Standing on Lincoln Financial Field and looking up at the lights, Ari Roitman ’98 has come a long way since his days at Cornell. Although he is suited up for the game, he is not there to play against a visiting team. Roitman is there as the senior vice president of business for the Philadelphia Eagles.
At Cornell, Roitman began his college career like many before him: he was a psychology major with pre-med aspirations. Despite finishing all of his medical school requirements, Roitman decided the path to becoming a doctor was not for him. Re-evaluating what he wanted to do for a professional career, the Cherry Hill, N.J. native said he reflected on his childhood interest in sports.
“Growing up in Philadelphia, if you are at all interested in sports, then it’s kind of an all or nothing — there is no halfway,” Roitman said. “I grew up an avid fan of the Eagles, the Flyers, the Sixers [and] the Phillies. I played sports my entire life.”
Despite taking mostly science and pre-med-related classes and no business classes, Roitman said he decided he wanted to pursue a career in the realm of professional sports.
“Once I decided not to go to med school, it then became, ‘Alright, what do I want to do every day so that I get up with a smile on my face’ … and the answer was sports,” Roitman said. “So, I wrote a million letters … and made a ton of phone calls to professional teams, almost all of which went unreturned. Ultimately, through a professor … I got a connection to a very small sports agency, and they gave me an unpaid internship right after graduation.”
Roitman worked for SFX Sports Group for the summer after commencement, living with a friend in New Jersey while he commuted to work every morning. After three months, he was offered a job doing mainly grunt work — dubbing and editing tapes for the company, as it specialized in broadcast talent. Roitman’s job included creating highlight tapes during the day and then setting VCRs at night to record upcoming sports programs.
“I basically used that time [at SFX] to have as many conversations internally at the agency as I could,” Roitman said. “It became clear to me that I wanted to be in a position to really affect change via relationships, so I found my way into client management.”
While working for SFX, Roitman was pulled out of the tape room and put on tour with the U.S. Women’s National Team after it won the World Cup in 1999. He was tasked with the responsibility of managing the corporate sponsorships for the team’s Victory Tour, as SFX bought out the company that owned the marking rights to the Women’s National Team outside of its national games. This was Roitman’s first introduction to the sponsorship world, where he strictly worked with relationships, rather than sales.
After three years with SFX, Roitman found a job opening with Major League Baseball. He submitted an application, and eight months later, he made the move to baseball in October 2001.
“I was hired to do the same thing for MLB that I did for the Women’s National Team on that tour,” Roitman said. “I was hired to manage the sponsorships and relationships … for big brands that were investing significant dollars in the sport.”
After three years of working mainly on building relationships with corporate sponsors, Roitman was transitioned into the business development office. He spent the next six years working for MLB until he received the phone call he was waiting for since he was a boy.
“I got a phone call from the Eagles,” Roitman said. “This is home. This is my team. This is about as close to perfect as you can possibly get.”
While a personal connection to Philadelphia and the Eagles played a small part in the decision to make the move from MLB, Roitman said that moving to the Eagles was a significant step in his professional career. While at MLB, Roitman had one or two direct reports, but now, he is in charge of a team of almost 20 people and oversees different areas of business as well. His main job is to oversee primary revenue streams for the corporation, including sponsorships, as well as all forms of media and ticket sales.
According to Roitman, working for the Eagles has many perks; however, he could not pinpoint the best part of his job. He explained that his position as senior vice president of business is rewarding for two reasons.
“The core person answer, which is more important, is being able to hopefully affect my staff, help them learn, [and] help them grow — opportunities I was afforded at a younger age,” Roitman said. “That’s really rewarding: you give people more responsibility and give them things to do and you see them succeed.”
In addition to building personal relationships with his staff, Roitman’s position gives him a rewarding experience that few are able to boast about.
“You find yourself on a field before a Sunday night game walking off the field, the players have just been introduced, there are 70,000 people in the stands, NBC’s cameras are rolling and you look up [and] say, ‘This is what I do for a living.’”
As many avid sports fans know, the culture that surrounds sports in Philadelphia is in a league of its own. There are few towns that can boast such a loyal, and oftentimes unabashedly opinionated, fan base.
“The [fans] are not shy about telling us how they feel, which is important … They’re not tuning us out,” Roitman said of the famed Philadelphia fanbase. “They may be angry or they may be mad, and they are not shy about letting us know that — that’s a good thing. What you never want is for them to stop caring and they always care — good or bad. You talk about never taking things for granted and we never take that for granted.”
While growing up watching Philadelphia teams compete would have given Roitman a glimpse of how passionate fans can be about supporting their teams, he also experienced that firsthand at Cornell.
“I saw plenty of games at Lynah; it’s an intimidating building to walk into,” Roitman said. “I don’t know if they let students throw fish at the Harvard players, but back when I went to school, there were plenty of fish on the ice. But, that’s … that type of environment that you’re walking into that you would rather be in another building. That’s what Veteran’s Stadium was and that’s what Lincoln Financial field is: people do not want to come into our building.”
While his experiences with the fans have been a highlight of working with the Eagles, interacting with the coaching staff and players has also afforded Roitman a few funny stories. While many people know former Eagles head coach Andy Reid for his temper, Roitman has seen his more comical side. Before Reid moved to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Roitman helped orchestrate a partnership with the famous video game Angry Birds.
“I had to get coach [Reid] to agree to do the voiceover,” Roitman explained. “So I walked into his office … and said, ‘Coach, do you know what Angry Birds is?’ He looks as me and is like no. Now, you try explaining Angry Birds to the head coach of a professional football team in five minutes or less, which is what I did. … So I explained it to him and he agreed. As I’m walking out of his office, he says, ‘Ari, so we pay you for this?’”
According to Roitman, he has accomplished his goal of finding a career that brings a smile to his face every day and he credits his time at Cornell as helping him to build the foundation for reaching where he is today.
“The experience itself I still miss to this day,” he said. “I absolutely loved my four years on the hill. It built me and prepared me for ultimately what I started to see as a professional career soon after graduation
Original Author: Lauren Ritter