liaison in a viability study on elevating to Division I-A (now "BCS") football status.
After a three-year stint as the director of regional sales and marketing for Resorts Sports Network in Portland, Maine, Bjorn returned to UMass in April of 2003 as the Associate AD/External Affairs. At RSN - a company which provides cable systems with programming at ski resorts - he was personally accountable for $1 million in television and web advertising revenue. In his role as Associate AD, Bjorn was responsible for soliciting all radio and television advertising and corporate sponsorship dollars for the athletic department, Mullins Center, and UMass Magazine - a total exceeding $1 million dollars. Under his watch, annual sponsorship revenue increased by over 135 percent.
Bjorn also directed the department's retail merchandise program, coordinated advertising campaigns and directed the ticket office. He also established "MinuteFan Park," an interactive fan experience at Alumni Stadium. After graduating from UMass and spending six months as an intern in the business office at the University of Connecticut, he returned to his alma mater as assistant athletic director for tickets and game operations in December of 1990, a position he held until being promoted in 1996.
A three-year letterwinner for the Minutemen football program, he earned his bachelor's degree in sports management from UMass in 1990, following with a master's degree in higher education from his alma mater in 1995. He met his wife Cyndy at UMass, and the couple has three daughters, twins Stephanie and Robyn and Rachael. The Bjorn family resides in North Kingstown.