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:
Gabrielle Valdez Dow, Green Bay Packers
Position: Vice President of Marketing and Fan Engagement
* * * * *
How did you get your start in a career in football?
I stumbled upon this career. I never thought about working in sports, to be honest. I come from a football family in a sense that my father played football in college at San Jose State under Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh. Dick Vermeil was also his teammate. The one thing my dad really instilled in me was to love what you do because people work more than they play. My parents were both entrepreneurs and owned businesses, so they instilled a great work ethic in me at a young age.
I first went to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I was a swimmer, before transferring and finishing my undergrad at the University of Oregon. My father's lifelong dream was for me to go to law school, so I took a year off and then went back to Oregon for law school. I was getting my MBA at the same time and applied to be in the Jim Warsaw Sports Marketing Program. The program only took 20 students and I interviewed with Rick Burton (the program's director at the time) for that final spot. Rick sat at the edge of his desk and asked, "So why should I care about you?" I said, "Because some day you're going to tell your class and students about my career." To be honest, I just said that because I was trying to get accepted and it came true because I worked hard enough to reach my north star. Now, he tells that story.
While I was in that program, I became a law clerk for the Portland Trail Blazers. I would drive an hour and a half to work for the Trail Blazers on Thursday and come back to school Sunday night so I could attend classes during the week. I loved what I was learning at school and loved working for the Blazers, who I ended up getting a public relations internship with. I learned how much I wanted to be in the sports business and also what it took: the commute, the work, the time commitment. I mean, I joined a gym so I could shower and change into my suit before running stats at the game, only to turn right around and go back to school. It was a lot.
After I graduated, I did an internship with AEG and was hired full-time as a marketing manager -- primarily for the Los Angeles Lakers -- in 1999 when the then-Staples Center opened. I worked there for four years before taking a job as the senior director of marketing for the NHL's Florida Panthers. Then, I joined the Baltimore Ravens in 2006 for eight seasons before my husband saw this job open with the Packers. I emailed Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy and asked if I could put my hat in the ring, and here I am nine seasons later.
It's been a neat career, but I never would've thought I'd be doing this. I always thought I would do something in the fashion industry.
I always enjoy learning about career paths because they are never the same. Can you describe what your job entails?
The best part about this position is the day-to-day work is never the same. We get to experience and do different things, from talking to fans to coming up with a creative concept for content to reviewing next season's line of merchandise. In every discipline, it changes all the time. It's new and exciting, and yet, there are things that are routine, like the NFL calendar year. There used to be an offseason; now there is 365 days of football. We are constantly talking about how do we engage with fans the entire time.
My work changes every single day based on the initiative, goal or strategy we're working on at the time. I oversee several departments: retail, broadcast content, research analytics marketing and fan clubs. In our world, content is king -- whether it's video, radio, social, etc. Cell phones are the future of communication and how we connect with the world, so we are constantly trying to stay engaged.
It's very special, and in my opinion, we are all very lucky to work in this field. We get to constantly meet with new people and create synergy and engagement. It's by no means mundane, so I'm very blessed to be here.
What was it like for you transitioning from Baltimore to a smaller market in Green Bay?
From a personal level, it was fantastic. The small-town mentality makes you feel safe. It was really neat to raise my family in a small community.
Professionally, the city doesn't matter. The difference is in the brands, legacy and history of the teams. I'm not comparing the two because it's apples to oranges. The Baltimore Ravens are a teenager. They are a young franchise that started in 1996 and are just hitting their stride, even having already won two titles. The Ravens are sandwiched in between three dynasty franchises in Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- which have each been around for more than 80 years. For Baltimore, it was creating awareness and continuing to grow that fan base.
The Packers are 103 years old now. The character, foundation and legacy is all there. Now it's about stewarding the brand and leaving the Packers better than when I got here. It's all about how can we carry this great brand to the next generation of fans.
Both organizations are great, but they are definitely in different stages.
