Growing up, Alec Scheiner (SFS ’92, LAW ’97), aspired to be a diplomat. Scheiner specifically focused his undergraduate studies on Latin America, where he aspired to work after graduation. After spending a year in El Salvador, Scheiner obtained a law degree, hoping to work as a diplomat or in foreign affairs. But when a request for assistance with a sports deal at his law firm came up, Scheiner altered his career path to become one of the most powerful executives in the sports industry.
In 2004, Scheiner was hired by the Dallas Cowboys to serve as general counsel after having spent several years doing outside law work for the organization. Once inside the organization, he climbed the ranks to become vice president. As the Cowboys are run by owner Jerry Jones Sr. and his family, Scheiner rose to become the highest-ranking non-family member in the Cowboys organization. In 2012, Scheiner became president of the Cleveland Browns, a position he held for four years. Despite the Browns not winning more than seven games in a single season during Scheiner’s tenure with the team, Scheiner and his leadership team transformed the Browns into one of the fastest-growing businesses in the NFL. Today, Scheiner works for RedBird Capital Partners, a private equity firm, where he helps to lead the sports practice. The Hoya spoke to Scheiner about his Georgetown University experience and his career in NFL front offices.
Why did you choose to attend Georgetown?
I wanted to be a diplomat based in Latin America, so I had a specific goal, and the School of Foreign Service was by far the best fit for me. I fell in love with it the minute I saw it. It was easy for me.
Why did you decide to also attend [the Georgetown University Law Center]?
I spent over a year in El Salvador after I graduated from Georgetown, and my goal was to do a joint program — kind of an MPA with a law degree — and Georgetown offered to pair up the law degree with that, and so that’s how I decided to go to Georgetown Law. It was to do the joint program, which I did not because I went to Georgetown Law and I realized that was enough for me.
How could Georgetown improve its football program? As someone involved with sports revenue, how could Georgetown make its sports more profitable?
When I was at Georgetown, I had a bunch of friends on the football team. My instinct is, it comes down to your revenue base. College football is not so different from pro football at this point, with media revenues, the game revenues, etc. I’m not sure a school of Georgetown’s size can ever really compete in that sport. Every sport has the same financial leverage: media revenues and then what I call local revenues — sponsorships, tickets, suites — and then you have to balance the cost with that. Collegiate sports, it’s a little different because you don’t pay the players, but you still need a pretty significant revenue base, and it comes down to those categories. I love Georgetown because it’s not Alabama, it’s not Kentucky, and that makes it challenging. One thing I would think about that I don’t know is if you played in a different arena, what that would do to economics. Playing in an NBA arena has its positives for sure, but a program like this, having a home campus and a home gym, I don’t know what that would do to economics. That’s the one thing I would think about. But I know it’s expensive, and I know there’s not a ton of land there either.
Moving into your professional career, how did you end up getting your job with the Cowboys? What did your path look like out of law school?
I went to a big law firm in Washington, D.C., and I pictured myself doing Latin American project finance and private equity work. I loved it, and the guy down the hall from me happened to be working on the sports deal, and he knew I liked sports. He asked me if I could help. I did, and then I became known as the guy who could help with sports deals and transactions. We did all of the outside work for the Cowboys, and a partner had me help with those deals, a guy named Dick Cass, and he then went on to become president of the Baltimore Ravens. I just did a lot of Cowboys work, and then at some point, they decided they wanted a lawyer in-house, and I was the obvious phone call for them.
What was the dynamic of being the highest-ranking non-family member at the Cowboys organization?
When I got to the Cowboys, it was like a pivotal point in their business industry. We were about to have a vote on the new stadium, the economics of football was changing, Jerry Jones was bringing almost all of the businesses in-house — including merchandising and media rights — and so for me, it was just like limitless opportunity that they gave me, and I was really one of the first outsiders, non-family members to be part of the organization. I think the best thing about it for me was they didn’t ever silo me as an attorney or anything like that. Whatever I could help with, they let me help with. I understood that I worked for a family, and it was always going to be a family business. It’s different than if you go work for IBM or Coca-Cola.
I know you worked with Jerry Jones Jr. (COL ’92), a fellow Georgetown [graduate] who serves as chief [sales and] marketing officer and executive vice president of the Cowboys. Did you ever connect about being Georgetown [graduates]?
Jerry and I, it’s so interesting, we played pickup basketball together, intramural basketball together. We were the same class. We ran into each other all the time, and then when I did work for the Cowboys, I did not tell him that I was the guy behind the scenes doing a lot of the work. And when I went down to Dallas to interview, he realized it was me, and I do think it gave him a lot of comfort that he knew me and we both went to Georgetown.
