Michelle Difilippantonio




Michelle Difilippantonio
Vice President of Integrated Marketing

By Lucas Swineford

Sports-crazed, single men of the world, take note. Michelle Difilippantonio, the XFL’s Vice President of Integrated Marketing, could match your definition of the perfect woman.

After she is done breaking down the NBA’s Western Conference Finals, get ready to hear her thoughts on Eric Lindros’ future with the Philadelphia Flyers. Looking for tickets to the first game of the Lakers/Pacers series? Let Michelle make a phone call. Throw out that bill for ESPN The Magazine - Michelle will get it sent to you for free.

A Philadelphia native and lifelong sports enthusiast; she has made sports her life. Michelle wanted to get into the industry immediately after finishing her graduate work at the Harvard School of Business, but found sports was a tough field to break into. On the advice of a friend, she went to work for Fortune 500 companies instead. After spending a few years with Nabisco and Johnson & Johnson, she received the phone call she had been waiting for - from the National Basketball Association. The NBA pursued Michelle to join their International department and she jumped at the opportunity.

“The NBA is a tremendous organization to work for and I learned so much about what it meant to be a good marketer and a good PR [public relations] ambassador for the league, the teams and the players,” Michelle said. “But I came to the XFL to do marketing that the NBA, which takes a somewhat conservative approach, would not typically do.”

Now that she’s a member of the XFL start-up team, you will probably never hear Difilippantonio say the word “conservative” again. As the person responsible for making sure the XFL’s sponsorship sales, new media, marketing and licensing all take an integrated approach, she knows that the professional, yet open-minded attitude of the this league will prove to be a huge benefit.

“We have to make sure that everything we do is a little bit different from everybody else, even down to our marketing strategy. When other sports properties want to drive awareness for an event they generally have a traditional marketing plan - they’ll run television tune-in spots, a Sports Illustrated ad. Maybe that means we run an ad in ESPN rather than Sports Illustrated or put posters up in the men’s room in sports bars.”

As is evident from the bar scenario, Michelle wants to make sure the XFL works hard to retain the young fan base that the WWF brand name will attract, an area she feels the NBA should focus on as well. With about 10 young stars who the 12-24 year old male can relate to, Difilippantonio knows the league could grab the younger generation’s attention by using some guerilla marketing tactics of their own.

“The next Michael Jordan is not coming in the next five years," Michelle says. "If I had free reign at the NBA, I would have covered the streets with postcards of Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Jason Williams, and talked them up as the new generation of young superstars who you can’t miss. It’s not going to be one player, but a group who are the immediate future of the league.”

XFL Vice President of Administration, Billy Hicks, himself a veteran of several professional sports leagues, says with respect to Michelle, "She has made an immediate impact with the XFL. Her drive, intelligence and experience are readily apparent. What one realizes after working with Michelle for awhile is that she has a complete grasp of the sports industry as a whole and how all of the elements come together. She is strategically situated to help the XFL prosper as a league."

Although Michelle feels that traditional sports properties - most notably the NBA - have recently made great progress toward reaching out to a younger audience through avenues such as the Internet, she knows they still have a way to go. In an era where young adults have easy access to the Internet, 500 channel televisions, WebTV and other technologies, Difilippantonio knows the leagues can’t continue to rely on traditional mass marketing for the bulk of their promotion. “There’s going to a point where they’re [young audience] not going to follow sports just because their parents do. You can’t afford to forget about them now,” said Michelle.

With the XFL, Michelle will be able to plaster the world with postcards and cover the Internet with information if she chooses. That freedom is one of the things she enjoys about her new position.

Another is the fact that the XFL is a start-up. While those two words scare some people off, especially when they refer to a professional football league, Difilippantonio is drawn to them. She relishes the fact that the XFL office is still relatively small in number because she is able to get involved in every aspect of the league. She is able to have input in areas that she wouldn’t have if she worked for any other sports property. Feeling that the team of Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersol more than offset any questions as to the validity of the league, Michelle is looking to reap the benefits of getting in on the ground floor.

“I really feel this is the biggest sports announcement in the last 50 years and I wanted to be a part of something huge. In [Harvard] Business School, we were always told that we would eventually want to open our own businesses. For me, this is that chance. Except it’s not my money!”

As public opinion continues to shift in favor of the success of the XFL, Michelle is confident that this football venture will prove to pay richer dividends than her previous most memorable experience with the sport.

“It went against everything I believed in,” Michelle said of the time her then-boyfriend proposed during the third quarter of a Dallas Cowboy-Philadelphia Eagle game. Aside from instantly becoming the unwilling center of attention, the life long Eagle fan had to experience one of life’s unforgettable moments in Texas Stadium; that’s enemy territory!

“I knew it couldn’t work because he was a Cowboys fan, but I had to say yes at the time because I had everybody in the section pressuring me to accept.”

She eventually broke off the engagement.

Sports-crazed, single men of the world, take note. Just because something seems like a good idea to you does not mean it is a good idea.

Part of the

Network, Dedicated To All Fans of the XFL