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The Sizzle and the Steak: NY Jet Mystery Man Neil Glat

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Okay, he isn't a mystery man in the usual Man With No Name sense, but for a team as high profile as the Jets and a league as heavy-weight as the NFL, Neil Glat has moved with an almost stealth-like invisibility. Involved in some of the biggest ventures and transformations of the league (International marketing, publicly financed stadium trends, the LA team question, even the ground-breaking Cleavland Browns move), he is a force that few people in the main stream of sports conversation are aware of. And when the Woody hired him back in April signaling perhaps global transformations for the future of the Jets, few blinked an eye. The story was that they had just hired some League guy (15 years with the NFL). But that is like calling John Rambo an "ex-military guy". Neil Glat isn't just "league", he was the NFL's Special Forces guy...their Team Delta leader. An innovator, a details man, their negotiator, their closer. He's the guy Goodell put on point on its biggest potential reach issues, its biggest reformulations, a specialist in sports marketing, branding and stadium finances to the nth degree. If you hire a Navy Seal to be a bouncer at your bar, ears should prick up. When you hire Neil Glat to head your business operations eyes should widen. This is a heavy gun. And he has a comprehensive Systems intellect.

some selections from Woody's statements on the hire:

"I’m very excited about bringing Neil on board," Johnson told newyorkjets.com this morning. "You can see from his résumé that he has a lot of experience in the NFL and a lot of real-world experience as well. He’s very intelligent, he’s analytical, he has a calm demeanor, he’s efficient. I think he’ll do a great job in the business end of running our football team."

"I’ve known Neil for 12 years, since I’ve been in the league," Johnson said. "He’s always impressed me. He’s held different types of jobs in the league. I think he’s got a very good idea of what works and what doesn’t work, not only among the 32 teams in the NFL but in other sports and in other businesses."
"Neil understands the brand and I think he’s going to improve the brand," Johnson said. "The brand has to do with the fans. It really reflects the fans’ feelings toward the team. And our goal is to live up to the aspirations of our fans."
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These are pretty innocuous positive words, but the most important ones will be those about brand. Woody has hired a brand expert, a brand (and marketing, revenue stream) commando. Brand is what to keep an eye on. Brand is the new Jets. And what Woody says about the brand of the Jets is telling. The brand is about the fans...more on that further down at the end.

Florio Was on the Story

Not everyone failed to realize that something was afoot from the beginning. The power structure of the Jets with Tannenbaum's days of running things with direct and largely uncountered influence may have been numbered. One has to suspect that Tannenbaum himself felt the cold wind blow through Jet hallways, with the music of a gunslinger playing in the background. Suddenly there was a heavy-weight mind, someone with a brand vision that not only went far beyond football operations on the team, it may even encompass them.

In April after the hire Florio mused:

...then it occurred to me that, until we know whether long-time league office executive Neil Glat will try to influence directly or indirectly the football side of the operation, it's impossible to know whether the introduction of a new personality into the upper reaches of the organization will create any type of friction.

In the announcement, owner Woody Johnson says that "[t]here were a number of highly qualified candidates." What does G.M. Mike Tannenbaum, who reportedly will still report directly to Johnson, truly think about Glat? Was there another candidate Tannenbaum preferred?

For now, there's no specific reason to think that change will be coming to the Jets. But to the extent that Glat becomes a confidant/adviser to Johnson, Glat's opinions of men like Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan could be a factor in the short-term and long-term future of the franchise.

Indeed, the last time the league office placed an executive as president as one of its teams, John Collins eventually made a failed run at former Browns G.M. Phil Savage. For now, there's no way for anyone on the outside to know what Glat eventually will do - and everyone on the inside will be saying only the right things.

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Enter Mark and then Tebow, and Branding

About a month before brand expert Glat quietly had entered the Jets power structure (April 11, 2012), after the Manning flirtation fizzled, Mark Sanchez got what proved to be a disastrous extension (March 10, 2012). The decision rests fully on the Tannenbaum/Woody duo it would seem, but did Glat's impending hire involve itself in any way, or at least indicate that Woody was thinking about the Jets in a significant new way? The extension made some football sense in the short term as it cleared enough space for the Landry signing, but just in terms of on the field performance it made little sense. Criticism has proposed reasons for this extension ranging from trying to sooth Mark's fragile ego after the Manning flirtation, to Tannenbaum hitching his wagon to his career-defining #5 draft pick. But one has to ask: Are there non-football reasons why Mark would be given an extension? One cannot help but think that in the extending of Mark there was an organization wide decision that the Jets were going to branded by their handsome, audience-expanding QB. With Glat coming on board a few weeks later - questions of branding need to be raised as an influence and motivation from this point forward. In some sense Mark could be seen as a two year branding experiment.

