Power Hitter Profile: Jodi Markley — Sports Executive, Network Launch Veteran, Globe Trotter

As senior vice president of operations at ESPN, Jodi Markley oversees four departments that encompass about 850 people, from studio directors and editors to commercial coordinators and operations producers. The bulk of her career, however, has been spent on the road, coordinating the launch of 35 ESPN networks worldwide. A lover of languages and mother of three, Markley has spent her career helping to build the ESPN brand around the globe and now oversees the operations that ensure ESPN lives up to the reputation it has built as the worldwide leader in sports.

Film, Freelance, Sports
Growing up in Miami, Markley was always athletic, competing on both gymnastics and soccer teams in school. She loved sports but never set her sights specifically on working in the business; film and television were her first passions. After graduating from the University of South Florida in 1986 with a BA in communications, she moved to Connecticut to work for Motion Inc., a film company for which she co-produced documentaries. At that time, Bristol, CT-based ESPN owned several mobile-production units and was contracted to facilitate games out of the Hartford Civic Center.

“I got a call asking if I wanted to do some freelance work at the Civic Center, and that turned into almost every night and weekend,” Markley says. “Eventually, ESPN asked if I wanted to freelance in-house on the weekends, too, when I wasn’t at the Civic Center.”

Hitting the Road
When ESPN turned its sights internationally, looking to extend its business worldwide, Markley joined the company full-time. She began her ESPN career in 1989 in broadcast-operations control but quickly rose through the ranks on the ESPN International team to VP, international production and operations. In that role, she worked with a team to launch ESPN networks outside the U.S. With her principal focus on production and operations, she determined the facilities, signal flow, distribution, and on-air presentation in each country into which ESPN moved.

“I worked on the launch of 35 networks around the world, and 13 different versions of SportsCenter,” she says. “I traveled a lot.”

“A lot” is an understatement. ESPN had been syndicating its programming internationally since before the launch of ESPN2, but true brand extension required building full networks in those syndicated countries. To that end, Markley made multiple trips to places from Argentina to Singapore, Brazil to London. Fluent in Spanish, comfortable understanding most romance languages, and currently learning Russian, she has been able to translate her language-learning hobby into a growing career.

“ESPN wasn’t a global brand from the beginning,” Markley says. “I think, as an American, you grow up very familiar with ESPN, but, in the early 1990s, when we were going into new markets, more often than not, they had never heard of ESPN. Half the time, I was spelling out the letters of the network, trying to explain what our mission was and what we wanted to bring was an uphill challenge.”

Turning-Point Moments
“It takes time to establish a relationship with fans, and sometimes you have a moment that makes it all come together,” Markley says. “I remember, a few years after we launched in Brazil, I was in Curitiba for a Formula 3 race. At the airport, I saw a teenage boy wearing an ESPN T-shirt. That was one of those moments that I don’t know why it was so special, but it was wonderful. Years before that, I had to spell E-S-P-N to people, and here was a kid in Brazil wearing an ESPN T-shirt. That was very special.”

Coordinating the Home Life
Still, all the international travel was a bit taxing on Markley and her husband of 21 years, Paul Rochford. Before each trip, she would try to engage her three children — Samantha, now 19; Alison, 17; and Jacob, 13 — to help them understand where she was headed next.

“I’d show them a map of where I was going and always try to bring them something back,” she says. “Traveling so much, I tried to make the trips as short as possible. I would do an overnight flight to Latin America, get off the plane, go to meetings, and try to fly back that night or the next day so that I could spend the least amount of time away from my children.”

A Smooth Management Transition
During her 18 years working on the international business, Markley was also asked to take on management responsibilities of various Bristol-based groups, which prepared her for her current role, SVP of operations. For three years, she managed event and commercial operations and, for another three years, headed up ESPN Classic and ESPN News, so, when in 2007 she was made responsible for all operations departments that produce content for ESPN platforms, she was certainly prepared.

She has four operational areas under her oversight. Event Operations is responsible for all the mobile-production trucks, equipment, and freelance crews required to produce the 3,000-plus events that ESPN airs each year. Production Operations handles all in-house technical operating positions, including camera and master-control operators, editors, and network control. Commercial Operations coordinates with ad sales and media to acquire and schedule all of the commercials for the 18 24/7 networks that emanate from Bristol. Finally, Studio Directing covers all the directors, associate directors, and stage managers under the ESPN umbrella.

“What I love most about my job is, every day is different,” Markley says. “This is such a dynamic environment. ESPN is a very proactive company; we’re always trying to be better every day, through new technology and new enhancements to bring the sports story to fans. I work with incredibly smart people, and every day is challenging and invigorating.”

A Family of Leaders
Throughout her career, Markley has had some powerful mentors, including sports-television legend Geoff Mason and ESPN EVP/CFO Christine Driessen, but she counts her strongest role models among her family members.

“Back during a time when you didn’t do these things, my grandmother launched her own business and raised three sons by herself,” Markley says. “She didn’t take no for an answer. She really showed me how important it is to stand on your own two feet.”

Markley also counts her three sisters among her role models, as well as her mother, whom she lost to cancer seven years ago. “In the same conversation, my mom could give me advice on raising my kids and on putting together a production deal for our facility in Israel.”

In fact, her mother’s illness pushed Markley to become a board member of the Connecticut chapter of the American Red Cross. “When my mom was diagnosed and I kept seeing bags of platelets brought in, I wondered where those came from. I’m now a regular platelet and plasma donor, and I have always been very interested in the work of the Red Cross, so, this past year, I joined the board.”

Outside the Office
When she’s not launching a network at ESPN, spending time with her family, learning a new language, or working for the Red Cross, Markley steadies herself by practicing yoga regularly. “I love yoga,” she says. “It’s very calming for me.”

A 2000 graduate of the Simmons School of Executive Graduate Studies and a member of Women in Cable Television (WICT) and the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM), Markley was responsible for much of the work that has made ESPN the worldwide leader in sports. By balancing a full family life with a wildly successful career, she is following in the footsteps of her role models. During 20-plus years in the business, she has established herself as one of the most influential — and experienced — women working behind the scenes in sports television.

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