SBJ/March 3 - 9, 2008/Forty Under 40

Brian Rolapp

Taking the NFL's digital operations, most notably the flagship NFL.com, in-house seemed on paper like a no-brainer when the league opted to do so in 2006.

Brian Rolapp
Age: 35
Title: Senior vice president, digital media and media strategy
Organization: NFL
Education: B.A., Brigham Young University, 1996; MBA, Harvard, 2000
Family: Wife, Cindy; children Drew (10), Will (7), Catherine (4) and Benjamin (9 months)
Career: Investment banking analyst, CIBC World Markets, 1996-98; director, corporate development, NBCU, 2000-03; has been with the NFL since 2003.
Last vacation: Hiking in Zion National Park
Last book read: “The Great Bridge,” by David McCullough
Last movie seen: “U2 3D” — a religious experience
What’s on your iPod? A lot of stuff. Recent additions include Arcade Fire; the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs; Johnny Cash Live in Austin; and pictures of my family
Pet peeve: People who overuse analogies
Greatest achievement: Convincing my wife to marry me
Greatest disappointment: Not having my dad around to see his grandchildren
Fantasy job: Starting quarterback for the New York Jets
Executive you most admire: Andy Grove (head of Intel). He said “a fundamental rule of technology says that whatever can be done, will be done.” Key in the media world.
Business advice: Louis Pasteur said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind;” preparation goes a long way in bettering one’s odds of success.

Then came the difficult part.

In a matter of months, Brian Rolapp, NFL vice president of media strategy, needed to implement a new digital plan that would at once generate additional revenue for the league; give teams the latitude to make their sites reflect their local individuality; complement the league's TV counterpart, the NFL Network; and provide the NFL industry luster that had gone to other sports league interactive operations, most notably MLB Advanced Media.

And just when the revamped product hit the streets last August during training camps, media buzz focused on much-debated rules limiting all game highlights to NFL.com, and capping all news outlet online video developed at team facilities, such as press conferences, to 45 seconds a day.

But while much of the football industry exists in a hyper, tension-filled state, Rolapp won significant plaudits for remaining steady and unflappable as the digital plan took shape.

And after the initial media furor of the 45-second video rule died down, what remained was a digital operation that had begun to rival MLBAM with annual revenue in the mid-nine-figure range after a doubling of revenue in 2007. And while baseball's Web operation generates much of its money from ticketing, content subscriptions and merchandise, football is reaching its levels primarily through advertising sales.

"There's a lot to be proud of," Rolapp said. "We assembled a great group of people, and gave the league a skill set it never had. And better yet, the plan actually worked, and was on time and on budget. ... We built a very robust business in a very short period of time that is poised to deliver huge benefits going forward."

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