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Volume 20 No. 46

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The NFL recently won solid grades from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, which annually grades sports leagues on their hiring of women and minorities. The report, authored by Richard Lapchick, gave the league a combined B grade, featuring an A for racial hiring though a C for hiring women.

The NFL this year showed an increase of 30 percent in the number of diverse employees in executive-level jobs, according to the study.

In 2010, the NFL hired its first chief diversity officer, Robert Gulliver, who previously handled similar duties with Wells Fargo. SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Daniel Kaplan caught up with Gulliver to chat about diversity and the Lapchick report.

How important is the Lapchick report?

GULLIVER: It is certainly a data point among other data points we look at …. It is an important acknowledgement of what we are doing.

What are the strategies to promote diversity in hiring?

GULLIVER: We have had some very good success driving the notion of diversity. Certainly in a lockout year we did not do a lot of hiring. We did work with our management team to drive the notion of accountability.

How does the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and front-office positions, affect hiring at the league office?

GULLIVER: We capture the spirit of the Rooney Rule. Whenever we have an open position, we encourage our managers and leaders to collect a diverse slate of candidates.

Why is this important? Why not just have a goal of hiring the best possible person?

GULLIVER: Football certainly is a meritocracy: The best team on the field wins on any given Sunday. And when it comes to the league office hiring practices, we want to make sure we are embracing this as a meritocracy. … [But] it really does connect into who we are as a business. We want to make sure we have a diverse employee population because we have a diverse fan base.

Can you give an example of where diverse hiring led to improved business for the league?

GULLIVER: The best example is our effort in the women’s apparel space. Forty-four percent of our fans are women, and we have had quite a bit of success coming up with a women’s apparel strategy — and that is a result of having a diverse employee population.

NFL owners plan to vote in two weeks to continue playing regular-season games in London, sources said, marking the latest business initiative the league has concluded since the end of the lockout last month.

The league, however, has not decided whether to have owners vote on a resolution to continue playing just one game annually, as has been the case, or add a second game in London each season.

The current owner resolution allowing the league to play games in London passed in 2006 but expires after next month’s annual contest. The package of games has been dubbed the International Series. The first regular-season game in London was in 2007.

It’s unclear if the new resolution will replicate the current agreement’s five-year term. The NFL declined to comment. Owners will meet in Houston Oct. 10-11.

The league’s games in London have sold out quickly, but whether they are more than a curiosity in a soccer-mad country is another question. In past interviews, NFL Chief Marketing Officer Mark Waller has said the league is focused on London and not expanding the International Series to other countries, such as cities in Germany and Mexico.

London has worked logistically because of the relatively minor time difference in London compared with other global locations; having Wembley Stadium as a host venue; and having groundwork in the country from past NFL preseason games in London. The league markets aggressively in London the week of game, with events in places like Trafalgar Square. The game itself has been a mixed bag for players and coaches, who have not been fond of the disruption to their routines.

There has even been talk of a relocated team or expansion franchise playing in London, though that is not on the NFL agenda for now.

“The question for me is more about, What is the long-term goal of the NFL staging these games overseas?” said Rob Tilliss, founder of Inner Circle Sports, which has advised several English soccer clubs. “Are they going back to the concept of building a world league? Are they thinking of putting a team in London?”

NFL games are televised in England on Sky Sports and Channel 4, so the regular-season game could also be viewed as way to increase viewership there.

The league already plays another international game in Toronto annually as part of separate deal the Buffalo Bills have to play in that city.

Presuming owners pass the new resolution, it would mark the third major initiative since the lockout, following a 10-year renewal of the league’s PepsiCo sponsorship and the extension of the “Monday Night Football” contract with ESPN.