How did the Cowboys manage to build AT&T Stadium during the Great Recession?
It wasn’t easy. The main thing is we sold enough that we had the right collateral to get the loans. When you build one of those stadiums, you usually have public money, there’s some league money and then you issue debt. And we did all three of those things. The big difference for us was we had such good success selling our personal seat licenses and our suites that, even during the recession, we were able to hold on to our debt, and the financing didn’t go away.
Why are the Cowboys the highest-revenue team in the NFL?
Jerry Jones had a philosophy which I’ve held onto my whole career, and I think he’s right, which is that the value of a sports enterprise is in the intellectual property of that franchise. He used to say that the most important thing the Cowboys owned was the star. When you think of it that way, there’s almost limitless businesses you can create off of that. Whereas some teams would say, “We don’t do merchandising,” and “Let someone else do merchandising,” the Cowboys said, “We own our logos. We should do merchandising. We should make our T-shirts. We should make our jerseys. We should make our hats.” The more of that you do, and you can do it with a gym, you can have a Cowboys gym, or you can have it with your food and beverage, or whatever it is, the more of that you do, the more revenues you’ll create. You’ll have some more risk, but over time, if you understand what your intellectual property stands for more than anyone else, then you’ll be able to drive more revenues off of it. That’s really why. It’s a great market, it’s a great brand, but anyone else isn’t looking at it the way the Jones family did.
How did you end up landing the job as president of the Cleveland Browns?
I guess it was just because we’d done such good work with the Cowboys on the new stadium, and there weren’t that many people who had that kind of success on the revenue and business side. When the new owner [Jimmy Haslam] came to Cleveland, they were looking for people who had been through it before.
What are you most proud of having accomplished in Cleveland?
We transformed the business. When we got to the Browns, they were one of the worst businesses in the NFL, and four years later, I think we were the second-fastest growing business in the NFL, only behind the [San Francisco] 49ers who had the new stadium and had been to multiple conference championships, and we were winning four games a year. I took a ton of pride in that, and we hired great people. We didn’t have one person say, “I don’t want to go to Cleveland.” We transformed the business operation, so I was proud of that. Part of that was we renovated the stadium in two years during the course of two winters. We kept playing at the stadium. We invested $150 million in — it was some private money and some public money — and we transformed the stadium for a really good price. That enabled us to really enhance the business and the profile of the team, and it could’ve taken 20 years to pull something like that off.
What were the greatest challenges at the Browns?
I would not look at it as challenges. I will say that when you work at the Dallas Cowboys, everyone is calling you. Your suiteholders, your seatholders, your sponsors, they call you. In Cleveland, you have to be more proactive, especially on a national basis. So the Cowboys had a bunch of incoming national companies, like Pepsi, Coke, Budweiser or Miller. In Cleveland, you had to do that work, but ultimately it was just as fulfilling, and I didn’t see it as a challenge. It was just maybe a little more work, but it was very achievable.
Why did you end up moving to private equity, and how does it compare to working in the NFL?
I always thought that, with the right capital, there’s a lot to do in sports. The tricky thing about sports for anyone who wants to get into it is there’s very high barriers to entry. If you think of the professional teams in the country, they don’t change hands very often, and typically they’re bought by individuals who have billions and billions of dollars. What drew me to private equity and Redbird is [Redbird Founder and Managing Partner] Gerry Cardinale has had experience in investing in sports even though we’re kind of an outside party, and I always felt with my operational experience, we could actually make a lot of headway in the sports ecosystem. So far, hopefully, that’s been proven right, and you feel more ownership of it, whereas when you work for a team, you’re more an operator. I look at this more like an investor and an owner.
How did you become the primary architect behind the joint venture Legends? What does Legends do?
When we were building Cowboys stadium, Gerry Cardinale, who was at Goldman Sachs, approached us and he was with the New York Yankees. He had built a network with the New York Yankees years before, and his idea was the Yankees and Cowboys were building stadiums at the exact same time, could we contribute some lines of business into a new company and then build from there? So we contributed our food and beverage business, both the Yankees and Cowboys did, and then we built a company that helped other teams and pro sports monetize their stadiums. And ultimately, Legends helped to sell personal seat licenses to the San Francisco 49ers, the new Las Vegas stadium, the Rams in Los Angeles, and our model was: We’ve done this, we’ve been through it, we can help you do it. It turned out to be a great model. Legends is a great company today, a big company that started just with an idea, and now it’s well over a billion-dollar company.