Editor’s note: This story was reported before the coronavirus outbreak and the suspension of the NHL season. While these women’s jobs may look different now, they are still working. In a recent email advising Flyers employees to work from home, president of business operations Valerie Camillo wrote: “We appreciate everything you do for our organization and ask that you now prioritize staying healthy and taking care of yourself and loved ones.” When hockey returns, these women will still be leaders who play a role in the experiences of thousands of Flyers fans at the Wells Fargo Center.
F lyers president of business operations Valerie Camillo is easy to spot. She wears bright colors on purpose, a subtle nod to a time in her career when women were permitted to wear only neutral tones in the workplace. As she chats with some of her staff during a rare relaxed moment in the hours before a game, she pauses from hockey talk to ask a colleague about a new reality TV show.
Camillo, a 47-year-old former Washington Nationals executive, has been with the Flyers more than a year. She has big goals, which include a Stanley Cup and a “world-class fan experience.” But she has smaller aspirations, too, that are also of critical importance, she said.
As the first woman hired as the president of an NHL team (others have inherited the job, or also own the team), she wants to create a space where her colleagues can be 100 percent authentic. On the business side of the Flyers, she said, the voices of men and women carry equal weight.
“When I came into the work force [in the 1990s], there were all these subtle pressures,” she said. “Where the people went after work, it was the steak house. It was conforming to this view. Yes, women were allowed inside the tent now, but that tent was exactly the same. Everything was wood-paneled. So yeah, there was definitely a time I felt like I couldn’t talk about watching reality television.”
Of the seven executives who report directly to Camillo, four are women. Since her arrival, women have taken on the roles of chief financial officer and vice president of business administration.
Also women: the vice president of legal, the senior vice president of ticket operations and fan experience, the director of hospitality (also known as the brains behind the Assembly Room and the Rage Room), and the senior manager of digital media, who is also Gritty’s boss.
Their rise comes at a time when professional sports leagues are under intense scrutiny for their inclusion of women, particularly in jobs that involve close interaction with or coaching of players.
In the NFL, San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers recently made history as the first female coach to be on the sidelines at the Super Bowl. She is one of only a handful of women to coach in the league, and most don’t last more than a season.
The NBA got its first full-time female coach in 2014, when the San Antonio Spurs hired former WNBA player Becky Hammon, and today there are eight women who coach from the bench and an additional 18 who have basketball operations jobs in the front office.
In January, San Francisco Giants assistant Alyssa Nakken became the first female coach in the MLB.
In the NHL, an increasing number of women have become executives on the business side, but few women hold hockey operations jobs. The Arizona Coyotes hired Dawn Braid as a skating coach in 2016, and the Seattle expansion franchise recently brought on Cammi Granato as the league’s first female pro scout. There’s also been scrutiny, too, of the NHL’s hesitance to fully throw its support behind a professional women’s league.
But from where the Flyers’ top executives sit, there’s reason to be optimistic, they said.
“It’s a really exciting time for women’s hockey,” said Cynthia Punsalan, vice president of business administration and the Flyers’ main point of contact with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. “There’s definite growth and focus on it, and I think as franchises like the Flyers, as well as the hockey community in general, focus on this initiative, we’re definitely on the path for growing the sport for girls for future generations.”
Cindy Stutman, senior vice president of ticket operations and fan experience, said the gender equality on the business side is a testament to how committed the Flyers are to inclusion, something that she hopes translates into a fan experience that appeals to men and women of all ages and backgrounds.
“We have women up and down in every department, which is awesome,” she said. “There’s really a culture here that’s active in not only bringing women in but creating paths for them to grow.”
Meet some of those women:
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Path to the Flyers: She wanted to be in sports from the time she was 5. She worked in financial analysis for Price Waterhouse, now PricewaterhouseCoopers, then went back to her alma mater, the University of Virginia, and got her MBA. From there, she got involved with a grassroots lobbying effort to bring baseball back to D.C. in the mid-to-late 1990s. She went on to work as senior vice president in the NBA’s Team Marketing and Business Operations group, and then become chief revenue and marketing officer for the Washington Nationals.
Joined the Flyers in: January 2019.
Warm welcome: “My first team photo was the first time a woman had appeared in a team photo in the history of the Philadelphia Flyers. They’re like, ‘Wear dark colors. Wear this. Wear that.’ I put on my favorite boots, which happen to be black, power Louboutins, and I go down to where they’re taking the photo and it’s on the ice. No carpet. You have to walk. I was like, ‘I’m going to die.’ Well, Paul Holmgren [former president, now senior adviser], he comes over and he offers me an arm. And I was like, ‘This is welcoming.’ ”
On the lack of women in hockey operations roles: “I don’t think it’s only hockey operations. It’s all of sports operations, as it was in baseball. I think the NBA has probably gone the farthest. I think having a robust, healthy professional league for women will be central to that advancement.”
