NFL’s Most Powerful Woman Seeks Oakland Raiders’ Stadium Cure

Oakland Raiders CEO Amy Trask
Amy Trask, chief executive officer of the Oakland Raiders, left, and Jim Plunkett, former quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. Source: Raiders via Bloomberg

Amy Trask may be the only chief executive in America whose routine includes hugging a gorilla, blowing kisses to the Violator and screaming encouragement to employees more than twice her size.

She’s also the only woman who has that job in the National Football League.

Trask, 49, is in charge of all non-football operations for the Oakland Raiders. Since interning for the franchise during law school, she has spent all but 20 months working for the team that has won three Super Bowls and now draws fans such as “the Violator” in elaborate post-apocalyptic costumes.

“People perceive me as a business person who works in the business of football,” Trask said in an interview at Raiders headquarters. “I perceive myself as a football person who, because of gender or size, finds myself making my contribution in the business side of things. Football was what I wanted to do, business was my way of making it happen.”

As chief executive since 1997 of a team whose football operations are run by owner Al Davis and an all-male coaching staff, Trask is responsible for everything from sponsorships to TV contracts to representing the club at league meetings. Sports Illustrated called her “the most powerful woman in the NFL.”

Among the biggest challenges facing her is moving the Raiders, who share the 44-year-old Oakland Coliseum with Major League Baseball’s Athletics, into a new stadium.

Since relocating back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995, the Raiders have been blacked out on local television in 64 percent of their home games -- 81 of 126 -- because they have failed to sell out. The Raiders rank last in the league in attendance after six home games this season, averaging 45,772 at the 63,132-seat Coliseum.

New Stadium

“There will be a new stadium for the Raiders, it’s on the horizon and it’s very exciting,” Trask said.

The Raiders are committed to playing at the Coliseum through the 2013 season. Though she said the team’s priority is to stay in Oakland, Trask said the Raiders “have an open mind about sharing a stadium” with the San Francisco 49ers, who may move to Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Trask calls herself “tenacious,” and has developed a reputation as a female version of Davis -- whose history of legal battles with the NFL have branded him a rebel.

“Sure, I can be tough,” she said. “At the end of the day, my hope is that I’m fair. If I’m acting in the best interests of the Raiders’ organization, it’s not my job to be lovable.”

Proven She Belongs

Kathryn Schloessman, president of the LA Sports & Entertainment Commission and a friend of Trask, said some NFL executives may have a tough time accepting a woman in their ranks. Trask has proven she belongs, Schloessman said.

“She’s a great business executive,” Schloessman said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “You could take her out of the Raiders and put her into any business and she’d be good.”

Trask says her gender shouldn’t be an issue and gives the credit to Davis for hiring her. That doesn’t prevent her from being a role model for young women.

“She just happens to be in a very unique position,” Kathryn Olson, chief executive officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said in a telephone interview. “She does have to play that dual role where she has to be viewed as a capable leader, but she also is breaking down barriers.”

Trask grew up in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, where she fell in love with football in junior high school. She became a Raiders fan while attending the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1982 as a political science major. The Raiders were playing in Oakland at the time, before moving to Los Angeles from 1982-94.

USC Law School

She then attended the University of Southern California law school, where she met her husband, Rob, a former real estate developer who now manages a hedge fund, Oakland-based Black Hills Capital Investors LLC.

Davis promoted her to chief executive in 1997 from the team’s legal department. Her only career experience outside the Raiders has been 20 months in 1985-87 in Los Angeles at law firm Barger & Wolen LLP. Davis, 81, didn’t respond to e-mail questions about Trask sent through team spokesman Mike Taylor.

Pregame Routine

Trask’s pregame routine includes meeting sponsors, working with broadcasters and greeting local politicians. At the Nov. 29 home loss to the Miami Dolphins, she already was several hours into her day when she took the field 90 minutes before kickoff.

While players did warm-ups and fans clad in silver and black filtered into the stadium section known as the Black Hole that contains some of the NFL’s most rabid fans, Trask welcomed one dressed in a gorilla suit. Then she greeted a face-painted fan in a Raiders jersey with Violator on the back and silver spikes protruding from black shoulder pads, before leading six Raiderette cheerleaders to a photo session with team guests. During the game, she cheers as loud as any fan.

The Raiders are 6-6 this season, in second place in the American Football Conference’s West Division. The Raiders have won six games in a season for the first time since they went to the Super Bowl following the 2002 season.

$758 Million Valuation

Trask declined to discuss the team’s revenue, operating income or valuation. Forbes magazine estimated in August that the Raiders had $217 million in revenue and an operating income of $2.2 million in 2009, while giving the team a valuation of $758 million -- next-to-last in the 32-team NFL, in which Forbes said the average team was worth more than $1 billion.

Above all, Trask remains a fan who says her job with the Raiders is really “a career and a lifestyle.” She points to the team symbol of a helmeted pirate when asked what is important to her.

“I don’t believe the focus should be on me,” she said. “The focus should be on that man with the swords behind his head and the patch on his eye. When you work for the Raiders, the focus should be on the players and the tradition.”

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