Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, earning positions of power in a space that for too long was ruled almost exclusively by men. We're seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for impactful women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:
Kim Rometo, Miami Dolphins
Position: Vice President, Chief Information Officer
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How did you get your start in a career in football?
My start was slightly atypical. I was leading IT for a tradeshows and events company and was contacted by a recruiter for my current role. My initial response was that I thought he was mistaken contacting me because I had no sports experience whatsoever. He asked me, "How large are the largest tradeshows that you produce?" I responded, "We host 100,000 people for eight days straight." He responded, "Well, this job is 65,000 people for six hours. You're going to be just fine."
Sure enough, he was right. Many of the systems, the security, the Wi-Fi, the access control and the point of sale were nearly identical in scope and scale to what I had been dealing with previously, so I actually came into the role very prepared even though I had no sports experience.
Can you explain your day-to-day work and what your job entails?
I wear a number of hats, so I'm responsible for broadcast, IT, application development, cyber security and then I work for a number of verticals -- the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, which also hosts Miami Hurricanes football, Miami Open, international soccer, concerts as well as the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix, which will debut next year. There are a lot of IT and broadcast requirements for each of those verticals, plus the verticals themselves. There is no typical day and I bounce between the departments pretty frequently to make sure everybody has what they need to succeed. I have an incredible staff, some that came with me and some that were here when I got here, and we have worked continuously to make sure every person employed in the department can be successful in their role.
That's interesting. What would you say is the most challenging part of your job?
During the first year, we were preparing to host Super Bowl LIV, so we completed a data center of transformation and we moved a hyper-converged infrastructure as well as a major cybersecurity re-architecture. That all encompassed Year 1 moving into Super Bowl LIV, which ended up being the last major event for a while (due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
In Year 2 we were focused on opening the new Baptist Health Training Complex, the training facility for the football team. There was a lot that we were going to be focused on, then COVID happened. We turned around and opened drive-up movie theaters, so we could keep people socially distant but active in community. Then we did host 13,000 fans at Hard Rock Stadium in Year 2. We were a GBAC STAR facility, so we had to make sure we debuted as much contactless as possible to make it a really safe and healthy environment for our fans to be in.
Now this year, we are overseeing the infrastructure required for the Miami Grand Prix. I know more about asphalt than I ever thought possible. I do love the challenge of something new every year, but it is that -- a challenge. I need to be able to pivot quickly between all of those verticals in order to be successful.
So when you look back on those years, what are you most proud of?
There's a lot of be proud of, but the thing I think I'm most proud of is the team that we built, the people who are here and I get to work with day in and day out. Obviously, a successful execution of Super Bowl LIV was a big feather in our cap. Then getting to see the team walk through the training facility for the first time. We let the players see it before anybody else, and to see their reactions and how overwhelmed they were, that was a proud moment, too.
When you have these major events at Hard Rock Stadium, what's the feeling after the project or event is completed?
I believe in taking a day to celebrate. Whenever there was something really great or disappointing growing up, my parents were really good about taking a moment to recognize what was going on. So if something bad had happened like I didn't make the team or whatever, I would get one day to be totally taken care of. You know, I'd get the Godiva chocolates and the mothering that I wanted, but after that day, it was time to move on.
I see that here in a lot of respects. We take a day to have absolute euphoria after the great things. That day after the training facility opened and everything came online and I went down the slide in the weight room, that was a euphoric day. The day after the Super Bowl, another euphoric day. But you only get one of those days to celebrate because then you need to be looking forward to what's next. Same thing with disappointments. You can dwell on the disappointment, decide how to recover and how to pivot and then you move on. I discovered that that's a good way to recognize and keep forward momentum.
I love that approach. Do you have any other mentors who've influenced or helped you in your career?
I'm a firm believer that no one succeeds in a vacuum, and I've been fortunate enough to have some wonderful role models and mentors. Michelle Barton, who was one of my first role models in my career, taught me to be prepared and persuasive because the worst outcome you can ever receive is a no. When you recognize that the worst thing someone can tell you is no, that's not all that bad. So go big and be bold.
When I came into sports, Dan Caspersen and Chuck Geiger were mentors to me in my transition. Dan really taught me the value of direct and frequent feedback, not only for myself but to impose that on my employees and peers. Chuck really encouraged me to set my sights on the art of the possible. It's something we look at in IT. Don't just be confined by what is available today but look to the future.
Then finally, our vice chairman and CEO Tom Garfinkel has really taught me three things: first, how to shape the culture of an organization. It starts at the top without a doubt. Also, that strategy is what we do different from our competitors and that's what strategy really means. And to always be learning. The day you stop learning is the day you effectively are done. So he's been an incredible guide along this journey as well.
I know you've only worked in the NFL for a short time, but have you seen progress in terms of female inclusion since you entered the league?
To be honest, I have felt it since the beginning. When I entered the league (in 2018), I was shocked by the number of counterparts that reached out to me -- the Seahawks, the Titans, the Patriots, even LAFC. I mean, I really thought that because we were competitors on the field, we wouldn't spend much time together, but that's simply not the case. We all have the same challenges. I'm talking to a counterpart somewhere across the league or across sports every single day, asking questions like 'Hey, how are you handling this situation? Have you thought about this? What do you think of this vendor or this product?' So it's been really, really welcoming. I have found nothing but support and inclusion, and frankly, that's nothing I expected at all. I was really pleasantly surprised and I have tried to pay that forward as new colleagues have come in.
That's really encouraging to hear. Now, what would you say to a female who's interested in a career in the NFL?
Too many people think there are only two paths into sports. There's the team itself or there's sales. That's what I hear a lot from people who are just starting out in the industry. The truth of the matter is there's so much more -- the finance track, marketing, stadium operations, etc. Sports teams are a microcosm of communities. They really are, so anything that you're interested in, chances are there is a place for you in sports. It's just about finding the right organization because there are some that are only the club, others that control their stadium and others that have entire entertainment districts and much bigger footprints. So, doing your research before you just jump in, targeting the organizations that you think you'd be the best fit for and then trying to find who in that organization you can talk to. It's just as important to have good questions and understand whether the cultural fit is there because I know I don't fit everywhere. I need to find where I do fit and where I can be of value to the organization. You can be extremely happy working in sports, you just have to find that right fit.
What's next in line for things you want to accomplish?
There's a lot actually. We try to put the fan experience at the heart of everything we do, whether that's training camp or in the stadium or the Grand Prix experience. We try to come at it as: How would I, as a fan, want to engage with this product? That goes for anything like ticketing or parking, any of those things, so my job is to find ways to make the experience have less and less friction. I acknowledge that you came to an event because you wanted to see the action on the field or track or court. You don't want to be standing in line. It is my job and my team's job to make sure you can get back to the action as quickly as possible when you want to get that cold beverage or come to the stadium off the turnpike.
That said, I'm really excited about a few things we've been doing. We've been piloting some new security platforms, some new turnstiles and we're working with Verizon on autonomous retail concepts -- you know the tap-and-go, grab what you want and keep on going. That's what people will see this fall at Hard Rock Stadium, a lot of testing going on that will continue to better the fan experience over time.