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Volume 23 No. 13
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Expanded Rooney Rule likely to have big impact

The NFL’s expansion of the Rooney Rule to cover the business side of teams and league headquarters will transform the sports industry, said Len Perna, chairman and CEO of Turnkey Search.

Last week, the country’s dominant league declared that teams must interview at least one non-white or female candidate for every club president vacancy, along with doing the same for senior executive roles in 11 divisions: communications, finance, football operations, human resources, information technology, legal, marketing, sales, sponsorship, and security positions. 

If nothing else, it’s more than a sixfold increase in the total positions subject to the rule, from 64 (coaches and general managers) to nearly 400 at the teams, plus an unknown number of roles at league offices.

By expanding into the business side, where skills are less specifically related to football, it will also influence the labor market across every sport.

“For starters, it’s going to be outstanding for NFL clubs because they’re going to get a more diverse, more locked-in, more relevant group of employees,” said Perna, acknowledging the rules will be a boon to the search consultant industry too. “They’re going to do better. And that is going to cause other teams, and other leagues, to do the same thing, and then they’ll get better. It’s fantastic for our industry.”

Kim Pegula is the NFL’s only female team president.
Photo: getty images
Kim Pegula is the NFL’s only female team president.
Photo: getty images
Kim Pegula is the NFL’s only female team president.
Photo: getty images

The NFL is the first league to implement formal rules for business-side roles, driven in part by low scores on the annual racial and gender diversity report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

Last fall, the NFL received a D+ for hiring people of color at the team vice president level, with just 12.8% of those positions filled by minorities and 20.7% of those jobs filled by women. By comparison, the NBA has 23.9% minorities at that level and 25.4% women at those levels.

The NFL has one woman as team CEO or president: Bills President Kim Pegula, a Korean-American who owns the team with her husband, Terry. The NBA has seven women in those roles.

Those stats highlight the problem seen on the football side, too, said Rod Graves, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the nonprofit pushing for diversity in the NFL: Minorities are often not afforded the chance to play at a strategic level, even though they’re important parts of the operating team.

The new rules also include a mandate for all teams to develop diversity and inclusion plans. Graves called it “as large as a comprehensive plan to address diversity as I’ve been involved with in the National Football League.”