Alumni Stories - In Focus

Inside the NFL with Jaime Weston '89, Director of Brand and Creative Designs
Inside the NFL with Jaime Weston '89, Director of Brand and Creative Designs

Is it really a surprise that a three-sport varsity athlete at Dwight would end up with a career in sports? Jaime Weston '89 grew up playing basketball, volleyball and softball but now has immersed herself in the world of professional football. We sat down with Jaime to hear more about her marketing role with the National Football League (NFL).

What exactly do you do?

My official title is Director of Brand and Creative Operations, but I wear many hats. The first one is managing a brand that is one of the most recognized brands in the nation and probably one of the most recognized globally as well. The joke around the office is that I'm the Shield police because I'm making sure that anything with the NFL Shield on it is expressed in the right manner. I also manage the Quality Control Group and the Creative Group and am in charge of Brand Engagement.

Tell me a little bit about how you got here...

I always knew I wanted to work in sports, but this is my first real job in sports and I've been working for over 16 years. When I first got out of college, I had a short stint at Sports Illustrated at the assistant level. I learned very quickly that jobs in sports are hard to come by, and because there's not a lot of turnover, there's not a lot of room to grow. I knew I wanted to be in marketing or communications, so I left sports to get my experience in other industries and then waited until the time was right to come back at a higher level. I networked and stayed in touch with the right people, then did my best to get my foot in the door when I heard of this opportunity.

Is this the advice you'd give to Dwight students interested in a career in sports marketing?

Absolutely. You can take the long, hard, low paying road, or if you know the discipline you want to be in, you can get that experience somewhere else and come back in. You don't need to work in sports to get a job in sports.

Did you have any specific connection to the NFL in those days?

It's funny. I grew up on 54th Street between Park and Lexington, right near where my dad owned a restaurant called Jimmy Weston's. The NFL offices were on the corner, so Commissioner Rozell (three commissioners ago) would come in with his cronies all the time, especially on Sundays.

Another funny story involving my dad's restaurant is how Monday Night Football on ABC started. The head of ABC Sports at the time, Roone Arledge, came up with the idea of Monday Night Football and wanted to get in touch with Howard Cosell, the sports commentator, to see if he would do the commentating. There were no Blackberries or cell phones, so Arledge started calling all the bars and restaurants, and he found Cosell at my dad's restaurant. Arledge pitched him the idea over the phone at the reservationist table, and here we are 40 years later!

So what are the responsibilities of the groups that you manage today?

The Quality Control Group looks at 70,000 SKUs (Stock-Keeping Unit) a year. Anything that has the NFL Shield, Super Bowl and/or team marks on it, they've looked at. Their eyes are practically bleeding when they leave here each day. Our partners will try to push it as much as they can, but it's our job to bring them back and decide what's on and off brand.

The Creative Group includes art directors, designers, production staff, and project managers, and is in charge of designing and producing all NFL products and images. The Super Bowl, a humongous job in itself, is just one example of something we manage. Everything we do ends up in the Super Bowl Integration Summary, a 100-plus-page book detailing how we engage fans. From working with our broadcast partner, to in-stadium design/décor (field look and feel), to the city environment (the hotels, airport, press conferences), to the ticket design, the program, and every piece of communication that goes out about the Super Bowl, we bring the environment to life for the fan. We control every touch point doorway to doorway, so fans have the best experience possible

The other area I manage is Brand Engagement, which is on-boarding new employees. It's our job to educate our employees about the NFL brand – our positioning, values, and so forth. We are constantly telling the story of who we are. The more we can get our employees to be proper brand advocates in speaking about the brand in a consistent way, the more influence we will have over our business partners. We want to be sure everyone is talking the same way so our partners follow in stride.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Balancing giving our partners a return on their investment (ROI) while making sure that our brand is portrayed in the proper way that communicates the NFL brand values. What can we do beyond just giving them the NFL logo to put on their product and advertising? How can we come up with new innovative ways to partner with us? You've got this very powerful brand, but you're under a lot of scrutiny in how you present it. Our partners are paying us millions of dollars to use the Shield and leverage our brand, but we have to put some controls out there. It is our job to help our partners get as large an ROI as possible, but we also have to keep the equity of the NFL and keep the brand at a premium for what people are paying for it. It's all for their benefit, but it's a lot of day-to-day work. We have a lot of conversations in the office where we discuss cash versus brand. We've had to put cash back on the table and let partners go because they weren't the right partner for us at the end of the day.

Any examples?

I won't give you the name of the brand, but it was a brand associated with erectile dysfunction. When this health issue originally came out, you had Senator Bob Dole talking about it. We saw this as a men's health issue and made the decision to work with a brand in this industry. In one quick year, the brand went from presenting the problem as a men's health issue to have more, let's just say, strong sexual undertones. It became very "off-brand" for us, so we got out of the contract and gave them their money back. You don't typically hear of giving money back, but we couldn't stay in that relationship.

What are your biggest priorities for 2010?

Overhauling the Super Bowl logo. In the past, they've been fun, colorful and very different from year to year. We did a design exploration to look at whether or not we want to present the brand as "fun." Being the pinnacle of all sports games, we decided that we want to come through as preeminent and pristine and showcase the NFL brand at its best. After a very long process, we developed a design strategy that meets these criteria and we believe will be very successful for the League. It now boasts the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the stadium in which the game will be played each year. With the exception of the Roman numerals and the stadium at which the game is played, the logo will no longer change from year to year. It's a big shift, but we believe it's elevating both the NFL brand and the Super Bowl property.

