The National Football League yesterday named Dawn Hudson, the one-time president and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America, to be its chief marketing officer.
Most recently vice chairman of The Parthenon Group, a Boston-based strategic consulting firm, Hudson serves on the boards of Interpublic Group, Lowe’s Home Improvement Co. and Nvidia Corp. She earlier worked at DMB&B and Omnicom, and was on the boards of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Allergan and the LPGA, including two years as its chairman.
All that vast boardroom and conference room experience aside, the NFL is evidently looking for Hudson to tap into her affinity with the common man and woman. “We are looking forward to working with Dawn, whose experience as a leader and marketer will help further connect the NFL with fans,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement.
Indeed, Hudson may be just the person to execute what Variety’s Brian Steinberg calls “a singular assignment: Promoting what may be America’s most popular sport at a time when that wide acclaim seems to be slipping away.”
In the wake of troubling news about the widespread incidence of concussions among its players, “pro football is currently in damage-control mode following a series of revelations about two marquee players — Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens and Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings — involved in abuse cases,” writesAdweek’s Robert Mann, observing that the NFL’s press release yesterday “didn't mention those recent problems.”
But Hudson has a track record of bringing things together.
“If the Pepsi logo unwittingly suggests the Taoist principles of yin and yang — the opposing elements of nature that are ideally balanced — colleagues attest that Hudson is a harmonious blend of career-minded and family-centered; strategic thinker and innovator; hard worker and sports enthusiast; big idea and bottom line; charismatic personality and empathetic thinker; retentive and spontaneous,” I wrote in a profile for Ad Age’s Point magazine a decade ago while Hudson was still at Pepsi.
PepsiCo’s then-chairman and CEO put it more succinctly: “Everything we do at Pepsi is marketing, and I think Dawn approaches life from a marketing perspective.”
Hudson is replacing Mark Waller, an Englishman who last month returned to overseeing the NFL’s international expansion. He toldUSA Today’s Tom Pelissero last week that he’d be “disappointed” if the NFL didn’t have a team in the U.K. within seven years.
“The fallout from the [Ray Rice] incident casts a shadow over the league’s three-game international series, which starts at Wembley this weekend,” writes Sebastian Joseph in the U.K.’s Marketing Week. “However, to date much of the media attention has been focused in the U.S., where the league and its players are household names.”
And some observers believe that attention puts Hudson at a decided disadvantage.
“NFL's Abuse Scandal Kind of Screws Over League's New Chief Marketing Officer — And Crisis Not Diverted,” reads the hed over Travis Reilly’s piece for TheWrap. Reilly’s lede continues the theme: “TheWrap offers unsolicited apology for timing of Dawn Hudson's hiring because sadly there's no NFL press release — even this glowing one — is capable of surmounting the league's ‘other’ media firestorm.”
For her part, Hudson has her game face on: “I am excited to join the NFL where I will be able to combine two of my passions — sports and marketing,” she said in the NFL’s statement. “Sports have always played a big role in my life and in my career,” pointing out that she “worked with numerous sports properties, including the NFL” at Pepsi.
PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi last week issued a statement as “a mother, a wife, and a passionate football fan," that condemned the domestic violence incidents as behaviors that “are disgusting, absolutely unacceptable, and completely fly in the face of the values we at PepsiCo believe in.”
She added that “the NFL's mishandling of the issue "is casting a cloud over the integrity of the league,” reports Jena McGregor in the Washington Post. “And yet she also came out in strong support of its embattled commissioner, Roger Goodell, saying ‘I know him to be a man of integrity, and I am confident that he will do the right thing for the league.’”
McGregor tackles an issue raised by a Bloomberg piece about whether “the women leaders of big NFL sponsors” — which include General Motors’ Mary Barra and Campbell Soup’s Denise Morrison — “have a special responsibility to speak out.”
They do not, concludes McGregor, who writes a daily column analyzing leadership for the Post. “Do we expect male CEOs to make public statements about issues that inordinately affect men or boys? Never.”