NFL EVP Brian Rolapp Q&A
Brian Rolapp, NFL executive vice president of media and president and CEO of the NFL Network, spoke to Marriott School students on Friday, 18 November.
Rolapp graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from BYU before earning an MBA from Harvard Business School. In his current position, Rolapp manages all NFL media businesses, including broadcasting, licensing, NFL Network, NFL Films, NFL Mobile and NFL Digital Media. Rolapp also manages the NFL’s sponsorship, sales and consumer products businesses while also heading the development and implementation of strategy for the NFL’s media rights, including the licensing of NFL games and other content to NFL television and digital partners.
After sharing his insights with students, Rolapp, who joined the Marriott School National Advisory Council this past year, sat down for a Q&A for more on his thoughts BYU, his career, and how to achieve success in work and life.
How has your time as an undergraduate at BYU shaped your life and career?
I think the first is thing is the obvious one—the education. The education here then, and probably more so now, was outstanding. I’m always amazed when I come back at how smart everyone is and the caliber of student that’s here. It makes for a wonderful educational environment. So it was a place to learn and to learn how to learn.
I think number two was learning in a unique church setting where you can blend your secular education with your religious one. It was such a unique and wonderful opportunity that I don’t think I appreciated fully then as I do now when I go out into the work world and don’t have those types of opportunities. Being able to do that I think prepared me well for anything I did after college.
How did you get to the position you are in now in your career?
Very few people I know in their careers map it out unless you’re a neurosurgeon and have to go to 12 years of medical school. So how I really got here was by a lot of hard work. Hard work that started well in advance before I left college. I worked hard in high school, I came here and worked hard, I played sports, and I went on a mission which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’ve always felt that anything I did I was never going to be the smartest guy in the room, but I could be the guy who worked hard. And that’s what I did. The work you’re doing now, as mundane as it might seem, will pay off if you’re developing the right habits. That will serve you more in life regardless of what you do.
The second way I think I got here was kind of this: a lot of prayer and whole lot of luck. Most people call it luck, but I think with our shared gospel view we might call it something different. Making the right choices, always prioritizing what’s important, realizing that blessings don’t come from how smart you are, they come from the blessings Heavenly Father. I got a lot of breaks. People call them breaks, but I call them something different.
How do you handle working at the executive level of such a high-profile company?
When you make a decision at work or a change in direction it’s not only being watched by the people in the business, it’s being watched by millions of people. Your mistakes as well as your successes are sometimes very public. Having said that, the way I think about it is that I take my job seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously. What has always helped me is keeping a perspective on what’s important in life.
Guiding principles, whether they’re your faith or whatever guides you, is important. A lot of people want to define me by my job as the NFL guy. I love to work with the NFL and I believe in the organization; it’s great. But I don’t define myself by my job. I define myself by broader things. I’m a father, I’m a priesthood holder. I just think that the things that are important, family and faith, keep you grounded. It’s not more complicated than that. I think it’s important that you carve out times for those things and that they’re weighted appropriately in life. That’s really the trick.
What do you think are the strengths of the Marriott School and what it has to offer?
The caliber of the students is outstanding. They are as smart as any group of students I have seen and I spend a lot of time at other schools, including my other alma mater Harvard, and these guys stack up just great. I think the knowledge of languages because of the mission experiences is unique. Thirdly, I think you have an alumni base who are not just of the Marriott School but of the LDS faith who love to embrace it because they see these students coming out doing pretty remarkable things and are vested in seeing them do well. Those things make the Marriott School pretty unique.
What’s your advice to students or alumni who want to succeed in the sports and entertainment business?
A lot of people have asked me how I got into it and I never planned to get into it. It just kind of found me. There’s not a direct or right path. The first thing is if you want a job like this, or you want to work in an industry that’s selective, you’ve got to network and you’ve got to network hard. You might talk to a hundred people and that might lead to forty real conversations that might lead to eight real opportunities that might lead to one job. Those are kind of the ratios.
The second advice I give is that whatever you pick to do as a career you need to put some stakes in the ground. That stake can be that you want to live in a certain city, that stake can be you only want to work in a certain industry, that stake could be you want to make a certain amount of money. But the key is that coming out of school you only get one stake. You don’t get two, you don’t three, you don’t get four. You get one. So if you want to work in sports, then maybe the money you’re not going to worry about for a while. Maybe you’ve got to move to New York and you don’t want to live in New York. I’m now in my career where I can put more than one into the ground, but when you start out you only get one. I think most people make the mistake of trying to put more in and aren’t able to handle the tradeoffs you’re going to have to do by picking something as competitive as the sports industry.
What are your keys to success?
First, learn how to learn. You will not remember what classes you took this semester, let alone what you learned, when you get to my age. What I do remember is how I attacked those classes and how I took information, synthesized what was important, distilled down to the root cause or the problem, analyzed it, and figured out how to solve it. If you learn how to learn you will use it for the rest of your life. So if one day the commissioner comes in and tells you to solve this problem you may know nothing about that problem, which happens to me all the time, but you’ve got to learn it.
Second thing is learn how to work. There’s zero substitute for hard work. I know plenty of smart people who are frustrated in their careers and other aspects of their lives because they do not put the work in. The best leaders I have worked for in my career I would never say are the smartest people in the organization. They’re the most well rounded, but they’re not necessarily the smartest. But they all work incessantly.
The other thing is learn your talent. We’re taught this since Primary age. Everyone has been given something special about them—capabilities, gifts, talents. You may not know what they are, but they’re there. You may wish they were other talents. I wish I was starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins, but that’s not in the cards. But we’re all blessed with something. Learn it, find it, and you’re at a time in your life when you can do it risk free.
Finally, learn how to fail. You’re going to do it a lot. It’s going to come at times in your life you wish it didn’t. But as we’re taught in the gospel it’s how you react to that adversity that will define you, not the failure.