Who is your fan base?

We have 178 million fans, which we calculate through rating agencies and other polls. Most of our fan base is 18-54 years of age. Forty-eight percent of our fan base is made up of women, which you may find surprising. Our emerging fan segments include Youth, Hispanic, and International. The fastest growing portion is the Hispanic population, which mirrors the growth rate in the U.S.

What is the biggest difference between your avid and casual fans?

Our most avid fans engage with the NFL forty hours or more each week. These are primarily our fantasy football players, who follow more than one team. They've got the NFL on their phone and their network, and they are engaging in every way possible.

A casual fan is different from city to city. In New York City, for example, there are so many competing interests for people's time. In a lot of other cities, football overtakes all of the other entertainment options. Where a casual fan in New York City might catch the recap or the last quarter of a game, a casual fan in Denver watches the pre-game, in-game, and post-game and understands what's going on with every player and every move. We're lucky, though, because the NFL is such a social and emotional brand. I always like to say that families aren't coming together around the dinner table like they were 30 years ago, but they're still coming together around the game and the NFL. There's definitely a connector, an energy, with the NFL that people want to be around.

How do you sum up the NFL brand?

We are the #1 brand in sports and entertainment. We have a social and emotional equity that only a few brands can claim. Each team only plays once a week for 16 weeks, so for our fans and teams, there is so much riding on every game. Our brand essence is summed up in three words: intense, meaningful, and unifying. This brand essence threads through everything we do... through all of our events, programs and initiatives.

How do you broaden the appeal of football?

Our research has shown that our most avid fans have played the game or watched football growing up. As I mentioned earlier, families aren't sitting around together as much, and we no longer have only a few TV channels to choose from. With the ever-changing media landscape, you can be watching the game, but your child can be upstairs on the internet, so the game is being handed down to the next generation in a very different way. To mirror what's going on in the media landscape, we've launched NFLrush.com, which uses fun online games to teach kids the game, which includes an RPG (role playing game) where kids can create their own Avatar and play in the NFL world. It's been wildly successful. NFL Rush gets about one million hits per month.

The past couple years, we've had the international series game in London. We've learned from our research that to come into the NFL, new fans have to hook in with one team. To be successful, we need to repeat the same team there every year, so these new fans learn about the team and find "reasons to believe." We have not been able to get one team to visit in back to back years, but the owners are very business-savvy and understand the opportunity to break out of the states and go global. In the next couple years, I expect many more teams will want to play abroad. We will eventually hit a ceiling in the U.S., and there's only one place to go – global.

How much discretion do teams have over their own brands?

The team owners are very much in control of their brands, but they realize that the 32 teams are stronger together than they are on their own. So while you may have a few owners that lean too far one way or the other, they all understand that they're there for the greater good. They all work collectively to try to make changes for the right reason.

If they want to make a decision, does it have to be passed by you?

Not everything, but as it relates to the area of branding, there are rules and standards to follow. For example, each team can only change their uniform and logo design every five years. In the stadium, we also manage the on-field branding, including the ball and officials uniforms and other elements, so no one can sell a sponsorship to Coke, for example, and get their logo on the field. As it relates to other areas across the League, we are governance, so there are a lot of rules and by-laws that are adhered to. At each owners meeting, which take place several times a year, many topics are brought to ownership for vote. There is so much that we protect for the benefit of the League's success – it's a great process to witness.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

Changing the NFL logo in 2008. In its entire time of existence, since the 1940s, the Shield has only been tweaked four times. You may say, "What's the big deal? You changed your logo," but there are a lot of complexities to making this type of change. It took three years, and we went through 300 iterations. Each iteration went through rounds of testing on broadcast, uniforms, online, embroidery, and on our sponsors' products (e.g. a Coors can). Once we finalized the new logo, we had to change everything else over – the ball, the uniforms, stadiums, etc. – and make sure that all of our partners are using it. It took 18 months to roll everything through.

Who are your biggest sponsors?

Gatorade, Reebok, Motorola, Pepsi, EA, Wilson. And our broadcast partners, which include CBS, FOX, NBC, and ESPN.

In 2004, the NFL Network launched the NFL Network and NFL Network On Demand, a premium channel fully dedicated to the NFL and the sport of professional football.

How has this affected your brand?

If you live in New York City, you wouldn't even know it existed because Time Warner is the primary provider, and they do not carry the channel. But we're in 58 million homes nationwide. Between the NFL Network and NFL.com, we have authenticated channels of engagement. We have to be careful, though, because we can't speculate on things like injuries that other channels can. So we have to balance being newsworthy and presenting the facts.

We also just launched the RedZone channel, available only on Sundays. It does a whip around to every game that is in scoring position, so avid fans can see every game action. We're actually getting letters and emails from fans saying that they just can't get enough.

Will big games always be played on primetime?

Yes, in the foreseeable future. They pay us too much money for us to play them exclusively on the NFL Network. We use the NFL Network to show games on Thursdays and Saturdays that primetime networks do not cover.

Has a presence on all the new social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace) increased your fan base?

It hasn't increased our fan base, but it has allowed our existing fans to go deeper and enhanced their overall experience.

One last question: Who's your favorite NFL team?

The NFL serves the 32 teams, so I can't come across as being partial to one team, but I will tell you that I bleed green, and there is a green #6 jersey in my closet. So for all of the diehard NFL fans, you may know who I'm talking about!

Jaime Weston lives in New York City with her husband, David Parouse, and their two children, DJ (4-years) and Tyler (2-years).