Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, earning positions of power in a space that for too long was ruled almost exclusively by men. We're seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for impactful women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:
Chloe Janfaza, Las Vegas Raiders
Position: Director of Stadium Development and Operations
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How did you get your start in a career in football?
I was obsessed with my dad, my uncle and my cousin growing up, and I loved anything that they loved. They loved football. I was obsessed with football -- I actually grew up in a big Raiders family -- and I knew the only way I could be a part of it was to work in it. So, I remember telling everyone that I was going to work in sports one day, and a lot of people just brushed it off, giving off the vibe of, "Well, you're not going to play football, so what are you going to do?" In my high school, we had a great sports medicine program, and that was a great eye-opener to the careers you could have in sports. I took a bunch of classes in sports management in college and found that I loved it. I decided to go to grad school, and that was the time I was most connected with sports.
On my first day of grad school, we did a training session, and I was asked, "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" I said, "I want to work in an operations department in the NFL." I was committed. I had no hesitation about it. Baseball is great, basketball is great, but let's be honest, football is king.
I got a job in guest services with the Oakland A's and made a ton of connections. I also worked in operations for the Golden State Warriors and made a ton of connections. Then there was an opening for a guest services manager at the Raiders, and it was a perfect scenario for me to get in the door. I hustled, applied and was lucky enough to get the job. I started in guest services but knew I was going to work my way to operations -- I just needed the opportunity. My 10-year plan was on the way.
I networked and built my skills during those two years in guest services, and it paid off, because I got this role. The timing was perfect, because I got to be part of the team that operated the Oakland Coliseum, a place I love dearly, be part of the new stadium plans in Las Vegas and open a $2 billion, black glass stadium and run it. It's been a dream come true.
What was it like transitioning from the Oakland Coliseum to Allegiant Stadium?
The biggest adjustment was changing from a tenant mentality to an owner mentality. In Oakland, we showed up 10 days a year and played football. Now in Vegas, we're the owner of the building and work directly with the grounds crew, engineers and operations. That was the biggest shift.
Responsibility-wise in Oakland, I worked more in event management. During a Raiders game day, that meant dealing with guest experiences -- managing staff, guest complaints and accommodations, as well as working with the other Raiders' departments. We were the liaison between the organization and the stadium operators.
There's a lot more responsibility in Vegas because we decided everything we wanted to do on game day and how we wanted to run it from the beginning. I manage a game-day staff and oversee all of the hiring, training and new-hire orientation. We have to think about the big picture and make sure everyone is on the same page to put on a great event each Sunday.
Opening the stadium during the pandemic had to be challenging. How was that experience?
Allegiant Stadium was a 33-month design build, so we were designing it as we built it. This was quick, and time was flying. We were up against the clock, and we wanted to make it right. Then the pandemic happened. The Raiders' front office worked from home, and our stadium operations team was on the job site every day. We had to finish this project. We had construction workers with masks, face shields and gloves, and we're trying to make sure everyone is safe from a construction standpoint, health and wellness standpoint, and trying to keep everyone 6 feet apart. It really slowed things down.
Then Raiders owner Mark Davis decided, You know what? We've waited all this time to really get this stadium right. It belongs to the season-ticket holders, players and teams. I want to do it the right way. He ultimately decided we weren't going to have any fans in the building for the 2020 season. It wouldn't be fair to have to decide which people get to go to what game. As soon as we checked the "no fans" box, we could take a step back and reevaluate.
There was good and bad with that. The bad was obviously having no fans, because we live for hosting live events and seeing kids crying when they see Derek Carr. It's so fun. But the good was that we had a chance to really get the stadium ready. The 2020 season was a dress rehearsal, if you will. We had everything in plexiglass and had to decide how many workers we needed to be effective. We tried one thing for one game and found it didn't really work, so we tried something different the next game. It was a lot of trial and error, but we were able to figure out timelines for everything -- our grounds crew for converting turf to natural grass, for certain catering options for the locker room, for staff parking and check-in, etc. We were able to perfect a lot of these things. The blueprint was set, and then we just had to add the fan component.
That season took a lot of pressure off the building. We opened at our own pace. We enhanced the building at our own pace, and it was an experience that maybe no other stadium has had. We had planned to book this thing out, so it was nice to take a deep breath and realize what we were missing.
There is no better way to learn a building than how we did. We learned it during construction, then again with no one in it. It really helped from a security and logistics standpoint, as well, which was great.
That is such a unique experience. What would you say is the biggest challenge of your role?