But the branding experiment did not stop with Sanchez. 10 days after the Sanchez extension Tim Tebow was traded for (March 20, 2012), and 20 days later the Glat's hiring occurred. In 30 days the Jets had locked up not only one heart-throb QB as the face of the franchise, they had locked up two, and a marketing expert to run the business side. It is important to note that branding is not just about overall brand images. It is about identifying demographics (and the revenue streams attached to those demographics). And it is about storylines, what Glat has referred to in other contexts as "renewable stories and interesting angles" that feed the nearly "insatiable demand" for the NFL television product. While for those concerned with the football (and player development) smarts the trading for Tebow raised eyebrows; from a brand and marketing standpoint it had the potential to be a bonanza. Many months later, as Mark Sanchez slowly crashed and burned with almost Sisyphusian horror on the football field, and Tebow stood angelic-faced and muscled on the sidelines seldom to enter into the action, Woody would chaff at the suggestion that the Jets got Tebow not to win football games but to sell PSLs, just days after he had met with his football staff in a meeting Glat would attend. It is probably the case that the Jet braintrust at the time of the Tebow trade expected dividends both on the field and off it, but if there was anyone who understood marketing and stadium revenue it is Glat who one would think was in discussions with the Jets during the decision process. In fact in a coincidence of timing Brian Schottenheimer was fired and Sparano hired on the same day - January 11th - that Jed Hughes was hired at Korn/Ferry. It was Hughes that found Glat for Woody 90 days later.

The November Meeting

Florio was on the Glat scent again in November when Woody called a football operations meeting involving nearly everyone that mattered on the staff...and non-football guy Neil Glat. This was Tuesday November 13th after the Jets had lost miserably to Seattle following preparation that included the bye week:

Bob Glauber of Newsday reports that Johnson and team president Neil Glat sat down for about 45 minutes with all of the top football decision makers in an attempt to find out what can be done to improve the 3-6 team. Present at the meeting were General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.

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Keep in mind, during the bye week Rex had met with the staff to rack their brains on how to turn the season around, to no avail. Now they were 3-6, the offense was looking terrible with Mark starting. To call a meeting of the football minds and include Glat suggests not only that Glat has more than Woody's ear, he was becoming braided in, at least, the wide scope of football decisions. His areas of expertise were seen as integral to and somewhat inseparable from football operations, if only as someone Woody wants to hear from as a first hand, eye-witness adviser.

You see Glat is something of an intellectual sponge. If areas of expertise are like languages, his approach is polyglot. He likes to take in, study, process and analyze as many aspects of a thing as he can, if he is going to make the best decisions. He used to strategize for the League, now he does it for a club. He claimed it took about 40 hours of play to master an EA video game, something he took up to help inform him while negotiating the EA Sports NFL deal because he felt if he didn't understand the video game he could not fully understand the NFL's relationship to it. He does not stand on the sidelines and read reports. He gets right in it, and part of that includes getting right in on the highest levels of meetings, and fast. As early as 2003 he had broken through NFL hierarchies and become a regular attendee of the Owners Meeting, a sign of his unique influence even then:


"There is a hierarchy within the NFL, and you know he has started gaining when he is at all the owners' meetings," said Marc Ganis, a sports consultant. "Quite a few executives, fairly senior in the league, either aren't invited or attend only for the period of time they have a presentation. Neil is there from beginning to end."

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And Florio smartly noted what this November meeting might mean for Tannebaum, it spelled trouble:


...it's reasonable because Glat's presence at the meeting called by owner Woody Johnson with Tannenbaum, coach Rex Ryan, and the team's three coordinators suggests that Glat will be involved in more than the business side of the business, and that Glat has Johnson's ear. And there's no one more dangerous to anyone in the football operation than a non-football person who is in position to influence the owner.


Previously, there had been no buffer between Tannenbaum and Johnson, putting Tannenbaum in prime position to become Johnson's primary football adviser and confidant. That dynamic may have saved Tannenbaum after a free fall in 2008, when 8-3 resulted in a 1-4 finish and no postseason appearance. During the decline, Johnson said Tannenbaum and former coach Eric Mangini would be back the following season. And the day after the season ended, Mangini was fired.


Tannenbaum still reports directly to Johnson, not to Glat. But the fact that Glat can't fire Tannenbaum doesn't mean Glat can't try to get Tannenbaum fired, either by finding ways to suggest to Johnson that the team's best interests could be served by cleaning house or by offering an honest answer to a simple question from Johnson: "What should I do, Neil?"

