There’s no questioning the fact that the recently installed new owners of XFL have a pretty tough task ahead of them. Even without the league’s somewhat chequered past, it still has a considerable challenge ahead of it in continuing to thrive in a country where the NFL dominates so comprehensively.
But one of the strongest weapons in the league’s armoury is going to be the fact that it has retained the services of Jeffrey Pollack as President. In the time that he has been with the league he has been instrumental in many areas, including hiring a number of team presidents and establishing excellent working relationships with them as time has gone on.
Among the challenges that Pollack will be facing over the coming weeks and months will be striking the right deals with everyone from stadiums to networks. But his track record to date suggests that he will be more than up to the job.
Pollack’s resumé, in brief
Born in New York in 1965, Pollack first intended to go into journalism having graduated in the subject at North-western University. But a subsequent master’s from the Graduate School of Political Management set him off in a different direction – politics.
His first role was as a lobbyist for the American Jewish Congress, after which he moved over to the West Coast to work for the political PR agency Winner & Associates. It was here that he first stated to gain experience in the sporting world when he was assigned the task of working for the MLB during the labour strike in the early 90s.
Seeing the opportunity for a new trade journal for the sports industry, in 1994 he launched The Sports Business Daily along with partner Doug Bailey. In the space of just two years, the title had become so established that there were a number of buyers keen to acquire it. So, Pollack sold up and moved on.
His next step was to become a communications consultant for the NBA during the collective bargaining negotiations of 1998-9. He was so successful in the role that he was soon promoted to the position of Vice President of Marketing.
He then moved on become Managing Director of Broadcasting for NASCAR where he helped to develop TV partnerships with the major networks, helping it to become the second-most watched sport after football. By also creating ways to make viewing more exciting, for example by putting cameras in the cars, Pollack even won two EMMYs for his contribution to televised sport.
Into the world of poker
Never a man to stand still, after six very successful years at NASCAR, Pollack took up the job of Vice President of Marketing at Harrah’s Casino. While his primary focus was intended to be on the company’s sports ventures including boxing and motor sport, he also set himself the task of taking The World Series of Poker up to the next level.
He then set about doing just that through a range of measures including streamlining tournament structures, striking new TV deals, and working on improving relations with players.
As a result, in 2006 Pollack was named Commissioner of the WSOP and set about further reforms. One of these was to change the focus from judging the success of the annual WSOP in Las Vegas from the sheer number of attendees but from the players’ experience of the event. This included spreading the prize money more widely between players, a move that was welcomed by many.
The Main Event, the biggest prize of all in the WSOP, was also reorganised at Pollack’s insistence to have a hiatus between June and November to create more excitement and anticipation for the final winner’s table.
All this was taking place against a backdrop which included the growing popularity of poker online. It’s very much open to debate as to whether this new version of the game helped or hindered Pollack. But it was certainly introducing many more players to the game raising its profile across the world.
He continued in the role until 2009 when he parted company with Harrah’s. What followed was one of the few missteps in his career. Along with former poker pro Annie Duke, in 2011 he set up the Epic Poker League in competition to the WSOP. But, due to a number of factors, it folded after only three events.
What Pollack brings to XFL
While it was undoubtedly a failure, the lessons learned in the demise of the EPL provided a valuable lesson for Pollack. Combined with a career’s worth of different experiences in everything from politics to dealing with the major leagues, he is a very good candidate to launch the next phase of XFL. It also helps that he already has a very good working relationship with new owners Dany Garcia and Dwayne Johnson.
His many contacts across the TV networks also mean that deals are waiting to be done that could raise the profile of XFL to the level that many believe that it deserves to be. Pollack is also a proven people-pleaser. So, the philosophy of creating a version of football that is faster, and with fewer rules and hold-ups, is certain to chime with him.
It all adds up to a very positive outlook for the league. And now, in what many people are calling XFL 3.0, it just couldn’t have come at a better time.
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