Features

Matthew Morgado – NFL

NFL profits from investing in Morgado

He’s grown his game in the past 15 years. Initially hired by the National Football League to help structure debt deals, Matthew Morgado has gone on to do much more than bring parties together for long-term investments. While that will always be among his primary responsibilities, he’s got other strategies to game-plan.

There’s the emphasis on player health and safety, a group that didn’t formally exist prior to his arrival and has benefited from partnerships he helped forge with Amazon Web Services, Kaggle and some research universities. There’s the growing and complex equity space that includes both standalone strategic venture investments and commercial deal co-investments. There’s the consumer products division that runs the gamut from trinkets and jerseys to mobile gaming, nonfungible tokens and other emerging high-tech ideas.

Matthew Morgado | Vice President, Legal and Business Affairs | NFL

Matthew Morgado | Vice President, Legal and Business Affairs | NFL

“The league tends to hire for one or two areas and hope that the person grows his, her or their portfolio,” the gregarious Morgado tells Vanguard during a typically hectic offseason for the NFL legal department. “That was the case with me.”

His portfolio growth in many respects follows that of the multibillion-dollar sports and entertainment conglomerate at which he works. The league, which easily outpaced all other sports leagues in TV viewing and had a reported $18 billion of revenue in 2022, isn’t resting on its leadership position. And the scope and scale of Morgado’s work grows with the NFL.

Reach for the Skydance

While some at league headquarters in Manhattan might have preferred for Sports Illustrated to use different language when describing NFL Films as “the most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America,” there’s no denying its multimedia clout.

Now the NFL has a Hollywood studio for a teammate with Morgado helping finalize a joint venture with Skydance Media in November. Skydance is the same creative wellspring that produced Top Gun: Maverick and now will produce content for, and alongside, the NFL.

Matthew Morgado | Vice President, Legal and Business Affairs | NFL

Morgado explains the League will have an unprecedented ability to respond to significant market demand for non-sports game content, both scripted and unscripted, thanks to the leadership position in TV, film, animation and other areas that Skydance offers. Like any joint venture, he says this collaboration must be viewed as a long-term investment and notes how rewarding it is for the project to be supported by long-time team owners.

“Usually when you sign a deal for anything—whether a TV/media deal or a pillow—you are paid a set royalty, but we entered this with no joint projects formalized (notwithstanding both parties’ individual pipelines),” Morgado says. “But the owners are good shepherds of the game. They’ve invested in something that may not return substantial value for years because, as stewards of the sport, they understand their responsibility to meet and develop fans wherever they are.”

The same goes for player health and safety, an area of primary concern for the NFL. Everyone contributes to the effort, assures Morgado, who helped the NFL partner with AWS and outside experts in developing a digital model of NFL players.

No dummies here

Remember the crash-test dummies of a long-ago TV commercial for seat belts? Well, Dr. Jeff Crandall, a biomechanical engineer who worked with the automobile industry to replace real crash test dummies with virtual ones, has assisted the NFL since 2017 in applying biomechanics to player health.

They’ve come a long way since gauging helmet performance with simple drop tests. Now a helmet is tested with scientific models that produce a performance score that relates to how well it manages the forces and motions of on-field impact. Using this data, helmets are engineered with technology to reduce head impacts.

Matthew Morgado | Vice President, Legal and Business Affairs | NFL

Concussions may get the most attention, but Morgado emphasizes that the League pays close attention to everything from the feet up and even the surface below the cleat. The digital athlete is a virtual representation of an NFL player that is analyzed through artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand and mitigate injury risk all over the field. It’s still a project in progress and one that demands a high degree of player privacy. To protect that privacy, Morgado says, the individual players are anonymized and the data aggregated to everyone’s benefit.

Among the lessons learned from the crash-test dummies include, according to Morgado, a clearer understanding of the forces and motions that are more likely to injure. Using this information, the NFL is changing rules and behavior to reduce the riskiest behaviors.

He means business

Most of Morgado’s day-to-day, however, is spent developing and supporting the dynamic equity portfolio the League needs to grow the game and support such partner companies as On Location Events, Skydance and Everpass.

A Yale alumnus and Columbia Law School and Columbia Business School graduate, Morgado honed his skills in financing and M&A from 2005 to 2008 as an associate with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. While he wasn’t looking to go in-house, his interest was whetted when a friend alerted the then-32-year-old Morgado of an NFL posting for his skill set.

The NFL needed a debt lawyer who could also handle corporate work and offer expertise to the teams. Debt work is evergreen, in part because stadiums generally have a shelf life of approximately 30 years, ensuring there’s always work in this area. The League’s G-3 and G-4 stadium subsidy programs have provided a helping hand to teams building or renovating stadiums. And more recently, the League, with assistance from its partner banks, closed a loan with financing provided predominantly by minority depository institutions and community development financial institutions, one of a series of ongoing efforts by the League in the DEI space.

Matthew Morgado | Vice President, Legal and Business Affairs | NFL

Such deals are all part of being a good teammate at NFL HQ and with the 32 teams, Morgado says. When pressed, he’ll admit to being a Jets fan—there’s a large photo on his wall of Curtis Martin running against the Steelers—but plays no favorites when it comes to League business.

Morgado has to be excited about watching Aaron Rodgers this fall, but he’ll likely be watching the equity deals, joint ventures and player well-being even closer. Football is, after all, big business—albeit more interesting big business than most.

Home life also is interesting and doesn’t stray too far from the job, given that his wife, Christine Lazatin, is also a recognized sports lawyer at one of the top sports practices and has represented NFL teams. And two young, sports-minded children, Xander and Madison, keep them busy roaming fields and rinks in the tri-state area.

“There’s no offseason for us,” he says. “We report every month with pads on and ready for two-a-days.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer II 2023 Edition here.

Published on: June 6, 2023

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