That makes sense. The Packers have had a long history of great coaches and players, but those faces of the franchise, like Aaron Rodgers, aren't going to be with the team forever. How do you plan for those transitions in terms of marketing?
How we present the franchise through content is key. Players are changing all the time, so it's a question of: Are you a fan of a certain player because of fantasy football or other allegiances? Or are you a fan of the team, and the character and legacy of that team? Players come and go, so we have to keep moving forward with a business mentality because for us, it's always been about the organization.
I've seen teams hang their hats on star players. Then, all of a sudden something happens and things go south. We're about the team. You have to be about the team, especially if you want long-term success.
What's the most challenging part about your job?
The changes in technology. To be on every single platform and stay engaged is a lot of work, but we have to figure out how to stay current. How are we using these platforms to their full extent? How well are we connecting with new generations of football fans? The connectivity between our fans and players through the content we're creating is huge. Oh, and we have to monetize it. It has to be on brand.
The Packers are part of the NFL International Series this year. How do you prepare for an event like that from a fan standpoint?
NFL UK has been a great partner of ours, and we have UK- and Ireland-based Packers fan clubs. Our organization is very well-known for our pep rallies and the Packers Everywhere platform. Our fan engagement team is hosting pep rallies in London leading up to the game. When we travel to a game stateside, we can get 3,000 or more fans at a Packers pep rally. They are people who are snowbirds, or they live in away-game cities.
Packers Everywhere is a platform Mark Murphy started when he got to Green Bay. It's a one-stop shop to help you find a local fan club in any city in the world and watch a Packers game. Obviously, there is a social media following for that, and it's a great space to go for people who are visiting Wisconsin or want to know where to go in any city to watch a game. It is its own network of fans.
I'm going to pivot a bit here. Do you have mentors and what advice have you received from them?
I have a lot of mentors and some probably don't know I consider them one. Sometimes it's great because I can admire someone from afar. Dallas Cowboys executive vice president and chief brand officer Charlotte Jones doesn't know she's a mentor of mine, but hers was the first article in this series that I read. I've seen her speak at conferences and at NFL meetings, and I'm aware of what she does, listen and learn from her. I don't necessarily engage with her frequently, but I refer to her as a mentor. I think finding mentors is key in your growth.
Mark Murphy is a great mentor of mine. What I learn from him on a daily basis is humility, along with his kindness and compassion. He will talk to any fan who gives him a call or talks to him on the street. That humility comes across in the way he leads, and I admire that. He's constantly going the extra mile. I think you have to take traits of the different people in your life, whether you know them well or not, and apply them to your own career.
Do you have any advice for women who are interested in getting into the sports industry?
I don't turn down any person trying to break into the business. I happily talk to them about it or look at any résumé that's sent my way. Sometimes it's a hard, candid conversation, sometimes it's taking a red pen to a résumé.
It's easy to love sports, but do you love the business of sport? The partnerships, content, revenue and all the ancillary things? Do you love those things more than loving the sport itself? These two things are very different. We get so many people who apply for jobs, and this is a big question I ask them.
That's a great point. Having worked in the league for over 15 years, how have you seen the league change for women?
I'll be honest, I wish it was faster. The NFL is a very large organization and I know it's trying to be more inclusive, whether from a referee standpoint or business or coaching. Women are rising in roles around the business, but I would love to see more.
I would also ask that all of my female colleagues meet with their managers and ask if they're getting the same salary as their male counterparts. Pushing that envelope is important, and I don't think that gets done enough. We need to challenge our managers and make sure women are being held in the same regard as men.
Another great point. Lastly, when you look at your career to this point, what are you most proud of?
The friendships and relationships I've made. I know it's sappy but it's really about the people I've met along the way. It's unique to travel to an away game in another city and always be able to meet up with someone I used to work with. I'm super proud in that sense of the network I've created.
I'm proud of being in this business as a female, as a Latina, as a working mom. Loving what I do is no small feat.