Women are rising through the ranks throughout professional football, gaining positions of power in an area that for too long has been ruled almost exclusively by men. We’re seeing more and more women breaking barriers in sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering these questions is the goal of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for women of impact to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we present:
Jackie Maldonado, Houston Texans
Jackie Maldonado, Houston Texans
Position: Game Presentation Director and Live Entertainment Producer On the same subject : Concerns Raised About Local Detective Conduct With Student Cheerleaders.
How did you get started in a career in game presentation?
Game presenting has always been my passion and I learned it very early in college. I think that after you graduate, you get a job in your field and start a career. I thought it was that easy. That didn’t happen for me. I had a lot of rejections and all it did was fuel my passion even more and my desire to prove to all the naysayers that I was qualified to work in sports and game production.
I ended up doing an internship at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and while I was there, I looked for opportunities for myself. During that time, I called the San Antonio Spurs so many times looking for an opportunity to get my foot in the door. I left so many messages, and the last time I decided to make that call and try, I was sitting in my truck and I thought, “If nothing else, I can at least say that I did everything I could to get this opportunity.” To my surprise, Don Costante, then Spurs director of game operations and promotions, took it. “Hello, this is Don Costante.” I froze, but eventually showed up. I knew I was the UTSA insider because I had called so many times. We set up a meeting, and Spurs didn’t have an internship or volunteer opportunity at the time, but he said that because he was so persistent, he wanted to help. The Spurs started a shadow program just for me, which allowed me to enter the building. I did this for about a year, and simultaneously, I drove to Austin and worked part-time at the University of Texas at Austin to get some football experience. It was Texas football on Saturdays and Spurs games on the days I wasn’t working in men’s and women’s sports at UTSA. I had no time for myself, and at the end of that year, UTSA and the Spurs offered me full-time jobs.
That’s how I got my start. When the Spurs opened that door for me, I just wanted to come in, put my head down and work. To be completely honest, this feeling has stayed with me to this day. I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder, and I feel like there’s always more to prove. All I want is to let my work speak for itself.
I will forever be grateful to Spurs for opening the door and allowing me to push. After my two-year stint with the Spurs, I got a call from the Houston Rockets asking me to apply for a position. I did that, got the job and worked for them for seven years. The position with the Rockets allowed me to grow in game presentation and live entertainment, the flow of creating energy and atmosphere for fans at a game.
It’s a great story. And how did you transition to the NFL?
I knew my ultimate dream was to work in the NFL, and I was very determined to do that. I was lucky enough to get a call from the Houston Texans in 2013. I got this job and that’s where I am today and where I want to be. I was very clear with my career path with what I wanted to achieve. In college, I was knocking on so many doors, turning over all these rocks and submitting resumes everywhere, and it was always “No”. I feel very lucky that he came back and that these organizations knocked on my door. I don’t take it for granted.
What ultimately drew you to the NFL?
Yes, the NFL only has 10 home games per season, but the difference between those and the 41 home games that NBA teams have is the expectation of a fan and what you experience on a game day. The big NBA games are opening night, games on TNT or ABC or big matchups. They were games I loved. The NFL offers 10 games that matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s preseason or midseason, produce an opening feeling in every game of the year.
An NFL fan has his jersey, face painted and stands and cheers for over three hours. What they experience and want out of the gaming experience is very important to us. I love that pressure of putting in 10 opening nights and serving the expectation of the fan that comes to an NFL game.
I never thought of it that way, but it’s really interesting. Can you explain what your job entails?
The presentation of the game creates the atmosphere for our fans. We create essentially everything other than the games on the football field. It is the talent or celebrity on the pre-game field, cheerleaders, the mascot, the music, the call to action asking the fans to get up and be strong, corporate functions on the video board, show of means, promotions on the field, etc. It’s creating that fun element of game day, but we’re also the intensity that brings the stadium to life.
How many changes do you make from year to year in your game day production?
It’s something we’re really proud of here at Texans. We are not just evolving our show year by year. It evolves game by game. Our season ticket members are very important to us, and we don’t want the show they see in Week 1 to be the exact same thing they see in the last game of the season. For example, one partner will have one function for half of the season and a second for the other half, and we will rotate those throughout the game. We do this through multiple partnerships to create variety for our season ticket members. Here is our challenge. We want our fans to enjoy themselves and feel like they have a different experience every time they come to a game.
OK, so how about game day?
