A Conversation with Don Smolenski & Aileen Dagrosa at WSBS

The inaugural Wharton Sports Business Summit’s opened up with a bang, featuring a morning keynote with high-level executives from Philadelphia’s most beloved team—the Philadelphia Eagles. Joe Favorito, a professor at Columbia University and longtime veteran of the sports industry sat down with Don Smolenksi, President of the Eagles, and Aileen Dagrosa, SVP and General Counsel for the Eagles, to discuss the essential business practices of a successful sports franchise. Smolenski said that the foundation of a sound team is a strong culture. “If we carry ourselves with the same pride and conviction at 0-16 or 16-0, in the long run, we’re going to be successful.”


Dagrosa emphasized that like in any successful business, the product is the first priority. She believes that if the football on the field is not the best quality it can be, then the business side of the franchise will suffer. “In order to thrive, football has to come before business,” she said. 


Another element that both believe has lead to the team’s prosperity is their engagement with the fans. “With the continued growth of social media, we believe it’s a tool we must use connect closer with our fans,” Smolenski said, “When Jake Elliott made the 61 yard field goal to win the game, we asked fans to send us videos of their reactions, which we shared across our social media platforms.” One of these reaction videos was of Elliott’s parents who responded emotionally to their son’s otherworldly feat. 


The organization understands its responsibility to use its platform to affect change. The Eagles have made a large push to become environmentally friendly. Lincoln Financial Field’s 11,108 solar panels and 14 wind turbines power 100% of the team’s operations, and more than 99 percent of the waste generated in the stadium is diverted from landfills. Players like Eagles defensive end Chris Long also understand their responsibility to help others. Long is donating his entire 2017 salary to provide educational opportunities for low-income students all over the country. 


The panelists agreed, the most important aspect to breaking into the sports industry and having continued success is building strong connections. “I think Philadelphia’s teams are very good at connecting with each other,” Dagrosa said, “I have close relationships with lawyers for the other teams.” Smolenski believes that strong relationships and communication go hand in hand. “Sports is a people business, it’s all about building strong relationships,” he said. “We, on the business side, have a strong relationship with football operations, and I can say that within the Eagles there is transparency on both sides, and it’s necessary to win.” 


Jacob Singer
USBC Journal Writer
Class of 2021