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Karen Hudson, BA '91, MBA '95
  Karen Hudson, BA '91, MBA '95
 

Scoring Points with NFL Sponsors – Karen Hudson, BA '91, MBA '95

2/25/2004 --

After several years of marketing and product development in the food industry, Karen Hudson, BA '91, MBA '95, was looking for a job about which she could be more passionate. When headhunters called, Hudson told them to get back to her if they found something in the sports or entertainment industries.

"And one of them actually did," Hudson said. In 2000, Hudson joined the National Football League (NFL), where she manages corporate sponsorship marketing.

The NFL has 15 to 20 corporate sponsors at any one time, companies such as Coors, Southwest Airlines, Visa, Staples and Pepsi. Hudson works to develop, sell and renew sponsor relationships. She also finds ways to give sponsors added value and to "create some excitement at times other than the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl."

The Pro Football Hall of Fame, pre-season training camp and NFL kickoff events are three ways the league engages sponsors in high-visibility activities.

After earning her bachelor's degree, Hudson (then Karen Wisham) wanted to work in the sports or entertainment industry. "I sent résumés to record companies and sports agents, but didn't have the experience or contacts to get a foot in the door." So she chose a more traditional route, working for Frito-Lay in a manufacturing capacity. Post-MBA, Hudson established a career in brand marketing and new product development at General Mills and then Campbell Soup. With that background, managing NFL corporate sponsorships was an easy transition.

Hudson, who describes herself as a "huge sports fan," grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. She inherited her sports devotion from her mother, Evelyn Wisham, who earned a master's degree in public health from Michigan in 1972. Her mother often could be heard pounding the table and screaming at the TV, Hudson says. "And it was just, 'Oh, Mom's watching the Indians.'"

People are sometimes surprised to learn that 43 percent of NFL fans are women, Hudson notes. That make-up is reflected in the NFL organization, where women hold significant positions in nearly every department. "It's definitely still a male-dominated culture, but I think the more we realize how diverse our fan base is, the more we realize we must have people in place who speak to and reflect that diverse group."

Hudson spends much of her non-work time volunteering for the Starlight Children's Foundation, which grants wishes to chronically and terminally ill children. Hudson works with families to nail down a child's two or three top wishes, then coordinates with the Starlight office to fill one of the wishes. One youngster she worked with in the spring wanted to go to Disney World and swim with dolphins. Another wanted to meet professional wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. "I'm just one of those people who does better and feels better when I'm busy," Hudson says. "And I love kids. It's great to be able to give back to the community."

Working for the NFL gives Hudson the passion she sought in her professional life. She'll instantly leap to the defense of anything related to football, a tenacity for which her husband, Sean Hudson, MBA '94, often teases her. The two met at the Business School and married in 1999.

It thrills her to be closely involved in a sport so deeply entrenched in American culture. Football may not solve the world's ills, she says, but people draw fulfillment from it nonetheless. "On Sundays, when I watch the games, I still get excited, thinking that, somehow, I have some part in that."



For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847
Email: bernied@umich.edu