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SBJ/March 12 - 18, 2007/Forty Under 40
Published March 12, 2007
Brian Rolapp may be at the center of the NFL's burgeoning digital world these days, mapping out how the league's valuable games and other programming will be distributed.
But it wasn't so long ago — just a little more than a decade, in fact — that he was about as low down the sports totem pole as one can get. In college, HBO Sports employed Rolapp as a runner in Las Vegas, meaning essentially he fetched coffee for the likes of Jim Lampley. And when NBC Sports came to Utah for Jazz games, the BYU student would chauffeur personalities such as Greg Gumbel and Hannah Storm.
"I'd love to say I drove them around and I was bright and engaging, and that they said, ?This guy is going to be something,'" Rolapp said with a chuckle. "But, of course, that wasn't the case."
These efforts did indirectly lead to the NFL, though. Embellishing his expertise with HBO and NBC, he and a college roommate convinced a radio station to put them on the air with a sports talk show. Let's say the limited listener response led Rolapp to realize that while he liked sports and entertainment, he might be better suited to the business end.
After college, he moved from Wall Street to business school to NBC, where he helped integrate large cable acquisitions such as Bravo and Universal. There he met Kim Williams, the chief financial officer for NBC's West Coast division — and a Forty Under 40 honoree this year as well.
When the NFL Network poached her in 2003, Williams recommended that the league also approach Rolapp. He jumped at the opportunity.
Since arriving in the sport, he has been in the thick of the recent renewal of TV contracts, creating an NFL Mobile channel with Sprint and, most recently, taking control of NFL.com.
The owners voted to take NFL.com in-house last year, and that process should be completed by summer. Leading the integration charge is Rolapp, who must increase the staff from eight to 90.
His principal challenge remains to develop the strategy to combine all of the league's old and new media assets and opportunities, while working with the 32 NFL clubs and their individual efforts.
He describes NFL.com as the hub and the 32 team Web sites as the spokes. The teams are not allowed to use game footage or highlights, but Rolapp hopes that with the NFL centrally running the league's Web site, there will be far more chances for content sharing and business synergies with the teams.
— Daniel Kaplan