Luis Perez is one of the world’s most experienced financial administrators within the professional sporting arena. Until recently Luis was CFO of the Detroit Lions NFL team, before becoming their SVP of Business Development and Strategy. Luis has served as a financial officer for teams in every major sports league in the US: the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Knicks, New York Rangers, and Baltimore Ravens. A few weeks ago, Luis accepted a role with Palace Sports & Entertainment and the Detroit Pistons, marking his return to the NBA.

How is the pro-sports CFO role evolving?

Historically, pro-sports CFO’s were not considered part of the strategy team, nor were many considered strategic. Today, there is a paradigm shift driven by new team owners, often with private equity backgrounds and new mindsets, who see CFO’s differently. These owners now view CFO’s as strategic partners and influencers of business decisions.

Typically, a pro-sports CFO has overseen historical reporting, short range budgeting and cost control. They reported after the fact and there was not enough visionary forward planning. Fortunately this is changing, but Luis decided to leave finance behind at the Lions as it was one of the less strategic roles he has had and he is someone who enjoys pushing the boundaries.

What is the biggest change?

The real move in pro-sports is the use of data. At the Lions, Luis oversaw data and analytics which is invaluable for determining customer behaviour. Do customers prefer a certain beer or a certain seating section? What merchandise are they buying? Do they get to the stadium an hour before the game or at kick-off? 

Luis was the first NFL CFO to introduce preferential ticket pricing. Traditionally, teams have fixed ticket prices for every game of the season, whether it be a pre-season trial game or a key game towards the end of the season. To date, tickets are purchased on masse on the secondary market and resold with a premium price for the seasons most important games, usually at substantial profit. By introducing variable ticket pricing based on customer demand, Luis was able to capture more revenue from the secondary market as well as providing the customer with a better experience and different amenities.

“Data informs strategy which drives business decisions”.

How is the industry adapting to a digital world?

The digital strategy is an emerging factor with all major sporting teams and is changing the way teams communicate with their customers and position their product. The way our customers want to consume our product is changing and a digital strategy is paramount in providing our customers the desired content when, where and how they want it. The CFO needs to be cognisant of the opportunities a good digital strategy provides. At the moment we are just scratching the surface.

What makes a great pro-sports CFO?

The best pro-sports CFO’s are those that go well beyond just finance and accounting. They have portable skills and are far more strategic and should always be considering the big picture, which in pro-sports ultimately is the customer experience. It is all about putting the mechanisms in place to build a successful franchise. In Baltimore, we relocated a franchise to a new city, built a new stadium and won a Super Bowl, all within four years. We followed a similar strategy at the Lions and they are still in building phase.

CFO’s must inspire and inform those around them and be strong communicators; engaging with all stakeholders. They must also be advocates and salespeople.

“Whilst a good CFO values systems and processes, great CFO’s understand that people and culture trumps everything”

How difficult was it to move from finance to sales? 

Luis found the transition to sales and strategy at the Lions a very easy one. As a former Managing Director of Modell Ventures, strategy and sales leadership have been at the core of his modus operandi. The role was not just about ticket sales but creating and driving a vision and his first initiative was bringing on board two high performance strategic leaders into the sales team.

Is there anything that keeps you awake at night?

Cash flow! This is the key thing with sports administration and I thought about it a great deal. In football everything is expensive. Also, many aspects of cash flow are out of the CFO’s control such as team injuries and performance, bad draft picks and external factors such as local economics.

Although Luis didn’t get involved with player negotiations and contracts, he did provide a roadmap to team managers outlaying how player acquisitions, contract negotiations, re-negotiations and player releases would impact the overall salary cap and team finances. His role was more macro than actually negotiating player deals.

What financial risks do pro-sports CFO’s have to consider?

There are the risks to revenue such as poor team performance and poor recruitment strategies and the subsequent effects to business that creates. However, local economic risks have just as much impact on a pro-sports team finances as other corporations. Detroit, in particular, has gone through a significant economic downturn, being the major hub of the automotive industry. Job losses and a depressed economy have a broad and sometimes indirect flow-on effect; putting pressure on merchandise sales, season ticket holders, corporate clients, sponsorship etc.

What is the best thing about being a pro-sports CFO?

Luis loves sports. In the end it feels great to thrill people. The power of the platform! These organizations are such powerful platforms for providing memorable experiences, driving business objectives for sponsors through brand awareness, making significant positive impacts in our communities and much more. 

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Phil McCann

Phil McCann is a Partner in the Sydney office of Odgers Berndtson where he heads the CFO and Financial Management, as well as the Energy and Infrastructure Practices for the region. Phil has a stro...

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