The National Lacrosse League (NLL), the largest men’s professional lacrosse league, is preparing for another thrilling season with a new Deputy Commissioner and Executive Vice President of Business Affairs. Jessica Berman becomes the first woman to hold the title of Deputy Commissioner at any professional sports league in North America.
Berman, who spent 13 years at the National Hockey League, will work closely NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz as the league welcomes two new expansion teams for the 2019-20 season, the New York Riptide and the Rochester Knighthawks.
All games will be broadcast this season on B/R Live.
Berman tells SportsJam host Doug Doyle says she is ready for the next step in her career.
"I'm still passionate about hockey and one of the requirements of me taking this job, from my kids, is that we still can be hockey fans, so that will never go away. I'm excited about this opportunity to work with Nick and the National Lacrosse League, mostly because I'm excited about working for a business and property that's growing and in a growth mode. With the work that I've done over specifically the last four years, about growing the fan base in hockey to be more focused on reaching new audiences, I think there's a huge opportunity with lacrosse given some of the similarities that exists in the cultures of the game. So I'm really just excited to learn a new area, to challenge myself to grow, to work around new and exciting people with new ideas and collaborate with them."
Berman, who most recently was vice president of community development, culture and growth at the NHL, oversaw the NHL Foundation and had previously served as the league’s deputy general counsel. With her strong background in law, sports management and the NHL, she knows how difficult it is to run a league.
"It's very challenging to run a league. One of the challenges is that you wear a lot of different hats. You're responsible for the growth of the league and the vision from a national and sometimes international perspective. But then you're also responsible for each of these individual franchises in helping build to their capacity, share best practices and be a support mechanism. You also sometimes need to wear the hat of insuring that you're setting the standards from a compliance perspective, creating an environment where everybody understands what's expected of them and are a good communicator about guidelines, policies and protocols. I think the biggest challenge of a league and what I've observed over my 13 years, having worn a lot of hats there, is that you have to be really nimble and like most areas of business, it's relationship before task, always. So when you have to have a hard conversation, whether it's with the union, or with a team, or with a player or with a business partner, you're able to really draw upon the credibility of your relationship to insure that you're reaching the outcome you need to reach."
The 34th regular season of the NLL will begin with three games highlighting the annual Face Off Weekend, leading off with the Colorado Mammoth hosting the Saskatchewan Rush at the Pepsi Center on November 29. The same night will also see the defending NLL champion Calgary Roughnecks begin their title defense on the road as they make a visit to Rogers Arena to play the Vancouver Warriors. A new era of lacrosse will begin in Rochester the following day as the expansion Knighthawks open the season as a new franchise at the Blue Cross Arena by hosting the Georgia Swarm.
Berman says hockey and indoor lacrosse fans share plenty of similarities.
"The enclosed environment, the physicality of it, the amazing athleticism that the athletes exhibit I think are all things that transcend hockey and the box lacrosse game. It will be our challenge and Nick is superfocused on expansion to create more opportunities for people to come to the games and watch them live."
Growing up in Brooklyn, the Fordham University School of Law graduate plans of bringing her diversity vision to the NLL by reaching new audiences.
"For me, diversity-inclusion is just a way of being. Having grown up in a place where I was the minority, I am very sensitive and conscious and inclusion. One thing I'm really excited about is the connection back to the indigenous community. I think there's a way more we can do to celebrate that history."
Berman graduated from the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology with an undergraduate degree in Sports Management and Communications with distinction.
She says her parents and two children are her biggest fans.
"I'm really thankful that I know how to ask for help, that I'm not afraid to, and that people have been willing to champion my success and put me into a position to be able to take this next leap."
Click above to hear the entire SportsJam conversation with Jessica Berman.