FFG: Hannah Gordon

The San Francisco 49ers made a major hire this year, a person with a Stanford pedigree and widespread connections throughout the league.

Her name is Hannah Gordon and she’s the 49ers Director of Legal Affairs.  She’s also our new Featured Football Girl.

Melissa Jacobs:  Before we get to how you got your job, can you describe some of the duties of an NFL team’s legal department?

Hannah Gordon:  The main thing for us is supporting our revenue groups.  That would be our sponsorship, marketing and ticketing folks and helping them negotiate their sponsorship or vendor deals. They are doing the main part of getting to the number, but you have to get that all down on paper and agree to what are we really saying here. There are always arguments over interpretation.

The second part is our new stadium project. That involves a lot of different legal areas whether it’s stadium finance, ticketing, or naming rights. I do still help out a little bit on the football side, especially if they have a question when they’re doing a player contract.  I used to work at the league office and do player contracts all the time, so they might ask me to take a look at it before they finish it.  And also because I was at the league office, I am sort of their liaison for league rules.  Finally, like any business you have employment issues and random rules that we need to keep track of.  I think that would fall under what people think of as the boring part.

MJ:  How did you go from graduating Stanford Law in 2008 to assuming this highly coveted position in such a short period of time?

HG:  A lot of it was very good fortune.  I did some football-related work while I was in law school, which I think helped a lot because I worked at the Raiders after my first year.  I was a summer associate at a firm (Latham and Watkins LLP) that was outside counsel for the league’s Management Counsel my second year. While I was in school I was also working for one of the sports law professors who was a lawyer in Canada.

When I left school I went to Latham and worked for a big law firm until the massive recession in 2009.  They laid off 10% of their force, and about 200 associates, including me, which was the best thing that could have happened.  I knew I wanted to do something else but I don’t think I was ready to leave so it gave me the opportunity to say ‘ok, let me do what I really want to do’ and just wait until I find a job in football I really like.  I was really fortunate that I saw a posting for a job at the NFL league office, applied for it and got it.  I had a great two years there. It was a really positive experience where you get to see how things work at different clubs.

I was just lucky that I was in the right place at the right time.  Our COO here at the 49ers, Paraag Marathe, also a Stanford grad, and I had crossed paths before I ended up at the league office, and then I continued to work with him on occasion. He called me one day and asked if I wanted to interview here and that’s how I got the job.

MJ:  What was interning for Amy Trask [CEO of the Raiders] like, and what is the best advice she gave you?

HG:  It was phenomenal because here she is the most powerful woman in sports and is incredibly generous with her time, especially to interns because she herself was an intern.  She’s a really nice person but also someone who earned her respect because she’s so smart and really thinks through problems.

I think the best advice she gave was if you make mistakes you need to own up to them. Just say ‘I made a mistake. Here’s what it is. How do we fix it?’  The worst thing you can do is try to cover up a mistake. I think this is great advice because when you look at the kind of people you want to hire or work with the most important thing is integrity.

MJ:  Were you a 49ers fan growing up?

HG:  No, ironically I didn’t start watching football until I was 18.  I didn’t grow up in a family that watched football.  I was raised in Oakland but grew up before the Raiders came back from Los Angeles. So when I went to UCLA I became a huge college football fan and then, because the Raiders came back from Oakland, I ended up interning there and becoming a Raiders fan. Then at the league office, I treated all 32 the same. But now I bleed red and gold, as of June 20th.

MJ:  The 49ers are 9-1 since hiring you.  How much credit would you like to claim?

HG:  I think Jim Harbaugh may have something to say.  We did both arrive here at about the same time but I think it’s pretty clear who’s really responsible (laughing).   I feel so lucky because there’s such a strong Stanford/49ers connection.  There’s been a big shift here with our new coaching staff, our GM (Trent Baalke) is in a new role, our executive team, a lot of them are in new roles.  I feel like we’re headed in the right direction, and I feel incredibly fortunate to work with so many great people.  It’s a really fun time to be here.

Gordon (far right) at a recent Women in Sports forum hosted by Andrea Kremer

MJ:  What has been the highlight of your time with the 49ers so far?

HG:  It was at 6:45 in the morning in one of the first days following the lockout, I was in the hallway at the office and I’d been working on making sure we had the right number of days off during training camp under the new CBA. Coach Harbaugh told me, “We’re glad you’re here.  We think you’re money!” and pumped his fist.  I was so fired up I wanted to put on pads and hit somebody.  Coach Harbaugh has such a positive energy and it’s infectious.

MJ:  What advice do you have for women who want to follow in your footsteps?

HG:  Keep going. To me so much of it is persistence.  Because the opportunities are few and far between it’s so easy to stop and give up, but if this is what you love, you should make it a part of your life.