Fifth in a series about locals who have worked in professional sports
Don Dow has always stood out on the Bainbridge Island sports scene. The 6-foot-6, 280-pound multi-sport athlete dominated every sport he played, especially football. Although one of his original paths led him to a football career, it wasn’t meant to be.
Instead, Dow created his own business, DowEvents, a corporate hospitality service. His company creates destination packages for several travel, sports and entertainment events, including the Country Music Awards, Kentucky Derby and many more.
Although he built the company from scratch, he did not expect to take that route when he was younger. “I never was on a path,” Dow said. “I’m like a piece of driftwood on the tide.”
Dow’s first mindset was to follow his football career and play at University of Washington. In addition, he would look to major in banking.
“A really big influence on me was a guy named John Wilcox,” Dow said. “He was a big banker in Seattle, and I dated his stepdaughter in high school.”
Dow was unable to enroll into the business school because the college required a 3.7-grade point average. Dow had around a 3.0 GPA. So, he focused on his football career and majored in sociology for a temporary degree.
Dow came into the UW at a great time. He arrived in fall of 1978, shortly after legendary quarterback Warren Moon led the Huskies to a Rose Bowl win over Michigan. When Dow started, he was at the bottom of the depth chart. However, he built up a reputation over time.
“In 1978, that was the first time they could redshirt freshmen,” Dow said. “There were 30 freshmen in our class, and 28 of us redshirted. I was a backup my redshirt freshman year and then started at guard. I was lucky enough to play in the Sun Bowl, two Rose Bowls and the inaugural Aloha Bowl.”
After college, he looked forward to the NFL and USFL drafts. Dow entered the 1983 NFL Draft as a projected third- to fifth-round pick. However, Dow’s patience was tested as round by round he waited.
“That NFL Draft day was one of the longest days of my life,” Dow said, adding he ended up going in the 12th round to the Seahawks.
Even though Dow did not have the same impact as No. 1 pick John Elway, they had a similar mindset that night.
“I pulled a John Elway in the 12th round, which wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” Dow said. “It’s nighttime, and my phone rings, and it’s the Kansas City Chiefs. They are letting me know their pick is coming up, and they will draft me. I hang up and my phone rings, and it’s Dick Mansfield from the Seahawks. He tells me they are going to draft me. I asked him who picks first between them and Kansas City. He told me Kansas City.”
Shortly after, Dow asked Mansfield for the Chiefs phone number. Once he got the number, he called the Chiefs and told them to not draft him or he would go to the USFL. Therefore, the Seahawks drafted Dow a few picks later.
Although Dow was happy to be with the Seahawks, the relationship did not go both ways. The Seahawks cut him a few weeks later while the Chiefs kept two rookie offensive linemen.
After being cut in September of 1983, Dow’s agent, Bob Walsh, reached out to him about a sports marketing gig.
“Bob Walsh was transitioning out of being a player agent into major events,” Dow said. “He was head of the Seattle Host Committee for the 1984 Final Four, and I went to work for Bob. I had a knack for selling sponsorships.”
After working alongside Walsh until winter, Dow returned to football, heading to the Philadelphia Stars in the USFL training camp. Within a few days, Dow tore his left knee and got his thumb caught in a jersey.
Afterward, Dow took one last shot for a football career. The 1984 NFL Draft was around the corner.
While working with Walsh temporarily, he heard from five teams, including the San Francisco 49ers.
After negotiating a contract and getting back into shape, Dow played a handful of preseason games. Despite climbing the depth chart, Dow tweaked his neck, placing him on injured reserve. Dow stayed on IR until the Super Bowl, practicing with the team before slipping a disc in his back.
Once he slipped the disc, he knew his football career was over. “I decided I wasn’t going to continue to play,” Dow said. “My career was a lukewarm cup of coffee in the NFL.”
At that point, Dow was not sure what he would do. However, the opportunity came knocking on his door.
“When I came back from the 49ers, Bob called me and said he needed me,” Dow said. “I came back from San Francisco in February of ‘85 walked right into Walsh’s office and went to work. All of a sudden, I’m a 25-year-old from Bainbridge Island in meetings with the NBA and NCAA and sitting in meetings with Ted Turner.”
Dow became Walsh’s sidekick. The two began bidding for the 1987-88 NCAA West Regionals, ‘89 Final Four, NBA All-Star game and more. Despite traveling the world, covering some of the largest sporting events, Walsh and Dow did not last much longer.
“About a year before the Goodwill Games, I raised the first $15 million by myself for the Seattle Host Committee,” Dow said. “Bob and I got into a tussle. Breaking up with Bob was really hard because we were really close.”
He went to work for a company out of Bellevue. Dow and his new partners formed Alistair Sports. While working with them, he restructured the sponsorships for the Seattle Storm when it was a soccer team and worked on the 1990 Russian Marathon in Moscow. After a year of working together, the two sides had different mindsets for the future.
“I really wanted to grow something, and Alistair were investment guys and soccer was just a hobby for them,” Dow said.
He started his own company, called Top of the Marketing. “I did some trading card stuff with (baseball greats) Dave Winfield, Ken Griffey Jr. and (basketball legend) Jason Kidd.”
After working on a trading card project, Dow found himself with the right people at the right time.
“I met a group that did a bunch of hospitality and ended up going to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics,” Dow said. They had a big thing around the Atlanta games but they had a larger hospitality venue at the Masters (golf tourney). I put some clients into that, including Visa. I went down and thought this is cool.”
Although now Dow Sports, later changed to DowEvents, was founded in 1986, it took its first steps at the 1997 Masters in Augusta.
“It was Tiger’s first year,” Dow said. “I popped up with what was Dow Sports at the time, and that was my first time on my own. I like to say I’ve had a pretty good run with Tiger at the Masters.”
Despite the company beginning to succeed, Dow took some large hiccups in his career at DowEvents.
“When 9/11 happened, I lost about $1.6 million because the games were in February of 2002,” Dow said. “I spent 11 years paying that off. Just as I’m most of the way through that, the (Dow) crash hits in 2008. I had eight investment banking clients in Augusta who all went away overnight. Also, COVID hits and everything stopped. I am just now getting everything off my balance sheet.”
In spite of large hiccups, DowEvents has been successful for various reasons. However, Dow believes his success has been through his clients’ satisfaction.
“The proof of the success has been the clients that come back every year,” Dow said. “The reputation that we have, I’ve still never lost a client to a competitor because I didn’t do the work.”
Dow added how he perceives his clients so they will return every year. “The difference you are given because you are perceived as star quality, I flip that around and treat customers that way,” he said. “We treat the sponsors like the most important people in the world.”
Going from Bainbridge Island to traveling around the world, Dow appreciates the path he has taken. “I’ve been really lucky,” he said. “The best part has been the experiences and the people. I am in the moment.”