As a business leader, navigating uncertain times is tough. And it’s especially difficult when your industry is severely impacted from unforeseen challenges like a global pandemic. The Detroit Lions SVP of Administration and CFO, Allison Maki, is no stranger to taking on new challenges and partnering with the business to achieve successful outcomes.
Allison was introduced to the Detroit Lions as a young auditor working for Ernst and Young. After returning to audit every few years and becoming familiar with the business, she was tapped on the shoulder by a former CFO of the Detroit Lions to join the team as the Director of Finance. In just under 10 years, Allison rose to become CFO in 2014 and now oversees the team’s finance and information technology functions, as well as the facility operations at the Lions’ practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan. Additionally, Allison is currently one of only eight female CFOs in the NFL.
Allison and Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, host of The General Ledger podcast and CEO of KET Consultants, talked about their shared passion for teamwork and the expanding role of strategic partner that finance plays in growing a business. “We see the business side, and we see the football side. We see all sides come together,” Maki said. “So to have that perspective, I think has really allowed us to be that partner alongside some of our colleagues as they think through possible changes or issues along the way.”
When it comes to boosting a successful business in the sports industry, the goal for everyone on the team—including finance—is to win. “This business is really unique,” Maki said. “If you think about it, there are basically ten chances—ten home games—that you have to show your business, to maximize your revenue, to really make an impact in your community.” Maki went on to talk about how, as a finance leader, she has the perspective that winning on the field and getting to the Super Bowl Championship is really the ultimate goal.
You can’t always predict what outside forces will affect your day-to-day business. But it’s always good to have plans in place for when unforeseen challenges arise, Maki explained. “We did a little bit of a business continuity planning, actually about a year before COVID hit. And, you know, we joked at the time saying, geez, every department’s got a 20 to 30 page plan. If anything were to happen… maybe we wouldn't sit down and read through 30 pages, but we had at least taken the time and thought through the process.”
Outside the important aspect of having safety measures in place, Maki’s team implemented a strategy to retain customers when they couldn’t attend the 2020 season. “We were able to keep a lot of those ticket deposits on account. And we tried to add in some incentives to our season ticket holders to really stay with us through that period, with the hope that they would be able to return in the 2021 season. So, you know, having that that cash to help get us through that season was incredibly beneficial. And we are so thankful of our fantastic fans who stuck with us.”
When Ellison-Taylor asked about the future of watching football and the evolving role technology plays, Maki had this to say: “It's been interesting to see the progression of technology. Maybe was a luxury a certain number of years ago. Now it’s an absolute necessity and expectation to our fans when they walk in the door. So, we want our fans to have an amazing customer experience.”
Maki also had insight into how fans consume the game today and what a future stadium experience may look like. “We're finding that, you know, Gen Z is very interested in having more of a social experience. So while my mom and dad want to have a fixed seat and sit and watch the game, there are other generations that want more of a community aspect… to relate, to check those statistics on their phone and be involved in fantasy football. And we really need to make sure the technology is in the areas where we have fans consuming the game, possibly very differently.”