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'Hard charger' Connolly brings NFL, business savvy to Green Bay

Feb. 19, 2012
 
In a short stint as Minnesota Vikings' executive vice president and general manager, Tim Connolly clashed with head coach Dennis Green, according to sources.
In a short stint as Minnesota Vikings' executive vice president and general manager, Tim Connolly clashed with head coach Dennis Green, according to sources. / File/Jeff Wheeler/Star-Tribune
Green Bay Packers: A community's team in a corpora...: Writers Pete Dougherty and Rob Demovsky discuss how the Green Bay Packers have evolved as a community franchise in an increasingly corporate environment.

ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Research for this project, which examines the Green Bay Packers’ changing front office structure and the team’s relationship with the community, began in November. More than three dozen sources were interviewed by Green Bay Press-Gazette reporters Pete Dougherty and Rob Demovsky, who have a combined 34 years of experience covering the Packers. The sources include current and former Packers employees, high-ranking current and former NFL executives and prominent members of the community. Many of the sources would only speak on the condition of anonymity.
Dougherty has been a Packers beat reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette since 1994. Reach him at pdougher@greenbaypressgazette.com or at www.twitter.com/PeteDougherty. Demovsky has been reporting on the Packers for the Press-Gazette since 1997. He can be reached at rdemovsk@greenbaypressgazette.com or at www.twitter.com/RobDemovsky.

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Tim Connolly might go unrecognized by even serious Green Bay Packers fans, but he’s quickly ascended to a position of influence within the organization.

The 63-year-old Connolly, who has been the Packers’ vice president of sales and marketing since May 2010, came to the Packers with a background as a business executive within and outside sports. That includes holding prominent administrative positions with the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars.

His history as a hard-charging marketer also represents a turn in the fast-growing Packers’ organization, which has to remain financially competitive with 31 other teams in the NFL without ignoring their parochial roots as the lone community-owned team in major professional sports.

Multiple sources describe Connolly as a smart, successful businessman in his previous NFL stops. But some of the sources also say he can alienate colleagues with an aggressive approach.

“I’ve had success where I’ve been and enjoyed it,” Connolly said. “I don’t think you can please all the people all the time, but by and large if you’ll check the records of the places I’ve been, the businesses have done well and I’ve got friends all over the league.”

In each of his previous NFL stops, Connolly was hired to lead a major project: With the Chiefs, it was marketing a team with plummeting attendance; with the Vikings, to build a new stadium; and with the Jaguars, to sell premium Super Bowl ticket packages.

With the Packers, Connolly has taken on probably the broadest set of responsibilities among team President and CEO Mark Murphy’s administrative team. As one of three vice presidents, Connolly’s primary responsibility is generating local revenue, which excludes national TV money but includes sponsorships, regular and premium ticket sales, retail operations and the team’s website.

Murphy hired Connolly after the one-year tenure of Laura Sankey, who had a marketing background but never had worked for a pro sports team. This time, Murphy was looking for an executive with strong NFL ties.

“Tim’s knowledge and expertise, particularly his knowledge of the league, has been really helpful,” Murphy said. “It’s a competitive business.”

Said one former Chiefs employee: “I think Tim’s a terrific talent. He just needs to be managed, and if left unattended it becomes his franchise.”




Connolly’s interest in football dates to his playing career, which he said included a two-year stint as a practice player at Alabama in 1966 and 1967. After working as a fast-rising salesman at IBM, as an executive for a scoreboard manufacturer and then for AT&T, Connolly landed his first NFL job with the Chiefs in 1989.

The Chiefs’ new president, Carl Peterson, hired Connolly to head the business operations of a bottomed-out team that had fewer than 25,000 season ticket holders. When Connolly left in 1995 to take a job with the phone company Ameritech, the Chiefs had approximately 70,000 season-ticket holders and a reputation for one of the best game-day experiences in the league.

“I give him a lot of credit for our off-field success of our club as we rebuilt the program,” Peterson said in a recent interview.

He returned to the NFL in 1998 with the Vikings, where his tenure lasted 15 months. The Vikings included general manager in Connolly’s title even though that job typically goes to someone with a football scouting background.

“He wasn’t really the GM per se,” said a high-ranking source who worked for the Vikings at the time. “He was more doing the stadium stuff, but they explained it that they wanted him to have the GM title so that he could have more of a presence on the stadium stuff.”

Brought on in the middle of a 15-1 season, Connolly ran the day-to-day operations and was point man for the Vikings’ efforts to build a new stadium for then-owner Red McCombs.

“He was not the typical person you’d find in sports,” said Gary Woods, who was running the Vikings’ business operations part time before Connolly, and is the president of McCombs’ company. “He was more of a business person but had a great desire of wanting to be in sports and had aspirations of wanting to be a general manager or more involved in the football side.”


Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, right, hands a proclamation stating Monday, Sept. 18 will be All-Teal Day to Jaguars Senior Vice President of Business Development Tim Connolly as mascot Jaxson de Ville looks on during a 2006 press conference in City Hall in Jacksonville, Fla. (Nicole L. Cvetnic/Florida Times-Union)

Connolly said he left to join an equity firm that was trying to buy the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. Other sources said Connolly clashed with then-coach Dennis Green when Connolly pushed to get involved in football personnel decisions.

“I think that’s when Red had an issue and Denny Green had an issue,” the Vikings’ source said.

Green did not return several messages left in recent weeks.

Connolly returned to the NFL again in 2003, when the Jaguars hired him for a special project as host of Super Bowl XXXIX. The NFL gave the cash-strapped team an extra block of tickets, and Connolly sold ticket and amenity packages that netted nearly $30 million for improvements to the Jaguars’ stadium. Wayne Weaver, who owned the Jaguars at the time, then hired Connolly full time as senior vice president for business development.

“He’s a hard charger,” said Dan Edwards, the Jaguars’ vice president of communications. “People that are aggressive and work hard and push, I think it’s natural sometimes there’s resistance or pushback. But often that’s how things get done, too, so I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.”

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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