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:
Qiava Martinez, Las Vegas Raiders
Position: SVP, Chief Sales Officer
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How did you get your start in a career in football?
I never thought I'd work in football. I have seven brothers and one sister, and my father, Willie Harper, played for the San Francisco 49ers for 11 years (from the 1973 season to the 1983 season), so he was on the team that won the organization's first Super Bowl (XVI). I was around football but never thought I'd have a career in it. I actually was an entrepreneur and had my own teen magazine called Culture. I had a youth board who would write about their life experiences. I would take them to the BET Awards, NAACP Awards and we would work the red carpet, but the whole purpose was for them to talk about themselves. My backers were mainly in the real estate industry, so when the bubble burst, so did my dream. I thought I was going to be the next Oprah Winfrey, and I had no idea what to do next when that happened.
One of my brothers called me up and told me about a career fair with the Sacramento Kings. I ended up going to it and met the inside sales manager at the time for the Oakland Raiders, Robert Davis. We hit it off, and that's how I got in. I started off as an inside sales ticket representative in 2008. It was a part-time job and I actually ended up loving it. Now I've been with the Raiders for 15 years, but it wasn't my first career. I basically started all over after having a dream that didn't work out, but I'm thankful that it led me here.
You've really climbed the ladder with the organization. Can you walk me through how your role has expanded?
I have a special place in my heart for inside sales reps because you're at the bottom of the barrel and know how to climb out. I found a niche and set myself apart by selling to non-profits. I wanted to help people, and it also helped my sales. I was promoted to a full-time rep after a few months and did that for a short period of time before I was tapped on the shoulder to build out our new group sales department. I then went from being the director of group sales and fundraising to director of premium seating and service to VP of premium sales and service to now this role. I've held this position for about a year, with all revenue, including partnerships, under my umbrella.
Your rise is impressive. What's your motivation?
I'm not going to lie. There was a period where I wasn't motivated anymore. The beginning phase of my career with the Raiders, I was motivated to climb the ladder and to keep growing. The pandemic really allowed me to reset, and now my motivation is my family. I have a 6-year-old daughter, Harper, and I'm motivated to show her what a career for a woman looks like. I want her to know that she is unstoppable and she can do anything she sets her mind to. My motivation is waking up every morning, looking at her and being the best I can be for her. It's no longer about me. It's about her.
Another motivation of mine is getting back to doing work in the community. It's so fulfilling and gives me motivation. These two things will definitely keep me going.
What would you say is the biggest challenge of your role?
Getting up to speed on the partnership side, because that's not the world I came from. Everything else I can basically do in my sleep. So it was that and dealing with my own personal challenges -- you know, imposter syndrome.
I had to get out of my own way. I have a great team, and I'm now in a place where I'm comfortable with myself in this position. It's a struggle that women often have. But now that I'm out of my own way, watch out. Let's go!
How did the move from Oakland to Las Vegas impact you and your role?
When the organization moved to Las Vegas, I stayed in Oakland for a while. We still had games there and a year of sales that we had to take care of. When I came to Las Vegas, our sales were already sold out; we worked with a third party who helped with sales and staffing. Yet just because that was done, didn't mean our jobs were. We had to make sure to maintain and nourish the relationships. A lot of times, people lock up a deal for a number of years and forget about the relationship. But it's like a marriage; it takes work. You aren't the same people you were when you got married 10 years ago. It's the same thing with contracts. Just because it's in writing, we still have the opportunity to talk with our partners about what they value right now and create something that honors those values.
The difference from the Bay Area to Las Vegas. Las Vegas is the perfect mixture of the Bay Area and Los Angeles. We have the "Two Legacies, One Future" tag about the Raiders' histories in those two areas coming together in Vegas. This is the only place where you could perfectly blend the locations that we've had. We have work to do engagement-wise, but we try to bring an aspect of Oakland and Los Angeles to Las Vegas. So far, I think we've done that.
Las Vegas has hosted the NFL Draft and Pro Bowl Games and will soon host the Super Bowl. How do having those events in the Raiders' city impact your team?