What’s on the wall in her office: A poster of the 1990s movie The Cutting Edge. “When I first got the job, my husband said, ‘What’s your favorite hockey movie?’ and I said, ‘Cutting Edge.’ He said, ‘That’s not a hockey movie.’ I said, ‘Yes it is.’ There’s a lot of women who love The Cutting Edge, and it was a hockey and figure skating movie, certainly, and so I wanted to just show people my favorite hockey movie is a romantic comedy. I try to let people see who I truly am.”
Most challenging part of the job: “The hours. We have over 270 events here. Even when there’s a dark night, which we call a night when there’s no event, we may be on the road playing, so I oversee sort of broadcast, what’s being said about us on social media. Our marketing platform is never silent. In some ways, it’s really a 365 [days a year] engagement of your mind and your energy. So you have to love it, and thankfully I do.”
Nightly ritual: “Even with that schedule, I need an hour per night that is for myself to kind of empty my brain and not jump right to bed and then be thinking of everything, so every night my husband and I will watch at least an hour or so of some program.”
Goals for the Flyers: “First and foremost is to win a Stanley Cup for the city of Philadelphia. Second is to deliver a world-class fan experience, and also to make a lasting impact in the community.”
Path to the Flyers: She taught Spanish out of college, then worked for an entertainment company where she was responsible for the VIP experiences at music festivals across the country. She was first hired by Comcast Spectacor, the Flyers’ parent company, as fan engagement manager for concerts and other events.
Joined Comcast Spectacor in: 2016
Job responsibilities: She oversaw part of the $265 million Wells Fargo Center renovation, and was the brains behind the Assembly Room, a new millennial-centric general-admission seating area, and the Disassembly Room, or Rage Room, where fans can pay to break stuff.
Her experience in the male-dominated music industry: “I was eight times out of 10 the only female in the core crew. There were often times I would travel across the country for weeks at a time being the only girl.”
How she stayed encouraged despite being in the minority: “I think it’s all about the mind-set that you keep and the attitude that you have. If you act like you’re supposed to be there, and you know what you’re doing and you want to be there, and you have a positive attitude, what can they say to that?”
How she came up with the Rage Room concept: “We wanted something a little edgy almost, kind of like our awesome fan base. So I actually was able to get into a meeting with Valerie [Camillo]. And I was like, I’m just going to throw out the craziest idea that I could think of and see what she thinks. As soon as I was finished talking about it, she said, ‘OK that’s it.’ ”
Advice for success: “Sit down and think about where you want to go. What do you want your future to look like? And once you decide, just go for it.
Hometown: King of Prussia.
Path to the Flyers: She previously worked in public relations for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Joined the Flyers in: 2014
Job responsibilities: She oversees all of the Flyers’ digital content, from websites for the team and the Wells Fargo Center to, yes, Gritty’s social media accounts. She’s also spearheading the Flyers Broadcast Network, a new suite of podcasts and other audio content to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at the team.
The development of Gritty’s social media voice: “It wasn’t until we saw the performer take that costume and bring it to life, that we really got to firsthand see who and what Gritty really was. So then his social voice, like any of our social voices, is a way for him to embody what he sees and what he is.”
Making a Gritty tweet: “Sometimes we come up with something and it’s so funny, but it’s not right for the moment so we bank it. And other times it’s literally, it just comes to you and you go. What I think is so special about his social presence is that he really embodies a normal person. He truly has the personality of just a normal person on Twitter and that is what I think is so relatable to people. If we over-formulate it the way that we do with our bigger brand accounts, it’ll lose that authenticity.”
On whether people are surprised to hear women are behind the voice of Gritty: “Yes and no. I think some people are surprised. But honestly our goal at the end of the day is you’re not thinking about who’s behind Gritty. He is a person you feel like you know and that’s how it should be.”
Do you read the Flyers’ mentions on social media? “Oh yes, if you tweeted it, I saw it.”
On how fans’ social media desires have changed: “Now, we’re in this really cool period of time where the way you’re taking in content has sort of bounced back from being instantaneous everything to now I feel like fans are shifting into, they want a little bit more thought-out, higher-produced content.”
Path to the Flyers: She competed in sports management in high school. As a professional, she worked in external auditing, then did due diligence for Comcast when it acquired NBC. She took on the corporate controllership role for Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Flyers, and then became CFO of the Wells Fargo Center.
