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EDUCATION: Trinity College (B.A.) / New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business (MBA)
For Butera, now in his second full year as commissioner, it was a familiar scene. He spent much of his career dusting off brands by unlocking their hidden values. This time there was the added allure of working on a product for which he admits a certain fanaticism. "Football is my sport. I've followed it from childhood and I played it in school. It's literally been a lifetime passion."
Having made a name for himself by lifting the fortunes of major brands like Tropicana and Foxwoods, Butera arrived at the AFL ready to apply his finely honed business operations and marketing instincts. He did what has made him successful in other ventures. He focused on the positives and used them as building blocks to the future. And there is a lot to build on at the AFL.
Besides owner commitment and staff passion, Butera thinks he's inherited compelling inventory. For one, America's love of football seems almost insatiable. No less than 86 percent of US TV households tuned into the pro sport last Fall; and last summer, the Arena League experienced a respectable growth spurt. Game attendance popped by 3.5 percent over the previous year. The AFL Championship Game at Stockton Arena in San Jose, California attracted a near sellout crowd. TV viewership of the arena game also rose and the League widely increased its social media footprint in 2015.
The challenge for year one, Butera claims, was stability, and it has been largely achieved. For year two the goal is brand building and growth positioning. Butera doesn't think that the League needs to retool the game product. The issue is to build a greater following for it. There is a perceived performance gap in the sport - no games from February to August - and Butera is intent on filling it with the high energy, fan-friendly style of football that is played in his League.
Butera describes AF as the ultimate combination American favorites. America's favorite sport: football. America's favorite season: summer. America's favorite speed: fast. American's favorite price: family. The challenge is to get more exposure for the game and its people. "We need to show people how much fun they can have by following Arena Football."
Butera succeeded in getting ESPN and CBS Sports to buy in with more plentiful game broadcasts. For the first time in 2016, there will be a game of week. The arrangements help get more eyeballs on the game which in turn helps attract strong promotion partnerships with companies who want to give the smart phone generation - millennials and moms, especially - a pulse-raising in-arena experience and ways to engage through mobile technologies and social media.
Butera has a few things going for him as he works to grow the Arena Football League. For one, he is a skilled financial executive who has a knack for squeezing a lot of value out of every dollar. For another, as one of his owners said, "He is very solid, steady and talented ... an excellent guy with great business instincts."Plus, Butera is no stranger to sports marketing. At his last business stop, he helped Foxwoods Resort enter into successful marketing partnerships with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, New York Rangers, New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden.
Butera possesses a rare combination of skills that have helped him revitalize brands.
"He's an investment banker at heart, a great transaction guy," says Tom Benninger, former global head of restructuring at UBS Investment Bank. "But in the last few years, I think he's really developed his operational skills. It's pretty unique to have someone be really good at both."
This rare blend of talents helped him as CEO of Tropicana Entertainment (2008-11) where he managed to revitalize the iconic brand through strategic capital investments, improved regulatory relations, and highly targeted marketing. All the while, he kept the reins on expenses.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Butera began his financial career in investment banking, spending 20 years with UBS Investment Bank, Credit Suisse First Boston, Smith Barney and Bear Stearns & Co. During that time, he concentrated on analysis and client service for companies in real estate, lodging, gaming and leisure industries.
He earned his MBA at New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business. He recently served as a member of the Board of Fellows at his alma mater Trinity College.