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As president of the Philadelphia Phoenix ultimate frisbee team, Christina Chung is one of few women of color who own a professional U.S. sports franchise.
It’s not something the practicing medical doctor expected to add to her resume, but she’s been a pioneer throughout her career. As director of the Drexel Dermatology Center for Transplant Patients, Chung and her team were the first to describe skin cancers in non-white transplant recipients and research specific treatments for these patients of color.
Chung’s work was widely cited, but in 2017 she came to a head with Drexel administration, and led a series of rallies against what she and colleagues felt were “immoral administrators.” She resigned in protest the following year, along with most of her department. The university enforced a non-compete clause for everyone who left, she said, successfully blocking them from applying for new academic jobs. Instead, Chung joined a private dermatology practice and looked for other opportunities.
What came knocking: the chance to become majority owner of the Phoenix, one of 22 professional teams in the American Ultimate Disc League.
A Philly native and Temple Med grad who’s now 45, Chung didn’t grow up playing frisbee. When she started dating now-husband Jeff George, a lifelong aficionado, she took to it almost immediately. In 2004, she began playing with George in the Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance, where they co-captained a team to several top-place finishes.
“It’s like a cross between soccer and football,” Chung said. She’d always played field hockey, softball, and other “ball sports,” and she loves that disc-throwing is different. “[Ultimate] adds a whole new dimension to the field of sports.”
Chung and George, 48, also a medical doctor, had tossed around the idea of buying into a pro ultimate team before, but ultimately decided it wasn’t the right time. When the chance came up again, they jumped in.
The Phoenix’s previous owners, who live in Dallas and own an AUDL team there, felt it would be good for Philly’s crew to have local ownership. Phoenix player and GM Mike Arcata made the connection, and the deal closed in early 2019.
A focus on diversity, from medicine to pro sports
Translating her dermatology skills to a pro sports franchise wasn’t automatic. “In medical school, they don’t focus on business classes,” Chung noted.
The Phoenix has a roster of 35 total players, two full time employees, and a budget of around $150,000. To run the company, she leaned into the discipline picked up in her academic research background — and solicited advice from her many family members in business and finance.
One of Chung and George’s immediate goals was to involve the team more in the community and widen the audience for the easy, affordable sport. The couple began organizing community clinics where Phoenix players helped local kids learn the game.
In the fall of 2019, Chung took the push for diversity league-wide.
She helped launch the AUDL Inclusion Initiative, and became co-chair of the committee, which “strives to increase racial and cultural diversity and inclusion … by engaging communities of color and partnering with people who share the same mission.”
When the pandemic led the AUDL to cancel its 2020 season, Chung stepped up to chair the league’s COVID task force. She helped develop health protocols and monitor developments throughout the crisis.
In October of last year, Chung became the league’s chief medical officer, helping set safety guidelines for this year’s AUDL season, which runs through September.
Finding a city home, and adding a ‘fun czar’
Since 2013, the Phoenix had been playing at Garthwaite Stadium in Conshohocken, and the forced break provided a chance to seek out a new home field.
“You can’t have a Philadelphia sports team and play outside of the city, in the suburbs,” Chung said.
After a bunch of searching and negotiating, she and George inked a deal to play on what’s known as the South Philly Super Site. Owned by the school district and used for various high school games, the field sits right across Packer Avenue from the city’s main sports complex. The new owners knew that playing in the shadow of Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park was the right place to be if they wanted the Phoenix to become a classic Philly sports team.
Now to fill those 4000 classic bleacher seats. That’s where new co-owner Johnny “Goodtimes” Nottingham comes in.
Perhaps best known as a Quizzo master, Goodtimes, 46, has been a staple of the Philadelphia entertainment scene for two decades. In March, he reached out via Twitter to suggest a Phoenix branded t-shirt for his apparel company, Shibe Vintage Sports
The Phoenix head of social media brought this message to Chung, who was thrilled. One of her and George’s first dates was at a Johnny Goodtimes Quizzo event, it turns out, so she immediately set up a Zoom meeting. Nottingham is a longtime frisbee player and fan, and the meet-cute blossomed into a full-on partnership, where he assumed the official title of team “fun czar.”
“Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind,” said Nottingham, true to his “Goodtimes” moniker, “What’s the worst case scenario? We have a hell of a good time on gameday!”
Those gamedays in South Philly have begun, with local food and drink on site, plus lots of kids activities and entertainment during halftime. Check out pics from the home opener here.
Tickets, available online, are $12, or $10 for teens, with kids under 6 admitted free.