We are involved in those things. Ultimately, these are the NFL's events, but for an event like the Pro Bowl, we are still responsible for selling our suite product at Allegiant Stadium. When the NFL changed the structure to the Pro Bowl Games, it was very exciting for our fan base because they have the first right of refusal for the event. In regards to the Super Bowl, it's exciting because we are going to be doing so many active events for our clients. This is the very first Super Bowl in Las Vegas, and we will be working hand-in-hand with the host committee. Planning for Super Bowl LVIII will probably start in April for us.
These major events have definitely added value to the city and the Raiders. We have a sense of pride that we're going to throw the best party when events come to Vegas. All in all, it's the NFL and the host committee's Super Bowl, but we will be sure to put our stamp around town as well. The economic impact is definitely substantial, and we need it.
Las Vegas was recently ranked in the top 10 of best sports business cities by the Sports Business Journal. That would have seemed crazy five or 10 years ago, but it shows how far Vegas has come. It has a lot to do with the Raiders coming here and other teams like the Golden Knights (NHL) and Aces (WNBA). It's only going to get better.
The Raiders have made some big personnel moves this offseason, including signing a new quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. How does a big acquisition like that influence sales?
We have to be proactive, not reactive. We must maintain our relationships with partnerships, suite and season-ticket holders, no matter if we have Jimmy or an unknown prospect coming up through the draft. We focus on giving top-of-the-line customer service no matter what. We have to constantly put our best foot forward to make sure that what we provide is memory-based and not just what's on the football field. When you fall into that trap, your revenue will suffer.
We're in the world of business, and certain things -- like a player or coach -- are going to make people want to buy and invest or sell, but all I preach is maintaining relationships. Raiders team president Sandra Douglass Morgan has been great in helping us implement new and exciting things for our season-ticket fan base. We are constantly asking ourselves whether the price of that ticket equals the value of what the customer is getting. If you can maintain that, our revenue isn't all that affected by how the team does on the field -- although doing well certainly helps.
That makes sense. I want to shift to mentorship. Do you have any mentors and/or role models?
I always love this question. Yes, I do have a handful of people in the industry who I can bounce ideas off and get advice from. But when it comes to my role models, it's my mother, Roxane. My parents have shown me what it means to be a servant leader, how to include your teammates in the decision-making process, how to put value into your teammates, etc. You can be a leader, but you can't do everything on your own; it's a team effort. My mother has shown me what it means to be a smart businesswoman, an entrepreneur, a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter -- all of those things are wrapped up into my mother. She is the ultimate motivator for me. I talk to her every single day and still bounce ideas off her. She is the Kris Jenner of the Harper family.
Do you have any advice for women looking to get into the industry?
You always hear it's just business, it's not personal. But I've never bought into that, because it is personal. It's personal to see the next Qiava in this position, the next Sandra. It's very personal. I'm very passionate about what I do, because I want to make sure that whoever's taking my spot next sees what it takes to be a leader. Relationships should be personal, right? That's the one thing I would say: Don't get wrapped up into all these old sayings. Business is -- and should be -- personal.
You make a great point. How would you say you've seen the industry change for women since joining the Raiders?
At the league level, I've seen significant change. Within the Raiders, I 've seen significant change. But across the NFL, it still feels very much the same. When I go to conferences, I may not be the only woman in the room, but I'm definitely the only Black woman still. We have such a long way to go, but I would say back in July when we announced Sandra as our new president, the emotions just came over me. In my 15 years working in the NFL, I never thought I would see the day. It is so inspiring to see. Her hiring has helped other teams have a more open mind when it comes to hires.
Now it's our responsibility -- it's yours and it's mine -- to pull up the next woman, to continue to look back and bring along others, whether it's feedback or giving assistance, mentorship, etc. We have to make this effort, so when you ask this question again down the road, we can see a dramatic change.
One last question: What are you most proud of?
The journey. Looking back, seeing the struggle and knowing I got through the obstacles to where I am today, it wasn't easy. But I'm here, learning from them and stronger for it.