It is overwhelming at times, because I want to do everything: I want to do games. I want to do concerts. I want to see what the Raiderettes are doing for their alumni weekend. There's so much going on that I end up taking a step back in other things I love, like staffing and mentorship. I had great people who helped me go from part-time to intern to coordinator, and I feel like when I get so much on my plate, I lose those relationships with the game-day staff. That's hard for me, because I love them. I miss being as close with the game-day staff and as in the weeds with them as I used to be.
I do really love guest recovery, too, believe it or not. I miss being the person who can go in and fix a situation on game day. Now, I'm always running around so I don't have a ton of time to smooth things over with guests if there is a situation. I mean, guest services are my roots. Sometimes I miss that. It's hard realizing that you have to leave some stuff behind, but I have full faith in our staff and know they are doing a great job.
I'm not going to lie, it's sometimes hard being a female in this industry. There are times I'll go into a meeting, and I'll be the only woman in the room. Someone will ask one of the men if we're discussing his staff, and I can't tell you how many times I've said, "Actually, it's my staff." Everyone always thinks you're not the boss because you're a woman.
You mentioned mentors. Who has helped you along the way and what advice have you received?
I have had the greatest set of people help me in my journey from a female perspective. Gloria Kaci, Cal Berkeley's assistant athletics director, event management, is one of the greatest humans I've ever met. I started working events for her with Cal football, and I walked into a training session with her and immediately saw just how respected she was by everyone. The amount of respect people have for "Glo" is second to none.
She teaches by way of experience. She always lets others give their opinion and talk her into their idea. Then, whether she actually wants to do it their way or not, she'll let them. No matter if it goes well or not, she'll never say, "I told you so." She uses it as a great learning opportunity without her telling you how to do something. The family she's built in the Bay Area is incredible. She's a great manager, from a command center standpoint, and that's something I really enjoy, as well. She's great at it and knows everything that happens at an event without stepping foot outside of her office. "Glo" is a great communicator and still calls me once a week.
Raiders vice president of stadium operations Chris Sotiropulos and former SVP of stadium development and operations Tom Blanda are great. Tom recently retired, but as a Middle Eastern woman working in sports, I have never had a white male have my back like he has. Before heading into a room with 15 men, he'd say, "Chloe, you're going to sit at the head of the table and lead the meeting. I want people to know you're in charge." He's always put me in great situations and opportunities to learn. At that level, it's so easy for him to text or call someone and just quickly handle any issue, but he always took the time to show Chris and I how to do certain things and expose us to new tasks and people. This has helped me build working relationships with so many people.
What advice do you have for women looking to get into the sports industry?
You belong wherever you think you belong, but in this business, you need to work hard and make connections. There are a lot of people who burn out from the process of trying to get into the business. You'll find your spot, but you can't give up. I had seven part-time jobs to learn and make connections, so when a position opened, people were thinking of me.
There are two versions of people who want to work in sports. One is the person who will only take the job they have their heart set on. That might work if the timing is right. The other is someone who also might have their heart set on a certain position but is willing to try other opportunities. Don't go overboard when applying for positions, but don't shy away from opportunities that are slightly different from what you want to do. Also, be sure to be mindful when putting your professional skill set out there, because everyone is paying attention.
What's next in line of things you want to accomplish?
I have a list of things I want to do in my professional career: host a championship game, open a new venue and win a Super Bowl with a team that I work for. I helped host two NBA Finals, have worked a ton of Super Bowls, opened an NFL stadium, which is the biggest accomplishment of my career, so the next is winning a Super Bowl with the Raiders.
Professionally, I also want to build out a department that is self-sufficient and one that people are proud of. I want to be able to go on vacation for seven months -- man, wouldn't that be nice -- and this place runs effectively. I think I'm pretty close to that reality, because the two coordinators and manager in my team are so-well prepared and tuned in. Some people like to keep their duties close to the vest, but that's not me. I want them to have every experience I've ever had, want them to do everything I know how to do.
Finally, I'd say I want to continue to climb the ladder and be the general manager of a venue one day. I want to run a building that turns out amazing events.
Lastly, what are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of sticking with it. My friends used to make fun of me when they were out partying in college and I was studying or working. Now look where I am. I'm proud that I did it. A lot of people had their doubts about my dream in stadium operations, but I didn't.
I'm also really proud of opening Allegiant Stadium. It was an experience I only dreamed of. We won the "Voice of the Fan" -- a survey conducted by the league -- for the best NFL venue for game-day satisfaction in 2021. We also were No. 1 in safety, mobile ticketing, security and game-day staff.