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:
Nancy Gold, New Orleans Saints
Position: Vice President of Brand Strategy
How did you get your start in a career in football?
Football was always my passion and first love. In high school, I went to a New York Jets game with a friend whose friend's dad was a coach. The Jets played the Miami Dolphins and we were waiting in a tunnel in Giants Stadium after the game. I had never seen a professional athlete up close, and I remember seeing Dan Marino in that tunnel and it looked like he hung the moon. For me, that was a very formative experience. I didn't know that I would be led down this path, but instinctively, I knew football was something I wanted to be part of. I just didn't know how.
I always thought I was going to study medicine. My parents and every aunt and uncle in my family were focused on five or six careers, and I think some of that had to do with the fact that they emigrated to this country and looked for roles that were transferrable. I didn't think of work as anything other than a way to make a living, so when I went to the University of Albany, I ultimately discovered you can think of your career as a passion and something you love, not just how to make a living.
My first internship in profession sports was with the New York Islanders when I was in college. The only thing I really knew about hockey was Blades of Steel on Nintendo, but I started a few days before the 1999 NHL Draft and I was put in general manager Mike Milbury's office. We ended up trading Ziggy Palffy and the phones absolutely lit up. I'm this intern answering phones, and I was being cursed out left and right. I remember going home that day thinking it was so exhilarating. Later that night, I was with my mom, a nurse at the time, in the kitchen, and after I told her about my day, she asked me a question I'll never forget: "Do you think you could be happy getting a normal job and just buying tickets to whatever sports team you like?" I thought that was a smart question for her to ask because it made me wonder if I could pursue a safer route. I thought long and hard about it during that internship with the Islanders, and I thought, No. I want to be in it.Now I just have to figure out how.
The New York Giants used to hold training camp at the University of Albany, and while I was there as a collegiate athlete, the athletic director suggested that I work whatever job they had available. That's ultimately how I got my start in football.
Later on, when I was working at the Women's Sports Foundation in Long Island, New York, the New York Jets practiced just a hop, skip and a jump away at Hofstra University. I was connected with the team through a friend and joined their game night staff in public relations, handing out press notes, making photo copies and whatever needed to be done. I did that while holding other full-time jobs for almost a decade, essentially looking for my shot to work in football full time while working for other sports-based companies.
And how did you arrive at the New Orleans Saints?
New Orleans was not on my bingo card. I'm originally from New York and thought I would never leave the state, as most New Yorkers tend to think. But because there are so few jobs on the business side of sports, you don't often get to choose where you go. When I was working at Pepsi (2016-2021), I had the privilege of coming to the Superdome as a guest of the Pittsburgh Steelers on one of our partnership trips. The atmosphere was incredible, and I remember telling my husband, "That was the most fun I've ever had at a football game in my life." The fans around us were so warm and welcoming but also passionate and vibrant about their team. The building was energetic, and it was great to see the traditions of the franchise. I had just a great time and didn't realize I was invited to the best party in town at noon on a Sunday. It stuck with me.
In 2022, I had heard from a recruiter who was looking for someone to fill my current role, and it was an opportunity to steer the ship in terms of how the Saints' brand is seen. There really aren't any words to describe this team's connection to the city, and Hurricane Katrina bonded them like no other. I thought this role was an awesome challenge, especially considering there are two generations since Hurricane Katrina that didn't experience it firsthand or maybe aren't quite connected to the team in the same way. In addition, these younger generations are viewing the sports in an entirely different way than I did growing up. Through video games and fantasy football, they know a lot of players on other teams. The competition is fierce for their attention, along with all of the other things they have access to because of technology. To reinvigorate a franchise that had an incredible heritage definitely moved me.
What's also unique in the football experiences I've had in my full-time positions in Buffalo -- I was the director of marketing for nearly two years beginning in spring of 2015 -- and now New Orleans is that I have worked for two dynamic female owners (Buffalo's Kim Pegula and New Orleans' Gayle Benson). That was definitely not by accident.
I was one of the very first hires Kim Pegula made. Her impact and accessibility to the staff and to the things she cared about, which were things that followed under my purview, are definitely not lost on me. For Mrs. Benson, I appreciate her southern hospitality and appreciation for heritage and tradition, while having an appetite to move forward. The organization is going through change in the best of ways. The Superdome is going through a huge renovation, and that is one of the "feather in your cap" moments you don't always get in your career from a brand standpoint. I appreciate her for this project, particularly because I'm not from New Orleans and she was an interior designer at one point. I have someone whom I admire very much to impress. I'm looking forward to bringing a modern yet traditional take to that building to help it grow up, and I'm looking forward to hosting the biggest event in the world in Super Bowl LIX.
