While the NFL completes the first week of their historic 100th season, history of a little different kind begins in Philadelphia, as longtime NHL exec Jessica Berman begins her first official day as Deputy Commissioner of the National Lacrosse League, making the Brooklyn native and Michigan and Fordham Law grad the highest-ranking woman at a men’s professional sports league. She joins the NLL in advance of a season that should also see historic growth under Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz, with a growing media deal with Turner and new franchises in New York and Halifax, Nova Scotia. We asked Berman about the similarities, challenges and opportunities in her new job.
Berman on the similarities between the business of the NHL and NLL: Yes, there are a lot of similarities and synergies between the NHL and the NLL. Absolutely, the fact that digital strategy is a top priority transcends both properties as well as our common ownership and the cities in which we play. Not to mention the crossover that exists for many hockey players who played lacrosse and vice versa — players like Wayne Gretzky and Brendan Shanahan to name a few. Digital storytelling today has to be a priority for anyone looking to grow a brand, a property, a team or a league. We need to be prepared to engage fans wherever and whenever they want. The next generation of fans in particular expect that. Nick and the team here at the NLL saw that early on and we will continue to do so, especially with our partnership with Turner and B/R Live.
On the growth of social responsibility and cause marketing: In order for social responsibility to be authentic it needs to be embedded into every area of the business. It will fit into everything I do. It’s a way of thinking that will influence our partnerships, our community engagements, our marketing and branding, our hiring, our identity. It’s a way of being, not only a program or a campaign. For the NLL in particular, I am looking forward to continuing to expand the focus on the indigenous community. With the history of the sport being tied to the indigenous community, there’s an opportunity to celebrate that and ensure that community continues to have access to the game. I know that has been a focus for Nick already, particularly because we have Players, fans, along with two of our owners, being Indigenous.
On the role and responsibility: First of all the chance that Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and others at the NHL gave me to grow in various roles at the NHL prepared me for this opportunity — and I am really grateful to feel ready for this. On the NLL side, I really appreciate Nick’s confidence in me and my skill set, and I look forward to learning every day. As a woman in this position I realize the significance of this opportunity and will approach this with the same diligence and commitment that I have every other opportunity in my career. Of course there are so many women who are in senior positions at leagues, teams, agencies, conferences and brands, many of whom I have looked up to, and some of whom have mentored me, in my career — people like Val Ackerman, Kim Davis, Kim Ng, Michelle Kydd Lee and Kathy Carter, to name a few. I do hope that some day soon there are even more senior women working in sports, at all levels, influencing business decisions because diverse perspectives will make the result better. Regarding the next generation of leaders, I love mentoring and want to set the best example possible as a professional; that should be everyone’s goal regardless of gender. If the NLL is successful then I am successful, and I welcome the challenge and can’t wait to get to work.
On the potential of lacrosse growth as a property: Growth across all platforms, from sponsorship to media, to the growth of the game at the youth level, to the storytelling of our athletes, teams and coaches. I also think our collaborative effort to work with the NHL teams and owners where we share a commonality in business is very important and I’m hoping that my relationships with the league and the teams can help enhance those objectives for the NLL. This is a league under Nick’s leadership that has seen amazing growth; we are expanding to places like New York and Halifax this year, have great athletes from diverse backgrounds and keep adding more partners. It’s a great time to make the transition for me and I’m excited about where we will go as an innovative and inclusive league.