Skip to main content

Next Woman Up: Lacy Ekert, Chief Partnership Officer for the Cincinnati Bengals

LACY nwu

Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, earning positions of power in a space that for too long was ruled almost exclusively by men. We're seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for impactful women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:

Lacy Ekert, Cincinnati Bengals

Position: Chief Partnership Officer

Let's start at the beginning. How did you get your start in a career in sports?

I was born and raised in Montana and went to school at the University of Montana. One of the ways I was initially able to break into sports was in my first job out of college with Nike. I was connected through a mentor of mine at the university. There have been a lot of people who've come out of the University of Montana who've touched sports or sports marketing in some way. Eric Sprunk, who was Nike's chief operating officer at the time, is probably the most popular alum in this space. But back then, in the mid-to-late 2000s, there weren't a lot of ways of making connections other than through email or building your network in person, but there were a lot of people from the university trying to get sports marketing jobs in the Pacific Northwest. The university built a marketing field experience class, and one of my mentor professors oversaw the pilot program. I was one of the initial students to apply and be part of that program, which essentially reached out to alumni who went into business school careers.

I really kept in touch with people I met in that program, and I tried to understand different divisions within the Nike company. That was 2008, which saw a major downturn in the economy, so it was tough to find jobs. On my spring break, I went to Nike to meet with as many people as possible to just figure out what was on the table, and there were some temporary positions. I was hired as an operations specialist on a one-year contract -- working for, which is the site for businesses who sell Nike products -- so that's how I broke into sports.

After Nike, I worked with a non-profit and then in more of the media side of sports about 10 years ago, for CBS and affiliates that worked with sports teams to sell media. Then there was this startup company called Topgolf that was looking to grow a global partnership division, and I was also looking to challenge myself. I worked there for six years to help develop it. When I started, there were six venues; now there are 100 across the country. The unique thing about Topgolf was it was tech-enabled, driving younger people to play, and it had such a good plan and great people behind it. The company ended up going public in a merger with Callaway in 2020, so a lot of employees moved on then because we had accomplished what we set out to do.

After that, I got an opportunity with BSE Global to go to the NBA for a few seasons. I had always wanted to move to New York and be in a major market, and I really liked working with them because they had so much to offer with the Barclays Center, the NBA, WNBA and big projects. I helped drive investments in women's sports, and the Nets had just put together this superteam with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. I did a few seasons there, and during that time, I had just happened to meet Bengals ownership in Elizabeth Blackburn. She shared with me what they were building in Cincinnati, and I felt like it was special and a place I really needed to be. It was mixing a little bit of a startup mentality of bringing this national brand to an even bigger platform. To help build a franchise like this and support it with national partners, it was a huge opportunity I was very excited about.

What does your role as Chief Partnership Officer entail?

I oversee all of the commercial business for the organization when it comes to partnerships and premium. For me, specifically, that means managing partnership sales and partnership marketing, activation and account management. On the premium side, that's all suite revenue -- for one-game or full-season suites.

And what would you say is the biggest challenge of your position?

I feel like there's not enough time in the day to do everything we want to do. We have so much opportunity within the stadium and potential on the partnership side. We're also going through stadium renovations, which is giving us all of this great, new inventory to price and sell. There is so much excitement around the franchise that you just take the project priority day by day.

Paycor Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, is receiving a series of upgrades over the course of this offseason. (Emilee Chinn/AP)
Paycor Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, is receiving a series of upgrades over the course of this offseason. (Emilee Chinn/AP)

There is a lot of excitement around the franchise right now, from having superstar players like Joe Burrow to having five prime-time games this season. Do those things play a role in what you do?

They play a huge role. The evolution of the fan today -- a lot of fans follow their favorite players in addition to their favorite teams, which means you get secondary and tertiary fans who are just following you. That's been our case over the last few years. When we look at our numbers, we have double- and triple-digit growth in the ecosystem. Our content team is super strong, and they've done a great job engaging with fans, which, in turn, has helped us gain popularity from other brands.

That's great. Let's pivot to mentorship. Do you have any mentors who have helped you along the way? If so, what advice have you received from them?

I have had mentors at every step in my career, and they have been a combination of people at different positions. My No. 1 piece of feedback on mentorship is to not be afraid to ask somebody to be a mentor for you. If you really like how they operate and you like them, ask if they have time to be a mentor to you. I also think you need to know what you want to get out of it, so I've challenged myself to come up with a mentor plan. If you're going to ask somebody to be a mentor, ask yourself: What are the expectations? What do I want to get out of this? What do I want to learn? There have been people I've asked to mentor me because I have really admired how they have gotten to where they are in their career or because of how passionate they are about their work or how they run a room.

I had a mentor once say, "Tell me who you respect, and I will reach out to them and ask how they view you." That was something that really stuck with me, that you can use mentors to know how people perceive you and use that information constructively.

And what advice do you have for other women looking to get into a career in football?

Preparation and research go a really long way. I think working in sports can be kind of confusing at times, so it's important to understand what you want in a career. I would say, find someone who works in sports and ask them to explain the difference in working for the league and for a team, and how a team is structured. There are so many different roles and paths you can take, so filter out what departments you are best suited for.

Lastly, what are you most proud of in your career?

When I talk to people whom I have helped in their career and learn that they are excelling, that means a lot to me. It could also be a partner who benefited from working with us. We are in the relationship business, so we do everything we can to make sure they are saying the best things about the Bengals. We've had a few partners that have mentioned how much they appreciated us going above and beyond for them this year, and that's my proudest moment so far.

Related Content