Joined the Flyers in: May 2019
Job responsibilities: She meets with different stakeholders and handles short- and long-range financial plans.
All in the family: Her father, Fred Krebs, works in finance for the Denver Broncos.
Best part of the job: “One of the coolest things about my job is I get to meet with every department head around the Flyers and the Wells Fargo Center, to talk about what they’re doing, forecasting for this fiscal year and five years from now.”
The challenge: “Work-life balance,” which she admits is a concept she didn’t understand before having children.
The big picture (literally): “One of the things I notice every single Flyers game is I watch the big screen. Watching the fans, especially the children, watching their faces light up when they’re on camera or when they meet Gritty. It’s so rewarding to me. I find myself smiling from ear to ear when people are on the big screen.”
What fans would be surprised to know: “How thoughtful we are and careful we are in exploring what our fans want and reacting to even one-off fan requests.”
Hometown: Born in the Philippines, but spent most of her life in Northern Virginia
Path to the Flyers: She worked in the golf industry, then in management consulting and software.
Joined the Flyers in: July 2019
Job responsibilities: She works on special projects for the Flyers, and is the organization’s main point of contact with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and its 2020 Dream Gap Tour, which had stops in several Northern American cities — it was in South Jersey last month — for exhibition games featuring top women’s players.
Hesitations entering the male-dominated world of hockey: “I feel like I’ve always worked in a male-dominated industry, starting in golf. Coming here, I didn’t have fear. Especially because I came when Valerie was already on board, one of the few female presidents in the NHL.”
A lesson learned being a woman in male-dominated field: “When I was a little bit younger, I felt like I had to be one of the boys in order to be able to get invited to some of the things that created more opportunity for networking. There were a lot of golf outings, where it was men inviting men and you didn’t see a lot of women. I said something, like ‘Hey I came from the golf industry, I play golf.’ I don’t play well, but that shouldn’t be a reason to exclude me, because I’m sure the others didn’t play well. That was early in my career and I felt like that was what I needed to do. As I matured and I progressed in my career, I realized I shouldn’t have had to do that.”
Advice for success: “The traditional path isn’t the only way to get to your dream job.”
Path to the Flyers: She briefly clerked after law school, then did a short stint at a law firm before working at QVC.
Joined the Flyers in: Early 2000s
Job responsibilities: She handles a wide array of legal issues for the Flyers. On a given day, she may work on negotiations, handle employee matters, or answer legal questions of other executives.
Hardest part of the job: “Not necessarily making popular decisions. I always think, we’ve got sales on the offense and I’m back on the defense, making sure everything is in order.”
Gauge on how inclusion of women has improved over the years: “I would say the Flyers have always been progressive. But I’ve gone from oftentimes being in meetings, when I first started, where I was the only women to now being in a meeting and the entire leadership at the table will be women.”
Advice for success: “Don’t be afraid to take chances. I have more regrets about what I didn’t do than what I have done — whether that’s moving, taking a position that pays less money. If it advances what you want to do, do it."
Advice for aspiring sports lawyers: “Find an area of sports, such as eSports, where there isn’t legal expertise at this moment. Learn the business you want to be in, because it’ll give you a hand up every time.”
What fans would be surprised to learn: “How much work goes into presenting a Flyers game.”
Path to the job: She previously worked as an account manager in the Sixers box office, then as the Flyers’ customer service manager, in charge of the service team and the box office.
Joined Comcast Spectacor, the Flyers parent company, in: 1999.
Job responsibilities: She oversees ticket operations for the Wells Fargo Center and the Flyers, as well as the fan experience for the Flyers and the Wings, Philly’s professional lacrosse team. She’s responsible for events and other programming for season ticket-holders. Over the years, she was responsible for the implementation of mobile ticketing technology.
How ticketing has changed: “I think from my perspective the fact that there is technology is a change in itself. Some of the things we used to do in the beginning, from a ticket standpoint, were so primitive. There were no bar codes on tickets. If you lost your ticket, I had a pad of paper where I’d write your seat location and I’d rip it out and you’d use that piece of paper to get into the building.”
On whether what fans want has changed over time, too: “I think the general category of things they want hasn’t changed. I think they want to be treated not only the right way but like they’re part of the family, which they are. They want access. I think that kind of stuff has stayed consistent, but how we deliver that has certainly changed over time. Philly sports fans are not afraid to tell you what they think, which makes my job a little bit easier.”
Working in a male-dominated space: “There were times I would notice, maybe I was the only woman in the room, but it took me a little while to figure that out, honestly. And I think that was a benefit to me, because I never was intimidated.”