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Florio can sense the story, but he doesn't get all of it yet, in my opinion. There is a Jet vision change that occurred with Glat's hiring, and perhaps in the weeks leading up to it: an addition of a top-notch marketing strategic mind to the Jet brain trust. It is not just a question of a new bird in the owner's ear. All things must also be seen through the prism of brand and revenue streams, and because Glat has a System's mind he sees no part of Jet operations as irrelevant. It is a sign of the depth of his comprehension of his responsibilities. Who is on the team, how the team plays (not only good/bad, but also entertaining/not-entertaining) are significant parts of what Neil Glat is concerned about, just as merchandising deals and Social Media trends are.

Tebow Backlash?

It may be coincidence, but the day after this meeting of Jet football minds (including Glat), a Mannish story comes out as a leak, full of anonymous team sources and old quotes from Slauson saying how incompetent a QB Tebow is. Johnson meets with reporters the next day furious with the angle of the story that Tebow was a PSL grab. He neglects to mention his 45 minute sit down with Glat and his football staff just two days before.

Johnson told reporters on Thursday that he is extremely frustrated by the team's results. He did not tell reporters about the sit-down with his staff on Tuesday. Johnson said he is optimistic that the Jets can turn things around, starting with Sunday's game against the Rams in St. Louis.


"We're 3-6 right now, but I'm going into this game optimistically [that] we're going to win it, as I've been all season and the last 13 seasons, really," said Johnson, who purchased the Jets in 2000. "[We're] in a lot of pain this week, again for losing this game . It's a miserable experience for us, for the team, for me, I know for our fans, people in the media as well. This is a tough thing to lose any game, particularly as many games as we've lost this year. [It's] very, very tough and painful."


Johnson refuted the idea that he was behind the move to bring in Tebow as a way to promote sales of personal seat licenses (PSLs) and said the decision to trade for the Broncos quarterback was a collective one that involved Ryan and Tannenbaum.


"You guys have been accusing me with this phony story about me being more concerned with PSLs or cash or something else," Johnson said. "Listen, my job, one, two, and three, is to win games. That's why I got into football to begin with is to win games. It's not to sell PSLs or anything else.


"My job is to win games, that's where my passion is, that's what I want to do, that's why I'm spending all this time in this organization. It's not to sell PSLs or to sell hot dogs. It's to win games. That's my job, I take it very seriously, the coaches take it seriously and the players take it seriously. It doesn't have anything to do with that phony argument."

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Again, we are left only with speculation, but the timing of the anti-Tebow story (a day after Glat and Woody sit down with the football staff) seems pretty circumstantially related. Was there a top down push to keep Mark as QB, or a counter one to get Tebow on the field? Which way was the leaked story directed? Either it was a news leak in defiance of the Woody/Glat message to the staff, or it was meant to bolster the idea that Mark was the only solution? That Woody objects strongly to the idea that he is market driven suggests that the leak was aimed at part against Glat's influence.

More Tebow mystery was in the works. Apparently Tebow had cracked his ribs two days before the Woody/Glat meeting (we would not find out for weeks), and Tebow would hardly play against St. Louis the following Sunday. After the game LB Bart Scott would refuse to talk to reporters and attempt to get fellow players to join him. Rex would say, in a typical Rex Ryan dissimulation, that Tebow just couldn't get in the game because of all the tricks the Rams were doing on Defense:

Linebacker Bart Scott created a bit of fuss when he initially declined to speak to reporters, complaining of unfair treatment, and barked at teammates to follow suit, yelling to one: "You didn't get the memo?" Scott later relented. Ryan had anticipated Tebow to have a larger role but changed the game plan because the Rams surprised them with different looks on defense."And that kind of maybe shut him down a little more than we had originally planned," Ryan said. "That was part of the reason you never saw a whole lot of him."

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Tebow would largely remain the backup QB and not play, with the exception of the McElroy experiment, nobody knowing just where the cracked ribs began and the Jet power struggle ended, but it seems that in some way the Tim Tebow playing time question (or at least roster spot) is related to Glat and Woody in a way that produced organizational divide.

The GM Search and Glat

The Glat influence story never really developed, but Florio again returned to it yesterday reporting that Glat may be a snag in the GM search. While many have wondered if the Tannebaum firing left Rex Ryan with undue power, few have thought about what it might mean for Glat. A significant reason for this that Glat has been able to keep a very low profile through his behind the scenes NFL accomplishments, and apparently his quiet influence on the Jet decision making structure. Now though the nature of his questions during interviews may have put some people off:


But there's another factor that is, we're told, contributing to the difficulties. There's a concern that team president Neil Glat will be involved in the football operations. How involved isn't known, but for traditional "football guys," any involvement is too much involvement.

Typically, a G.M. has to deal with only one person: The owner. In New York, the G.M. will have a straight line or at a minimum a dotted line to Glat. And Glat, we're told, has been asking esoteric football questions during the G.M. interviews.

In the end, someone will surely take the job. The question is whether it'll be someone who has options.

