Growing up in Chicago I did not know what lacrosse was until I went to summer camp and my St. Louis friends all came with their gear. Lacrosse is now part of the fabric of the sporting world across the country. And its leader is Jessica Berman. Berman comes from the NHL where she has been in the trenches. Now the Deputy Commissioner of the National Lacrosse League, Berman is the highest ranking woman in Men’s professional sports. Here is our interview:
1) Tell the TGR readers about yourself?
I am a mom of 2 wonderful boys who play multiple sports (including hockey and lacrosse of course). I grew up in Brooklyn with parents who taught me that there is no substitute for hard work. I pursued a career in sports because I firmly believe it is one of the few tenets in our social fabric that unites communities, and there’s nothing more inspiring that cultivating and growing a brand that has the power to make people’s lives.
2) You spent the past 13 years with the National Hockey League, most recently as Vice President, Community Development, Culture & Growth. What did that job entail?
In that role I was responsible for helping drive the corporate social responsibility strategy of the NHL. My team worked on initiatives that helped the league “do good and do well”. Our work involved integrating with partners, storytelling and creating content, forging partnerships with the community, increasing the emotional connection with fans, reaching and engaging new demographics with the sport and the league, among other projects.
3) In 2019 you moved over to Lacrosse becoming the Deputy Commissioner and EVP of Business Affairs. What is your role now with the NLL?
In my new role, I am responsible for growing the league. Some of my key areas of focus are expansion, supporting our 13 teams in their business strategy and execution, league management and governance, legal affairs and collective bargaining, fan development and marketing and driving the strategic direction of the league in revenue and relevance.
4) How will you use your NHL experience to help grow the NLL?
When I joined the NLL I was asked whether I was part of the lacrosse community (player or fan) before I took this role. The answer is, I did not. That being said, having worked under Gary Bettman and Bill Daly at the NHL for 13+ years I have learned a ton by working with and for them about how to grow and scale a professional sports league. My experience at the NHL has prepared me for this role and opportunity and I feel fortunate to be in a position to apply those key learnings to help the NLL and the sport of lacrosse to grow.
5) What are the most critical issues facing the NLL?
Like any challenger property, our challenges center around transcending beyond our avid fans. Our fans are remarkably die-hard and committed to the NLL and we are fortunate to have that foundation to build upon. In a recent fan survey we conducted we learned that 58% of our fans’ favorite sports team (of any sports team) is their NLL team. Our fans love us and we love them. That being said, our challenge is to widen the funnel and welcome more people into the NLL ecosystem. That’s the potential and that’s what I am super excited to work on.
6) Who are some of your influences in the sporting world and why?
I already mentioned Gary Bettman and Bill Daly – I can’t thank them enough for everything they taught me during my time at the NHL. It is worth noting that I still call on them for advice and guidance on a regular basis, and I am thankful to still call them friends and mentors.
I also learned a lot from Kim Davis at the NHL who taught me how to be an effective change agent. She is masterful at winning hearts and minds.
If I had to name one more it would have to be Bob Batterman from Proskauer. I worked under Bob for 4 years at Proskauer Rose and he taught me how to negotiate collective bargaining with respect and transparency.
I could go on and on. I feel very fortunate to have a “Board” of people who have helped me to become the professional I am today. It takes a village.
7) What was your Jewish life like growing up and how do you connect today?
I went to yeshiva until I was in 8th grade in Brooklyn, NY. That rooted me in my Jewish identity and education and I am thankful for that. I am even more grateful for my parents (and specifically my mom’s) commitment to ensuring that Jewish traditions, customs and holidays were always part of my daily life. Now being a parent, and seeing all of the competing priorities on our time, I am even more amazed at how she continued to make it a consistent thread and theme in our life. It never lost it’s place in terms of it being a focus and priority and I strive to do the same for my kids.
8) Where can our readers follow you and the NLL on Social Media?
Great question! The NLL can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @NLL and I am on Twitter: @JessicaBerman1