This is an interesting time to be a Packers fan. No team in the NFC has won more games over the past decade, Brett Favre broke Dan Marino's record for most TDs in NFL history, and the team is both young and hungry.
They're also about to name a new president and CEO to replace the legendary Bob Harlan.
|Bob Harlan: Not an easy exec to replace. (Getty Images)|
With competition fierce for the job, the Packers hired Spencer Stuart, a global executive search firm with offices from Johannesburg to Dubai to its main headquarters in New York. It's the same firm that helped the NFL identify Roger Goodell as the man to replace Paul Tagliabue as commissioner.
After three months, from a list that began with more than 1,100 names, the Packers are down to fewer than a dozen finalists. Green Bay has a 45-member board from which an 11-person selection committee will begin interviewing next week the surviving candidates. There are between 8-12 men, from both football and the business world, who are considered qualified for the job.
One of them is Joe Sweeney, a business and sports entrepreneur from Milwaukee, where his Packers ties run deep. A native of Wisconsin, Sweeney has done everything from oversee the Cheese League (the NFL teams that practice and play in Wisconsin during the preseason) to being instrumental in bringing Major League Baseball's All-Star Game to Miller Park in 2002, all the while overseeing an enormous business as the managing director of Corporate Financial Advisors, a Milwaukee-based investment banking firm.
"I see this job with the Packers as having five main considerations," says Sweeney, who once represented much of Brett Favre's marketing. "The person for the job must have a strong business acumen -- after all, the Packers are a $220 million dollar corporation. Secondly, the person must have a deep understanding of sports business -- the Packers are a unique organization, a public sports company with more than 110,000 shareholders.
"Third, the person should be considered a younger Bob Harlan, a people person who has a tremendous understanding of the Packer culture, both locally and nationally. Fourth, the person must have great energy; this job requires at least 100 hours a week, from being in places like Madison and Milwaukee and Appleton, to meeting with sponsors in New York. And fifth, the person must appreciate the Packers and what they mean to Wisconsin."
The Packers are nothing if not national, even international. Brett Favre's jersey is one of the all-time most popular, the team has been on Monday Night Football consistently for more than a decade, and the experience of a game there still has the feel of a hometown tailgate.
Green Bay is the only team in the NFL where you can be with your family and friends while sitting on a bleacher. I'll never forget being at Lambeau when the Packers beat Carolina in 1996 to advance to their first Super Bowl in 30 years. Reggie White ran around in the falling snow while the University of Wisconsin band played Roll out the Barrel. Everyone was crying and no one left for hours.
The competition comes from both inside and outside the league. The eight finalists include two excellent executives from within the Packers organization, Andrew Brandt (VP of player finance and general counsel for the Packers) and Jason Wied (VP of administration) plus Bryan Wiedmeier (president and CEO) of the Miami Dolphins, Dennis Mannion (Senior VP of business ventures for the Baltimore Ravens), and three other men outside the Packers organization who might be the toughest competition of all.
Jeff Diamond, the CEO of the Ingram Group, a public relations firm in Nashville, Tenn., which specializes in sports ventures, was the highly regarded president of the Tennessee Titans for six years. During his tenure with the team, the Titans reached the playoffs four times and went to the Super Bowl in 1999.
Before that, Diamond was with the Minnesota Vikings for 23 years, when Denny Green and the team enjoyed their best seasons since Bud Grant. In 1999, Diamond was named The Sporting News executive of the year.
Jack Mula joined the Patriots in 1999 as general counsel of player personnel and has overseen three Super Bowl championships for what is often considered the model organization in the NFL. He has been involved in sponsorships, promotions and the planning and development of Gillette Stadium. And before joining the Patriots, Mula was the enormously respected agent for such players as Doug Flutie and Fred Smerlas.
The biggest competition of all might come from Jim Steeg, COO of the San Diego Chargers, who spent most of Monday gathering his memorabilia from his house, trying to avoid the raging fires in Malibu. After running Super Bowls for more than two decades, Steeg has a museum of memories, including the only ball signed by every Super Bowl MVP. Steeg is widely considered the man responsible for turning the Super Bowl into the world's premiere sporting event.
In 26 years as the man in charge of the NFL's special events department, he grew the product from a nice championship football game to a four-day extravaganza, overseeing everything from the pregame and halftime shows, to the corporate hospitality, the security and even the logo design. It would be easier to name something he didn't do.
He has overseen a $20 million growth in revenues for the Chargers yet still finds time to oversee every detail from the new practice field to the highlight films. And Steeg has strong Packers ties. His wife, USA Today senior writer Jill Lieber, grew up in Neenah, Wis., where her parents and grandparents have had Packers season tickets for more than 50 years.
"Whoever the Packers decide on," says Sweeney, "the winner will be the Green Bay fan."