Is the Superdome renovation the biggest project you've been a part of in your career?
I would say yes in terms of both the football and brand sides. My job as the brand police is to ensure it feels like the home of the Saints, but I also have to make sure our wonderful partners have a shared voice. Finding that balance and harmony in each of the relationships has been a great challenge for me and my team because they want to show up differently. Trying to find how each of them can find their place in our building and connect with our fans in a way that's authentic to them has been great.
In your words, what does your job entail?
How we define marketing here includes several things. It's game entertainment, which is the music, videos, our dance and cheer teams and the atmosphere we create. It's brand marketing, which is how we show up, what our brand stands for and our values. It's events and creative services, which is everything that we host outside the stadium on game days or events like draft-day parties. It's also performance marketing, which is engagement through digital and social. All of this means the ride is ever-changing and busy, but that's what I love most.
Having your hand in so many areas, what would you say is the most challenging part of your position?
As a marketer, technology is always the best and worst thing. It allows you to directly connect with fans, but it's ever-changing. You can't be complacent in this role. You have to be curious and eager to learn. In my personal life, I may not be doing TikTok dances, but in this role, I have to understand that platform and how it can further our brand. You have to constantly be a student with technology, and that's definitely the hardest part.
That makes total sense. How does the on-field performance of the team affect your job?
Of course, when the team is winning, everything feels better. But as a marketer, I chose to look at circumstances when the team isn't performing well as times when you can really connect with the fan base and tell stories about the players and coaches on the team. Generally, there's not a roster that doesn't have really interesting, dynamic, multi-talented people. These are remarkable people who do exceptional work, so I love being able to give the fan base a glimpse of who they are.
Looking back on my time with the Bills, the team wasn't where it wanted to be and we also hadn't taken many risks from a marketing standpoint. I had the idea of doing mean tweets with some of our players and coaches, and Kim Pegula was the one who gave everyone the stamp of approval. The video went viral, in part because of Rex Ryan, which was great. I appreciated her giving me the leeway to fail and I'm glad I didn't. But that gave me the confidence to do some other out-of-the-box things.
By the time I left Buffalo, a small market, we ranked in the top five in the NFL in engagement across multiple digital and social platforms. I felt like I was able to connect the brand to the fans in a way that was a bit different, and I'm hoping to do the same in New Orleans.
Do you have mentors, and what advice have you received from them?
I have been fortunate to work with and for a lot of wonderful people. One in particular who sticks out is Kenny Mitchell, CMO at Levi Strauss and Co. I remember early on in my career that he said something like, "It's not just doing the job, but how you did it." This job demands a lot of hours and dedication, and I want to be the type of colleague and manager that, when others hear you're on the team, they want to be on the team with me. We can disagree and have different points of view -- and we should -- but I don't want anyone to leave with a bad taste in their mouth of how I went about it. Rather, to be a manager and colleague others would run through a wall for. I try to do a great job, but I care a great deal about how I do it.
What advice do you have for women interested in a career in football?
I have had a lot of experience in different places, and sometimes you find yourself in the thick of it where you don't get a job you applied for and you're questioning why you're in the position you're in. But looking back, all of those jobs prepare you for where you will end up.
Having been in the sports industry for over 20 years, how have you seen the industry change for women?
A million different ways. We're not pigeonholed into particular categories anymore. There's not a path women can't take or avenue we can't pursue -- coaching, athletic training, football operations -- and there are women thriving at every level, from ownership on down. I have a son, and the way I hope he sees women is that we are capable of anything. Today, it's really about what you bring to the table. It's not about gender -- it's about talent and skill. I do think I see that in the younger generation. They are aspirational and don't necessarily see the walls that I saw.
It's great that you've seen so much change. Lastly, what are you most proud of in your career?
I took my 4-year-old son to his first Saints game during preseason. When I drove him to school the next week, we drove past the Superdome and I asked him if he wanted to go see the Saints again. He said he wanted to go back because he had such a great time. I love that he loved it. Football is one way I can connect with my son, and he's also my consumer in that moment. I hope that every guest feels the same way he felt, whether they are lifelong Saints fans or it's their first game. That's my team's goal: to offer the best experience from start to finish for our fans and their guests.