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Published March 8, 2010
With New Meadowlands Stadium scheduled to open in a matter of weeks, Thad Sheely may be forgiven for chuckling about the dark days of the summer of 2005. That’s when, after five years of effort, the New York Jets’ dream of a Manhattan stadium flamed out amid unexpected political opposition and pressure from Madison Square Garden.
“At the time, it definitely felt like failure,” Sheely said. “In retrospect, the position we are in today is the best position for the Jets.”
That summer, the Jets had no backup plan, and their lease was running out in four short years. Mere months later, the team had struck an alliance with the New York Giants, and on April 10 of this year, the club’s vision will be realized with the stadium’s first event, a lacrosse game.
Jay Cross spearheaded the Jets’ stadium effort as the team’s president. When he left for a real estate job two years ago, Sheely assumed responsibility for the team’s stadium operations.
It was Cross who brought Sheely to the Jets in 2001. Sheely got to know Cross when Cross worked for the Toronto Raptors while the club was developing Air Canada Centre. Sheely worked for Prudential Securities, one of the lenders.
Sheely left to get a degree at Stanford business school and interned with Cross at the Miami Heat to help the team with the financing of its new arena. By the end of the summer, Cross offered Sheely a full-time job.
Sheely chose to go back to school, but the Heat job was still his when he graduated in 1998. When Cross left for the Jets in the fall of 2000, Sheely wasn’t far behind.
Now, Sheely has seen through the most expensive stadium in U.S. history, the only facility to house two NFL teams.
“I am in the sports business because it is a business and not because it is sports,” Sheely said. “Sports is the X factor that allows you to do things that you couldn’t do elsewhere.”