Features

Wendy Bass – UFL  

Cookin’ up deals for spring pro football league 

Following Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on social media, it would be fair to wonder if he is operating with more hours in a day than everyone else. Whether working out at midnight, filming a movie, supporting his Teremana tequila brand or ZOA Energy drink business, popping up on WWE TV to electrify the WWE Universe or countless other things, it seems he does it all.  

Wendy Bass | EVP, Business Operations and Administration | UFL  

Wendy Bass | EVP, Business Operations and Administration | UFL

But there is at least one thing the megastar doesn’t do: practice law. For that, he relies on talented people like Wendy Bass, the EVP of business operations and administration for the UFL, the spring football league owned by Johnson, his business partner Dany Garcia, FOX Corp. and RedBird Capital Partners. 

“Working with DJ and Dany and the talented people involved in the XFL and USFL has been great,” Bass tells Vanguard from the league’s Greenwich, Conn. offices in January.  

On December 31 and January 1, the XFL and USFL—another spring football league owned by Fox Corp.—announced a merger and the launch of a new league: the UFL, or United Football League. The new season kicks off at the end of March, and Bass has been at the forefront of striking deals with broadcast partners, apparel providers, sponsors and more.  

“We have been working nonstop on getting everything in place for the start of the season,” Bass says. “We started while the merger was going through its antitrust review by the federal government, but we had to be tight-lipped during that time.” 

Bringing teams together 

The UFL will have eight teams; four will play in the XFL conference, and the other four in the USFL conference. Last year, XFL games were broadcast by ESPN, while FOX Sports and NBC televised USFL games. When details of the merger became clear, Bass and her team had about six weeks to strike new broadcast rights agreements with ESPN and FOX. Bass brought more than two decades of negotiating experience from her time with NBC Sports, making complex deals easier to complete.  

Wendy Bass | EVP, Business Operations and Administration | UFL  

For apparel, Johnson has a longstanding relationship with Under Armour, which outfitted XFL teams last year and will provide uniforms and sideline apparel for the teams this season and beyond. Bass helped negotiate the terms of that deal, too, and while Johnson’s connection helped, it wasn’t as simple as one might expect. 

“We’re an upstart league, and Under Armour continues to be a tremendous partner for our organization,” Bass says.  

The freedom to try new things is what drew Bass to the opportunity to join the legal team for the XFL. Before she arrived, the league relied on outside counsel, so as the first in-house attorney, she was allowed to put her stamp on the department’s operations.  

One of the first things she worked on when she joined the organization was updating the player contract. Unlike other professional sports leagues, the UFL owns all eight teams; therefore, contracts are between the league and the player. Bass says a previous contract template existed but must be updated to reflect the new league. 

Additionally, USFL players operated under a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by its players union and the league. The XFL didn’t have a union or CBA, but the UFL’s players will be represented this season by the United Steelworkers Union.   

Coming to terms 

So many Hollywood A-listers and past and present sports stars lend their names to causes, brands and organizations—but a lot of the time, that’s as far as their involvement goes. But not Johnson and Garcia—his longtime business partner across various businesses.  

Bass says Johnson and Garcia are 100 percent invested in the league’s success and are often involved in in-person or video meetings.  

“They are both awesome, really good people. Dany is incredibly smart and really well-spoken. They both care deeply about the brand and the players,” Bass says.  

Wendy Bass | EVP, Business Operations and Administration | UFL  

Johnson, or DJ, as Bass and so many others call him, has long been concerned with allowing football players to fulfill their dreams. He famously played defensive end for the University of Miami but never made it to the NFL. He was also the 54th player—an NFL roster has 53 players. Bass says it is “cool to watch” how passionate Johnson and Garcia are about giving players a chance.  

While an eight-team league feels like the right amount at launch, Bass believes there are intentions to expand to more teams in more cities. But the time has to be right. The UFL wants its players to know that their professional football dreams don’t die if they don’t make the NFL. 

“We have a great relationship with the NFL and see ourselves as a partner with them in growing the football ecosystem,” Bass says.  

As a league with no history or legacy, the UFL can experiment and try new things. For example, its overtime rules are different than those of the NFL and college football, and many rules have been adjusted with the health and safety of the players in mind. And the league can be innovative off the field, especially regarding sports betting.  

American football is the most gambled-on sport in the world, so there is an opportunity for the UFL to leverage that interest to strike partnerships with sports betting companies—all without compromising integrity. 

“We have strict policies and procedures regarding betting, but we’re open to discussions with sportsbooks on deals. The possibilities are endless as long as we remain smart about what we do,” Bass notes. 

A life of sports law 

Working in the sports industry was always the goal for Bass, who grew up in a family of sports fanatics in Cape Cod. She loves the Boston Celtics, and after earning a degree in international relations and French from the University of Pennsylvania, she spent two years as an account executive for marketing partnerships with the NBA.  

Bass worked with many lawyers in that role and saw how much authority they had to make decisions and influence the organization, so she enrolled at the Fordham University School of Law.  

Wendy Bass | EVP, Business Operations and Administration | UFL  

After working in private practice for a few years for Cahill Gordon & Reindel doing securities law and high-yield debt deals, Bass got the itch to move in-house and wanted to get back into sports.  

“Cahill had represented NBC in its negotiations with the International Olympic Committee, so that is how I landed my job with NBC Sports,” she recalls.  

In over 17 years at NBC Sports, Bass was involved in negotiating deals ranging from bringing the NFL and Sunday Night Football to NBC in 2006 and the deal to air University of Notre Dame football games on NBC. She also negotiated deals with the Premier League. She also struck agreements with the PGA Tour, NASCAR, the PGA of America, various national governing bodies, the USGA and the R&A, which hosts the British Open.  

“I also did about a thousand talent deals,” she says.  

Bass says the sports industry is constantly changing, making her job fascinating, challenging, exciting and stressful. Being on the other side of the negotiating table after 17-plus years representing a network has given her a leg up in her role with the UFL.  

“I am a huge sports fan, and being knowledgeable about sports and football has been really helpful to my career success,” Bass says. “But ultimately, you need to be passionate about the work—which, in my case, is building a new business.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Winter III 2024 Edition here.

Published on: February 20, 2024

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