She’s crazy. It’s production meetings, rehearsals, pre-game show, the game itself and a post-game show. On a typical Sunday when the game starts at noon CT, I will arrive at the stadium around 6 a.m. Our first production meeting is at 7 a.m. and we go to rehearsals from 8 a.m. at 9:45 a.m. open doors. Once that happens, I’m in the press box making sure everything is on time and we’re ready to do our pre-game show, which goes right into producing the game. It is ensuring that the signals are happening when the team goes out on the field, the talent is where it should be and that the day of the game comes to life. I’m in the press box and I talk a lot. We don’t rest until long after the zeroes are on the clock because we’re going right into our postgame show. That’s about a 12-hour day.
Once the headphones turn on, it’s hard to even take a bathroom break. They are constantly cuing the DJ with music or other features. I am intentionally very dehydrated on game days. It’s non-stop communication, directing the game and making sure everyone is where they need to be.
Were you involved in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium?
I worked Super Bowl LI in Houston, Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis and Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida. The Houston game was my first experience working the Super Bowl, and my role was presenting trophies. I had to make sure some players got to the podium, and that was the game when Julian Edelman had that crazy catch. So I walk up to No. 11 and I say, “Hey, congratulations but I need to get on the red carpet.” It was a small part in the Super Bowl experience, but really fun.
My role has grown in Minnesota and Tampa taking on more responsibility with the pre-game show. In Tampa, I worked the pre-game show and the trophy presentation. My goal moving up this career ladder is to direct and produce a Super Bowl in its entirety. I like Tim Tubito, the director of the presentation of events and content of the NFL, but it comes after his work.
What great experiences. What would you say is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging is also the most important. What makes Houston unique is how diverse it is. It is important for us to reflect that in the stadium and as a franchise, and we want to accommodate all our fans. We do this through music and video-boards and features on the field, all of which are going to hit different genres and demographics. It is important and a high priority for us.
The other is the evolving game presentation. This is true for any game producer. We want to evolve with the times and be the first to do something no one else has done. Super Bowl LIV in Miami first introduced mixed reality, in which virtual and physical environments are combined. We loved it and knew we wanted to incorporate this into our shows, so last year, we were the first to fully integrate mixed reality from the beginning of the game to the end. We’re definitely ahead of the curve in cutting-edge technology, but we were really excited to embrace that.
Mixed reality is part of our kickoff video, with an animated bull that then goes out onto the field, blows fire and activates music that sets the mood in the stadium. We also have a feature where there is an entire shopping cart race that happens in real time over the field, and there are calls to action that happen with mixed reality. When the Texans score, the word “touchdown” comes on the field on the video board and the fire goes out before going into our touchdown sequence. We’ve taken mixed reality and used it across multiple platforms for our show.
That sounds amazing. I want to pivot to mentorship. Do you have any mentors who have helped you in your career?
I was really lucky to have two very supportive parents. My father died a few years ago, but he always supported my dream. When I told them I wanted to work for the Spurs, they didn’t bat an eye. They believed in me every step of the way, and it means so much. I’m from Laredo, Texas, which is on the border of Mexico. People in Laredo don’t normally have the fun experiences I received, and big goals can be pipe dreams for some. But having the support of my parents made me realize that the only thing stopping me from achieving anything was myself. It has really been a driver in my career. Support drives me to be better, to climb the career ladder and to be an example for others.
Professionally, it’s Don Costante, my first boss with Spurs. When he offered me that full-time position, it was an assistant position, but he didn’t treat me like that. I was his right woman. I went to every meeting with him. He knew everything he knew. The way he saw it was if he wasn’t there, he needed to know the answer to any question the company or our team president might have. He gave me the opportunity to officiate my first basketball game in my first year with the Spurs. I directed a play in March 2004, and there was no doubt in his mind that he could do it. I was the first person he had ever managed to allow to direct a game without him being by his side. It was the support and trust from him very early in my career that gave me the confidence to know that I could direct a live game. He was very instrumental in teaching me everything I needed to know, but also that I deserved this opportunity.
What’s next in terms of things you want to accomplish?
I want to continue to evolve our show first and foremost. It is very important to me that the Texans are known as the best in the class, not only in the NFL but in all sports. I think we have taken that first step in introducing mixed reality, but we want to do more.
The big dream is to produce a Super Bowl. The NFL is the big show. It’s the best practice in live event production, so if I produce a Super Bowl, I could say I produced one of the most respected live shows in sports, if not the most, because it makes a global impact.
Finally, what are you most proud of in your career?
I’m a girl from Laredo, Texas, so representation is really important to me. What I’m proud of is that I’m not only a woman in a male-dominated industry – which industry is live game production and production in general – but now I’m the only Hispanic woman who is a casting director of play in the NFL.
I hope there are girls or women who look like me, read this article and think, “If she can do this, I can do it,” because they can.