Jeff Diamond 12MBA sat on the 17th row of Green Bay, Wisconsin’s famed Lambeau Field for the NFL playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers on January 22. It was 14 degrees at kickoff with a wind chill of zero and Diamond, the salary cap manager for the 49ers, had on layers and layers of clothing.
Underneath three sweatshirts and several pairs of socks and wadded up small enough to be tucked into the toe of a shoe was his ego.
The NFL to many people is a haughty culture of egos, but Diamond talks about the players and team first when discussing his job of managing to the rules of the NFL’s complex salary cap structure.
He says he has no competition inside the 49ers organization, no worry about a climbing culture because the collaboration in the front office is as resolute as the teamwork of the players on the field.
“We’re super collaborative and I don’t think I’m competing with anybody inside of our building,” Diamond says. “They have already taken a chance on you by giving you a job.”
If that ethos can live inside a successful NFL team—the 49ers have been to two NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl in the last three seasons—it can live in almost any competitive environment. Facelessness means five brains, not one, dissecting an issue.
Diamond, 37, is a capable brain, no doubt. A 2006 graduate of Johns Hopkins in statistics and applied math, he started working for the 49ers in 2015 after a career in finance as a derivatives trader. Even when he is asked to discuss what made the 49ers give him a job, his ego remains in the background. Diamond says he was a piece the organization was missing, and not a salary cap guru.
“I brought a viewpoint that my department didn’t really have at the time, which is understanding value from a financial lens,” he recalls. “So, I don’t know that I necessarily differentiated myself. I think my skillset complemented what we had already at the time.”
This is how you find a place inside a competitive business like the NFL. It is not jockeying or being slick. It is more seamanship.
Mastering the Salary Cap Means Building Better Teams
The NFL, pre-Covid, was a $15-16 billion a year colossus with revenues roughly divided 50-50 between owners and players. For the 2022 season, each team will have a $208.2 million salary cap, and that is why the NFL still is the top professional sports league in the U.S.: competitive balance.
The teams that master the cap, understand its intricacies and plan around it succeed. The salary cap first came to the NFL in 1994 and was $34.6 million.
“The majority of my time is spent helping management ask better questions about players,” Diamond says. “I’m not picking the players; I’m trying to help them make better decisions and play out all the various scenarios so that they can build the best team they can.”
How Data Analytics Can Improve Odds for a Sports Career
As pro sports teams have embraced data, jobs have opened up, but getting one of these jobs can be daunting. Diamond started looking for a career in sports in 2009.
The job interview is not just an opportunity to amplify your skills, but to gather resources, such as insight on an organization’s methods, or ways you can tune your value-add for the next interview.
The interview is always a win/win, even if you don’t get the job.Jeff Diamond 12MBA
“Getting one interview, and then another interview just builds confidence in terms of focus and it gives you credibility when you apply for other jobs,” he notes. “Teams notice that other teams are talking to you. I think you’d become slightly more desirable.”
“More important than that, it’s that you learn how teams are looking at things and you’re better able to shape the discussion as to ‘Here’s how I think I can help your team.’ The key to breaking in is really articulating how you think you can come in and make an impact.”
Take Risks that Make Sense
Diamond’s two years inside Goizueta Business School showed him not to be intimidated by the competition for NFL jobs.
Emory just taught me to really go for it, pursue what you actually want to do, which for me was to work in professional sports. Take risks that make sense, like be calculated, but take risks.Jeff Diamond 12MBA
Diamond said he wanted a chance to study in Australia, but Emory did not have an exchange program with any school in Australia. So, he petitioned Goizueta to allow him to set one up, and he credits Harriet Ruskin, director of international and joint degrees in the Goizueta MBA Program Office, for setting up that exchange and making it happen.
He looks back on his time in grad school. “Emory did a good job pushing me outside of my comfort zone, and did a really, really nice job of creating a space for you to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
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