Staking Out Her Place Among Men Atop N.F.L.
By LYNN ZINSER
When Tracy Perlman started working for the N.F.L. the day after graduating from Hofstra in 1992, she could hardly have imagined what she sees now as she winds her way to her office: Midtown’s streets clogged with redirected traffic as banners and video boards pay homage to this year’s big game, the first outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl.
Now the league’s vice president for marketing and entertainment, Perlman beams at all of these things — except, perhaps, the traffic — because her figurative fingerprints can be found all over them. She turned her love of athletics into a career and became a member of a very small club of women in positions of power in major professional sports. And hers is not just any professional sport, but the most popular one in the United States.
This week, she has been bouncing from Super Bowl concerts that she and her staff organized and booked, to a taping of a Rachael Ray show in which three players prepared tailgating fare, to a youth clinic at Chelsea Piers run by the former player Anthony Munoz.
“It’s just so far beyond the field now,” Perlman said. “We really have taken what is so amazing from our players and extended it into entertainment.”
Perlman, who helps organize and promote the Super Bowl halftime show and other league-sponsored concerts, is ranked in the top 20 of Billboard magazine’s recent list of the most powerful women in music. She and Sarah Moll, the league’s entertainment and television programming director, together cracked the list of 100 most powerful people in music.
Perlman, 43, is keenly aware of the research showing that 40 percent to 45 percent of N.F.L. fans are women, yet few women reach the league’s top ranks. She insists that being a woman has not held her back at the N.F.L., and names several other senior vice presidents who are women, but she also attends a lot of meetings where she is the only woman.
“I’m in charge of all the player marketing, so I deal with the players more than most other people in this building,” she said. “The avenue that I took in knowing the sport and being able to market it to a broad audience was really helpful.”
Perlman said that after reporting to a rotating cast of superiors over the years, she has flourished since Mark Waller, the league’s chief marketing officer, has become her boss. That is partly because Waller did not blanch at the ideas of supporting an N.F.L.-themed Broadway play (“Lombardi,” which ran in 2010 and 2011) or delving deeper into movies and increasing programming aimed at women.
April Donnelly, the league’s entertainment and player marketing director, said of Perlman: “The events she produces, we’ve had so much success with. She has a strong sense of professionalism, and everything she does is at such a high caliber. People really respect her.”
Donnelly, who joined the N.F.L. straight from Hofstra as well, was recruited by Perlman 12 years ago. Perlman has been a mentor to Donnelly in navigating a male-dominated sport, and she has learned perseverance.
“We’ve seen a lot of men who have been promoted faster,” Donnelly said. “She reported to eight bosses in three years. It was crazy. Our culture here is getting better, but it still has a long way to go.”
Through the years, Perlman said, she felt burdened by her job, and when she saw a photo of herself at 39, she thought she looked unhealthy and unhappy. A friend steered her to a Bikram yoga class and, Perlman said, she has been obsessed with it ever since. She attends one 90-minute class every day — even amid the Super Bowl craziness.
The league, she said, has been working to promote healthier lifestyles, so she started an exercise regimen as well. Perlman said she had lost 20 pounds and changed her eating habits.
“I was very uptight, tense, corporate, and it has completely changed that about me,” she said of yoga. “There is a resolution to everything. Everything is not a problem. I go for myself, but I think it’s helpful for everyone around me.”
At a recent Pro Bowl event, Perlman said, she had a heated discussion with the fellow yogis Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals and Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints that included demonstrating postures and ribbing Graham for saying he had left a class early.
Perlman said she had never left a class early. Perseverance, after all, has been part of her job.