Ever since World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. announced
it was going to start a new professional football league, some critics
suggested that the XFL would be a football version of the scripted
sports-entertainment product that the WWF is known for. In their
efforts to explain the truth – that the XFL would be 100 percent
competitive sport – league officials have been asking the media
to hold off on hasty judgments and wait to see the caliber of "football
people" who sign on to get the league ready for its February 3,
That is a bold statement. One that if not backed up by actions could
serve as a point of embarrassment. But on June 13, the XFL named
Ken Valdiserri as the vice president and general manager of the
Chicago franchise, and avoided its first public relations nightmare.
The offer to join the XFL "was very exciting to me and I was convinced
that this league would have stability because of its television
contracts with NBC and UPN. I’m excited about working with the best
marketer in all of sports, Vince McMahon," said Ken, a well-respected
man who has been involved with the professional sports industry
for two decades. In addition, the XFL officially announced that
Chicago would be one of the eight cities the XFL would call home
during its inaugural campaign.
This Notre Dame graduate began his career in the industry as an
assistant in the Major League Baseball Commissioner’s office. He
then moved on to become the assistant director of public relations
for the Chicago White Sox. In 1983, Ken made the jump to the gridiron
when he accepted a position as the director of public relations
for the Chicago Bears – an organization he remained with in a number
of different roles for the next 16 years.
Valdiserri’s career with the "Monsters of the Midway" got off to
an amazing start, as the Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX in 1985.
During that dominating season, he was involved in all facets of
the team’s PR, which meant coordinating all local and national media
up through the Super Bowl victory. Ken also served as the production
coordinator for the team’s unforgettable "Super Bowl Shuffle" music
video! He looks back on this time with happiness and admits he will
always be thankful to his good friend Mike Ditka for bringing a
championship to Chicago.
Aside from the head coach, each and every member of the Chicago
Bears organization – assistant coaches, administration and players
– played a role in that 18-1 season. But perhaps none was more vital
to the team’s success than Walter Payton. When the discussion turns
to the Hall of Fame running back, Valdiserri smiles, looks away
and nods his head as if visualizing Sweetness breaking one off.
His reaction makes it obvious that he is not fully over the unfortunate
passing of Payton. He remembers the immortal 34 as "a tremendous
runner – easily the best football player I’ve ever had the pleasure
of watching. But he was just a wonderful, wonderful man."
Valdiserri is anxious about his future with the XFL and knows that
building from the ground up, he has the opportunity to field a team
full of men as respectable as Payton. "The chance to be a part of
a start-up company was one I couldn’t pass up," said Ken. "I love
the infrastructure and business model they established already –
especially the perform for pay model with the players. And I think
the way the game is going to be presented to the viewer – with cameras
in the locker room and mics on the players and coaches – will be
Despite all of these advantages, Valdiserri knows he is going to
be challenged in his quest to build a successful franchise for the
XFL. Aside from battling the skeptics, the Chicago team will be
battling for the fans’ entertainment dollar, as it is located in
a market with seven other teams. Ken knows it will take more than
a team with a winning record to overcome this and already has a
strategy. "Success for us starts out by building a young and energetic
staff," Valdiserri said. "We have to provide them with the all the
resources they’ll need and make sure we treat them as good as possible
because they are assets. From there, we have to get our name, our
brand out to the community. We’ll do this by making sure our coaches
and players are at charity functions and everything else going on
in the city."
If Valdiserri is looking for a coach the city can relate to, there
is one man whose name keeps appearing in e-mails sent to the XFL
offices – Mike Ditka. There is no doubt that Iron Mike would help
create great awareness for the Chicago franchise, but Ken doesn’t
see the two coming together. "His name is one that’s got to be on
the radar screen, but Mike has made it clear that he is done coaching
football. That being said, I am working closely with Mike Keller
(XFL Vice President of Football Operations) to sift through a number
of extremely qualified candidates."
Although he’ll have his hands full setting up the Chicago franchise,
it is likely Valdiserri will be called upon to consult the television
production committee for the XFL. In 1989, Ken was named the director
of marketing and broadcasting for the Bears, a position he held
for the next 11 years. During this time he helped develop three
weekly television shows for the team as well as a radio program.
Valdiserri readily acknowledges that between the WWF and NBC, television
production lies in great hands. He is confident though, that if
called upon he would add some insight.
"I think I can offer
a perspective that is real and captures the true essence of what
football is all about," Ken says. Then as if shifting from XFL executive
to super fan, he explains "the beauty of football is that it’s once
a week. I’ve always enjoyed the tension that builds up to each game
during the week. Then that moment of glory or the moment of defeat
when the game is decided and how you immediately have to shake it
off and start preparing for the next game. Football is a sea of
emotions. In many degrees, it reflects life."
Valdiserri strongly believes that the television production is going
to have to capture this series of emotional peaks and valleys. The
viewer must get a true sense of what it feels like to win and lose.
Ken certainly hopes Chicago fans will get to experience more winning
than losing, but knows the journey towards on-field success is a
long one. He is a man who is aware, yet anxious, about the challenge
that lies ahead – and he’s ready to get to work.