Names in the game
Team owners, the commissioner, network heads, the crème de la crème of the executive ranks — these are the positions that come to mind when describing the most influential men and women who make the NFL run. But look deeper into the ranks and you will find executives who are indispensable to running the business of professional football. They work largely behind the scenes, but put the stadium deals together, make sure television programming goes off without a hitch, look for the best ways to activate a sponsorship, and develop new revenue streams.
In the stories that follow, meet some of these people who are making their mark in the NFL and helping to shape the future of the sport.
— Stories compiled by Daniel Kaplan, John Ourand, Terry Lefton and Don Muret
Executive director, North American marketing
While the NFL didn’t get the massive technology sideline sponsorship deal it had hoped for after losing both IBM and Motorola as league sponsors, it did get a new corporate patron in Lenovo. China-based Lenovo is the world’s No. 2 PC maker, but many analysts say it soon will pass HP to become the top global PC brand. In the U.S., Lenovo is the No. 4 PC maker, with around an 8 percent share and eager to leverage the NFL’s power at retail to make a run at domestic competitors HP, Dell and Apple. Rabin is the man leading that charge. “We’ve grown from 400 retail outlets in the U.S. four years ago to 4,000 today, and a property the magnitude of the NFL is a way to keep that retail distribution and consumer sales increasing, while investing in growing our brand. We’ve gone from crawling to walking to jogging, and the NFL is a proven business builder that should get us there.”
Chief human resources officer
If the Cowboys are run like PepsiCo, Weingartner is the reason. The team hired her from Pepsi to run human resources, and she has instituted across the franchise a range of programs typical for large corporations, such as compensation reviews, best hiring practices and employee evaluations. Insiders say she has changed the culture of the team to a far more professionally run one. For a decade before joining the team, she worked for PepsiCo, her last title vice president of human resources. There she worked on divisions ranging from Gatorade to Tropicana.
|Yu (center) put the pieces together for the 49ers' new stadium project.
San Francisco 49ers
It’s hard to identify the former chief financial officer of YouTube and Facebook, and a part owner of the San Francisco 49ers, as someone only now to watch. But Yu is still a relative unknown in sports, despite his heady résumé and impressive early months with the 49ers. He joined the team in 2011 as chief strategy officer and became team president in February. Yu leads all team business, financial and strategic operations. He oversaw securing $850 million in financing for the new Santa Clara stadium, and a $200 million loan from the NFL. And he has spearheaded the effort to speed the opening date of the new stadium from the 2015 to 2014 season.
Senior VP, production
Television advertisers pay more to market their wares during NFL games than anywhere else on the medium. That’s what makes the job of a behind-the-scenes executive like Simmons so critical. Simmons oversees all of the commercials that are integrated into Fox’s NFL telecasts. Based in the network’s Los Angeles studio every Sunday, Simmons also keeps network affiliates updated on changes that may creep into Fox’s schedule. Says one network insider: “He ends up having his hands in virtually everything that takes place to get us to air.”
Director, stadium management
The Steelers’ stadium manager was on the ground floor for pushing NFL stadiums as attractive concert venues. In 2005, Sacco helped form the Gridiron Stadium Network, a group of a dozen NFL facilities lobbying the entertainment industry to book more shows at their buildings. Using country artist Kenny Chesney as a test case that year, the Steelers and a few other clubs took financial risks to buy the act and serve as the promoter, a big shift compared with teams renting their stadiums to traditional promoters. Seven years later, Chesney recently finished a tour of 19 NFL stadiums, the highest number in the singer’s eight years of touring pro football facilities. Every tour has generated more than 1 million tickets sold. Most importantly, as Sacco will tell you, a team’s take of concert-related income is exempt from the NFL’s revenue-sharing formula.
VP, consumer engagement
It might be tougher than winning a Super Bowl. Harter is trying to get consumers of PepsiCo’s portfolio of beverages and salty snacks better connected by combining their two biggest passion points: music and sports. Pepsi was already one of the NFL’s biggest corporate sponsors; now it has doubled down on that investment with an incremental deal that will see it sponsor the halftime show at the next four Super Bowls. PepsiCo’s new “NFL Anthems” program sees pop stars Kid Rock, Kelly Clarkson, Ice Cube, Wiz Khalifa and Travie McCoy performing songs for their favorite NFL teams. The effort will be supported by 6 million Pepsi packages. It’s interesting to note that among those recently adopting music/sports strategies are fellow beverage marketers Coke and Budweiser. “We have great assets at consumers’ major passion points,” Harter said. “It’s all about authenticity and using that connection to design programs that really drive retail volume.’’
Chief financial officer
Poppen, in his 14th season with the Vikings, played a crucial role in securing a new stadium deal for the team. Over the last few years, he played a major role in the Vikings’ attempts to pass new stadium legislation, an effort that culminated with Gov. Mark Dayton signing the stadium bill into law on May 14. But Poppen’s job is not done. He will lead the Vikings’ financing efforts for the new publicly owned and operated stadium, which will be built in downtown Minneapolis and open in 2016. He’ll work with the new stadium authority on the design and construction of the facility, and the team’s $477 million private commitment to the project.
Director, retail operations
Green Bay Packers
Hogan enters her 20th season in charge of one of the NFL’s most lucrative merchandise operations at Lambeau Field. The Packers are the league’s only publicly held team but they no longer separate retail in their annual earnings report. For fiscal 2011-12, the team listed local revenue of $130 million, a number containing total retail sales. Six years ago, in 2006, when the Packers provided separate figures for retail, the team generated $17 million in annual merchandise sales. Twenty years ago, the number was $350,000 before Hogan took the job. She oversees the stadium’s three retail destinations, including the year-round Packer Pro Shop inside the Lambeau Field Atrium, and the team’s online merchandise operation. In 2008, she oversaw the expansion of the Packers Pro Shop Game Day Store, the stadium’s secondary location. The main team store, under Hogan’s leadership, could also expand as part of overall stadium improvements.
Senior VP, ticketing, event management
The Texans have sold out every game since their first in 2002 despite making only one playoff appearance. Top team execs frequently get the credit, but behind the scenes, it’s Schriever who oversees all aspects of ticketing and event management as a senior director. He has been with the team 12 years, and overall has 26 years in the sports business under his belt, with stops that also have included the Texas Rangers, Atlanta Olympics and Texas Motor Speedway. The Texans estimate he has been involved in the sale of more than 33 million tickets to sporting events during his career. The Texans are all but certain to sell out again this year, adding to Schriever’s ticket tally.
NBC Sports & Olympics, NBCSports.com
NBC uses its ambitious NFL pregame show, “Football Night in America,” to set the programming tone for the rest of the night on the network. Gesue is the executive whom NBC insiders call the editorial conscience behind the show. As the executive editor of NBC Sports & Olympics and NBCSports.com, Gesue also shapes the messages during the network’s halftime and postgame reports, as well as NBCSports.com. Gesue has won nine Emmys for work on seven Olympic broadcasts and NBC’s Wimbledon coverage.
Senior coordinating producer, production
Thanks to last year’s blockbuster media rights deal with the NFL, ESPN has more studio programming devoted to the league than ever. In his role as ESPN’s senior coordinating producer of studio production, Markman oversees all of those shows, including “Sunday NFL Countdown,” “Monday Night Countdown,” “NFL Live,” “NFL PrimeTime,” “NFL32” and “Fantasy Football Now.” Promoted to this role in March 2011, Markman also oversees ESPN’s on-site coverage of the Super Bowl, NFL draft and Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He has won five Sports Emmy awards.