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Aside from the esoteric question as to what "esoteric questions" are if one looks at the past of Neil Glaz' NFL career (in the thin digital footprint he has left) his presence and questions during an interview of GM makes perfect sense. Glat is an extremely detailed person, a person who can study and acclimate himself to diverse areas of expertise very quickly, and this is part of his ability to see global, wide scope strategies that will effect every part of an organization. It's part of his genius and why Woody hired him. It would seem that with Tannenbaum gone in retrospect much of the media missed one of the the most important Jet moves of 2012, the hiring of Neil Glat.

The idea that Glat has been significantly involved in interviews is further supported by the fact mentioned before that Glat himself was found through a search by the very same Jed Hughes of the firm Korn/Ferry that is conducting the GM search for the Jets now. The Korn/Ferry firm has been helping Woody construct the Jet front office for close to a year now, and now that Glat is on board it makes sense that at least to some degree there is a mutual and communicated vision being carried out. Hughes looking to pair someone with his own hire, Glat.

The Jet Brand and the Fans

I'd like to return to the words Woody used when hiring Glat, those about understanding the brand in April 2012:

"Neil understands the brand and I think he’s going to improve the brand," Johnson said. "The brand has to do with the fans. It really reflects the fans’ feelings toward the team. And our goal is to live up to the aspirations of our fans."

and then final words at the Jet Season ending press conference which featured Rex talking about making the Jets more like him, an "attack" offense:

On whether he is concerned that the Jets brand has been tarnished…

JOHNSON: No, I’m not. We want to protect the brand because it’s really the fans’ brand. We’re always trying to be a better organization, and when we fail, we try to look back on why we failed and we’re remedying those. We’re doing a lot of major things this year to put ourselves on a different footing long term. Coach Ryan talked about long term.

The most common piece of wisdom in sports marketing is that if you want customers/consumers just win. That is what the Jet fans want. If you give that to them you'll have more Jet fans. But you don't need to hire a marketing/brand genius like Glat to tell you that. And in fact if Glat indeed is informing himself about all things football and helping Woody build a complete conception of what his football team should be the permutations on brand are very complex. The things that Glat would be concerned with would include whether they have lost their heart-throb QB, face of the franchise, permanently. What stories are going to drive the Jets 2013 season? What is the image the team will have? To whom will it appeal? Through what channels? Touching what revenue streams? It isn't just a team that has to win games. It isn't just a business that has to make money. It is a vast organization of products (of which the game is only one) which express values that coalesce through productive media and business arrangements.

Rex As Jet

When one listens to Rex talk about how the team has to reflect his own personalty more, when he talks about how the Offense has to be an "attack" offense, "unpredictable", like his Defense what comes to mind is that he is pitchman. He is, in the old advertisement phrase "Selling the sizzle, not the steak". Never mind that the Jets don't have anything close to the personnel needed for such an Offense, that there is no steak. It's all about brand right now, especially after deep disappointment, and what Glat calls "nearly insatiable" fan drive. One also has to imagine that if indeed Glat was involved in the brand decisions of Sanchez and Tebow, to some degree, following the debacle of 2012 Rex Ryan has become the embodiment of the Jets for the fans. The line that the Jets have to be more like him is easy to understand. If nothing else in Ryan the Jets have a coach that is very rare, he is, he literally IS a fan. When Woody says that the brand is all about the fans he isn't repeating some trite thought. In Ryan he realizes a marketable figure, a face of the team, that if they just win a little bit more, is a gold mine. Rex has been pushed forward now, AS the team. The strategy is for the Jets to be as much like Rex as possible. This may not mean he has any additional decision power, he might very well only be an actor in all this, given lines to say and a team to run. And it may not mean that Woody believes in him as a great football coach either. He believes in the potential of the Rex package.

Sizzle/Steak

There is a problem though when you start building around sizzle. We may have encountered it with the Sanchez and Tebow pairing. And we may be running into it again with Rex Ryan's mention of the Pistol Offense, and the desire to become an attack offense. You end up with all sizzle and no steak. Football operations don't have a lasting, organizational performance approach. You end up not winning. This may be what was meant about "esoteric football questions" that Glat may have been asking of prospective GM inteviewees. The Jets are trying to think of how to get both the steak and the sizzle. The trend in the NFL (both in terms of play, but also in terms of brand) is that of potent QB oriented playmaking Offenses. Could it be that instead of just trying to get things right, return to player depth rosters, a manageable cap situation, a pool of draft picks, a viable playoff team in 2014, Glat and Woody are trying to recapture the imagination of fans in 2013, and believe that there are football decisions that could get the Jets there?

Some Glat articles to read for those who want to familiarize themselves with this important Jet executive:

Glat part of a Sports Marketing Panel: Video [60 minutes]

2003 Sportsdailybusiness.com article

2005 Sportdailybusiness.com article

2008 Wharton Newsletter interview

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