Over the last nine years, Ian Tigchelaar ’95 has had a firsthand look at the resurgence of the New Orleans Saints.
Tigchelaar has been with the Saints organization since 2001 and currently serves as the director of business/marketing operations with the NFL franchise.
Tigchelaar’s journey to the front office of an NFL organization began in an unusual way. After graduating from Calvin with a degree in social work, he worked for several years in ministry including a stint as a Young Life leader in Vero Beach, Fla. Looking for a career change, Tigchelaar relocated to New Orleans in 2001 and landed an internship with the Saints after interviewing at a job fair.
“I was one of 1,500 applicants at the job fair and I was fortunate to be one of the few to be offered an internship,” said Tigchelaar. That internship later turned into a full-time position.
Tigchelaar started with the Saints in their community outreach marketing program and later moved to working with youth programs and suite operation sales. He was later promoted to manager of stadium operations and was recently promoted to his current position.
As director of business/marketing, Tigchelaar serves as the direct liaison with the Louisiana Superdome, where the Saints play. “The Superdome is owned by the state of Louisiana so I work on a day-to-day basis with the stadium, making sure all of our interests are being handled, both during the week and on home game days,” he said.
In 2005, Tigchelaar was also a part of the relocation of the Saints to San Antonio, Texas. The temporary move came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which roared through New Orleans shortly before the start of the NFL season and ripped apart the Superdome and the Saints’ headquarters, forcing the relocation.
“Our staff set up a makeshift operation in the basement of the Alamodome working out of cubicles,” said Tigchelaar. “Shortly after the hurricane, I was sent back to New Orleans with some of the other staff members to try to recover some of our proprietary equipment. When we got back to New Orleans, it looked like a war zone. It was a bad situation, and when I saw the Superdome, I did not think the facility would ever host a game again.”
After the 2005 season, the Saints had to decide whether to return to New Orleans. “After the season we found out the Superdome could be salvaged and our owner, Mr. [Tom] Benson met with the NFL commissioner [Paul Tagliabue at the time] to determine our future,” said Tigchelaar. “Mr. Benson made the commitment shortly after these meetings to move the team back to New Orleans, taking a leap of faith that there would be a population to attend our games and that our team would be part of the engine to get things going again in New Orleans.”
In January of 2006, the entire organization moved back to New Orleans and Tigchelaar was there to witness it all. “I felt like a fly on a wall for the entire rebuilding process,” he said. “I saw firsthand the rebuilding of the Superdome and I was able to track the progress and see that the commitments were being fulfilled. It was very interesting to say the least.”
Tigchelaar is not the only Calvin connection to the New Orleans Saints as former Saints quarterback Danny Wuerfell is married to 1997 Calvin graduate Jessica Krause Wuerfell and is heavily involved in the Desire Street Ministries in urban New Orleans. “I have bumped into Danny from time to time at alumni events,” said Tigchelaar. “Danny is another example of how heavily involved our organization is with the New Orleans community.”
As for the community itself, Tigchelaar is well aware that everyone in New Orleans is pulling for the Saints. “The Saints are truly the team of the New Orleans community,” he said. “Our fans are loyal and passionate about the Saints. When the team wins, there is an entire different feeling come Monday in our city.”
This year, there was plenty to root for as the Saints captured their first-ever Super Bowl title, defeating the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.
Tigchelaar’s parents live in Kentwood, Mich. His sister Alisa also lives in the Grand Rapids area and is an assistant professor in Calvin’s Spanish department. His father, Robert Tigchelaar, is a pastor at Kelloggsville (Mich.) Christian Reformed Church and a former Calvin cross country runner.
“My father is an avid runner and has really gotten into triathlons,” Tigchelaar said with a chuckle. “If you see someone in Kentwood jogging around wearing New Orleans Saints gear, that’s probably him.”