Policy knows Green Bay is the place to be
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of profiles about the leadership of the Green Bay Packers and how business is managed at 1265 Lombardi Ave.
GREEN BAY – Ed Policy was commissioner of the Arena Football League and a consultant for the NFL in New York City, the nerve center of the football universe. Before that, he spent time in San Francisco, where his dad ran the 49ers.
And now he's in Green Bay, the smallest market in major professional sports, serving as the Packers' chief lawyer and go-to guy for development of the Titletown District. He knows it's the right place to be, professionally and for his family.
"Titletown District was a big draw for me coming here," said Policy, who introduced the latest plans for 35-acre development on Thursday.
Policy was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, which, he said, was a lot like Green Bay; a working-class community, a football town and a good place to raise children. Youngstown suffered and hasn't recovered from being too reliant on steel production, and Policy sees Titletown District as an antidote to something similar happening in Green Bay.
"That experience impacts how I approach this and how I approach wanting to make sure this community and this economy is diversified, is attracting young people and is ready to take on the challenges of the coming years," he said.
His lawyer father, Carmen Policy, became involved with the 49ers when Ed was in grade school. The family home remained in Youngstown, where Ed graduated from high school, but he got to spend time with his dad in San Francisco, too.
"He was involved during what was a real exciting time for that franchise," Policy said. "They had to reorganize the entire organization. That's when they brought in Bill Walsh. A year later they drafted Joe Montana and the rest is history."
Policy earned his law degree and worked in private practice for six years, but always with the view of getting into professional sports, though not as an agent, a path taken by many with law degrees.
"I grew up with my dad negotiating with agents on the other side and I always took my dad's side," he said. "I was probably always a management-side guy, just based on what I was exposed to. I have family bias there."
When he was ready to make the move, Policy sought advice from Roger Goodell, who was not yet the NFL commissioner. Goodell suggested he would have to specialize in something to get a job with the league, but Policy wanted a broader background. Eventually, Goodell helped him sign on with the Arena Football League, whose commissioner, David Baker, became a mentor. Baker is now executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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"I probably thought I would be there for two or three years to gain some experience and then move on to the NFL ... but we were having so much fun ... I was getting experience in all those areas. Our union, the AFLPA, was under the umbrella of the NFLPA, so I was negotiating with the same people that the NFL was negotiating with," said Policy, who spent eight years with the arena league.
He also negotiated television contracts with NBC and ESPN, and was involved with sponsorship deals.
After the arena league ceased play in 2009, Policy became an NFL consultant on strategic initiatives, ownership issues, business and prep work for the 2010 collective bargaining negotiations.
After that, he indicated an interest in becoming involved at a team level and the Packers were on his short list. He did not know Packers CEO Mark Murphy, but he knew of him, and both union and league members spoke well of Murphy, himself a former player rep and union attorney.
When the Packers looked for a new general counsel, Policy was a candidate. Murphy said Policy knew the NFL and had some development experience, both of which were qualities the Packers prized. He said he was highly recommended by Goodell and others.
Policy came to Green Bay for an interview, but first found himself in the Packers Hall of Fame with Murphy watching a video on the team's connection to the community.
"The message was clear. It was, 'We're going to talk about your background and your qualifications, and you might know about the law, and you might know about sports, and you might know about the business of sports, and you might have grown up in the NFL, but you know what, if you really want to succeed here ... you better appreciate the history and tradition and the importance of this community for this organization," Policy recalled.
Policy grew up a huge Cleveland Browns fan and was as shocked as everyone else when they moved to Baltimore in 1996, even though by then he was familiar with the nature of the NFL. It informs his actions in Green Bay.
"I kind of approach my position here with a healthy degree of paranoia," he said. "We are an extreme anomaly. It's critically important we are doing everything we can to make sure the Packers can exist and thrive here for the next generation and beyond."
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Policy's responsibilities, in additional to the Titletown District and legal affairs, include stadium security, public affairs, community outreach and shareholder relations, a duty unique to the publicly owned Packers, which he joined in 2012. He also assists Murphy with corporate governance and dealing with league issues.
He does not negotiate player contracts, which is the portfolio of Russ Ball, the team's vice president of football administration, but he does work on coach and non-football contracts, and negotiates with business partners, such as the Kohler Co. and Hinterland Brewery. He's not afraid to go nose-to-nose, a skill he learned from his father.
"Thanks in a large part to the way I was brought up, I've always felt comfortable and ready for those (negotiations)," he said. "You ultimately get to a productive place, but often times they along the way involve some degree of conflict, and I'm comfortable with productive conflict."
When Policy and his wife Christy arrived in Green Bay, local friends apologized because it wasn't New York or San Francisco.
"We would laugh and say stop apologizing. We said you have no idea what a special place this is and what a great environment this is," he said. "I don't know that I recognized these communities still existed and I could raise my kids the way I was raised. For me, this is Shangri-La."
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Ed Policy quotes:
» On working for the Packers: "You have to accept it's a profound responsibility. You are a steward for a critical and very important community asset."
» On his father, Carmen Policy, former president of the 49ers: "He taught by way of example because he frankly didn't have time to lecture. I got to travel with the team a couple times a year. He brought me into the draft room as long as I was quiet and sat in the back."
» On his father-in-law, retired Vice Admiral Anthony Less, a decorated fighter pilot: "Have you ever seen 'Meet the Parents'? I was Focker. I think I passed the test. Initially, he could be an intimidating father-in-law. He's a terrific guy and one of the most amazing grandparents you'll ever meet."
» On joining a bowling league: "I am horrible and terribly inconsistent, but I am committed now. This year I'm probably going to invest in my own bowling ball. I'm convinced that's what it's going to take to get me to the next level."
» On his future: "At some point, I'd love to run an NFL club or be at a high level at the NFL league office. That's kind of what I always saw myself doing from an early age. I think the longer I get to work for Mark (Murphy), the more successful I'm gong to be, whatever the next role is for me."