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SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40
Published March 20, 2006
ARENA FOOTBALL LEAGUE
By John Lombardo
• Age: 35
• Title: Chief operating officer
• League: Arena Football League
• Education: B.A., University of Notre Dame, 1993; J.D., Stanford Law School, 1996
• Family: Wife, Christy
• Career: Joined the AFL in 2001 after practicing law with Thompson Hine in Cleveland and Heller Ehrman in San Francisco.
• Last vacation: Honeymoon in Hawaii in October 2005
• Last book read: "The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth
• Last movie seen: "Munich"
• Pet peeve: Unreturned phone calls
• Greatest achievement: The next one
• Greatest disappointment: The AFL's disruption in play in New Orleans
• Fantasy job: I'm living it.
• Executive most admired: My father
• Business advice: No job is too big or too small.
If anyone was ever going to peg Ed Policy for a career in sports, the natural choice certainly would have been the NFL.
Policy's father, Carmen, had been at the helm of the San Francisco 49ers' golden years, running the team in the late 1980s and early '90s, and even being named NFL Executive of the Year in 1994.
But Ed never wanted to work in his father's shadow, so the younger Policy moved indoors, so to speak, making his mark not in the NFL, but with the Arena Football League.
As chief operating officer for the AFL, Policy is playing a crucial role in expanding the indoor game. Since joining the league in 2001, the 35-year-old has been a major force in the AFL's aggressive expansion into larger markets for record amounts.
Investors in Kansas City last year paid $18 million for an AFL team, and the current expansion fees are reaching $20 million, compared with about $12 million five years ago.
Policy is the point man for all expansion negotiations. Under his watch, the AFL has added nine new franchises. And while AFL Commissioner David Baker is the face of the league, Policy handles much of the behind-the-scenes, day-to-day details of the league.
"In just four short years, Ed has grown into an exemplary executive, as evidenced by his selling more expansion teams than anyone in sports," Baker said. "He possesses a unique balance of skills. He can be both an unwavering negotiator and an understanding diplomat. Most importantly, Ed is a believer in what the AFL is trying to accomplish."
But running a sports league never was at the top of Policy's career goals. Instead, he was content with practicing law in San Francisco and Cleveland. Until, that is, he felt the pull of sports after dabbling in some sports-related legal issues. The shift toward sports management was entirely his own, he said, with no push from his father.
"My dad never pressured me to get involved," Policy said. "I was satisfied in what I was doing and I wasn't looking to get out."
But a conversation with NFL executive vice president and COO Roger Goodell changed Policy's focus.
"Roger put me in touch with Baker, and after several conversations I was hooked," Policy said. "I gave my notice just after Sept. 11, 2001, and people thought I was insane to move back to New York to work for the AFL."
There was immediate culture shock. The AFL had minimal resources compared to the cushy law firm for which Policy had been working.
"At first it was frustrating," he said, "but after a few months, I learned that the lack of resources lends itself to work harder, and now our resources have gotten better."
So what did Policy's father have to say when his son took a job with the indoor league and not the mighty NFL?
"He was supportive, and he's bullish on the league." Policy said.
Policy's current focus is to negotiate expansion fees for two teams likely to join the AFL next season, but down the road he also is seen as a potential successor to Baker.
"I hope David stays for a long time," Policy said. "I'm happy to grow in my role. I'm not looking to become commissioner."