by Benjamin Gleisser
Jim Rushton ’92, the chief revenue officer of the Los Angeles Chargers, isn’t just building a football team from the ground up; he’s helping to create a $2.5 billion entertainment, commercial, and residential complex that will house it.
Actually, the Chargers aren’t a completely new team. The NFL franchise relocated to Los Angeles earlier this year from San Diego, its home since 1961. After San Diego administrators and team owners couldn’t agree on how to finance a new stadium, the Chargers made a stadium-sharing deal with the Los Angeles Rams, another team relocating to the city (from St. Louis).
To help the Chargers tackle the business side of the move, Rushton was hired to help the franchise kick off in a new market. And Rushton, who loves challenges, couldn’t turn it down.
“The project offered me a once-in-a-career opportunity,” says Rushton, who had held similar posts with the San Diego Padres and Miami Dolphins.
Currently under construction, the 72,000-seat Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park will be the centerpiece of a 300-acre campus that will include shops, restaurants, hotels, an amphitheatre, and a performance space. The stadium, set to open in 2020, is already scheduled to host Super Bowl LVI in 2022 and the Summer Olympics in 2028.
“The new complex will be four times the size of Disneyworld, and it’s all being built with private funds,” Rushton says. “It’s overwhelming, and I’m inspired by the opportunities to learn and collaborate on this massive, massive project. It will be the cornerstone of the future of the NFL on the West Coast.”
In the meantime, while the Chargers are playing home games in StubHub Center and the Rams occupy the Los Angeles Coliseum, Rushton and his department of 40 employees are in charge of seeking Chargers’ sponsorship contracts, luxury suite sales, and season-ticket holders.
Rushton has been a sports fan and an entrepreneur all his life. He played Little League baseball and high school football and soccer, “mostly sitting on the bench,” he adds. “I quickly learned my athletic ability lay on the business side of sports.”
Through high school, he ran a lawn-mowing business, a snow-blowing business, and a deejay business. In fact, spinning records was what attracted him to Hamilton. “I was involved in radio in high school and had internships at local stations,” he says. “When I learned Hamilton was redesigning WHCL, moving the station from Minor Theater to the Bristol Campus Center, I knew I wanted to be a part of that project.”
An economics major, Rushton worked on the business end of the station and had his own show on Friday afternoons called Bar & Grill. “We made it sound like we were broadcasting from a big party,” he says. “The show helped people get ready for the weekend.”
He credits his success to the liberal arts education and the problem-solving strategies he learned at Hamilton: “I was exposed to a variety of situations where problems were put in my hands to solve. The challenges strengthened my interpersonal skills and showed me there are many different ways to seek solutions.”
After graduation, Rushton landed a job at WEEI in Boston, where he helped build broadcasting relationships with the Red Sox, Celtics, and New England Patriots; over 13 years, the station’s revenue grew from $8 million to $49.5 million. He joined the Miami Dolphins in 2009 as chief operating officer, went to the San Diego Padres in 2013, and a year later to IBM, where he began the Global Sports and Entertainment Practice.
Rushton joined the Chargers in May, and acknowledges that although he and his counterpart with the Los Angeles Rams organization are competing for sales in the same market, he doesn’t see the franchises fighting each other to fill seats. “We don’t view the Rams as competitors, but as partners sharing the new stadium,” he says. “We can both be successful and expand the reach of the NFL. There are 10 professional sports teams in this highly competitive market, and two college teams — UCLA and USC — and each has its own loyal fans. But there’s also a great number of NFL fans in this market, and our objective is try to win them over one fan at a time.”
The Rams play in the West Division of the National Football Conference, while the Chargers are in the West Division of the American Football Conference. “If they end up meeting each other in the Super Bowl, that could be trouble,” he says with a laugh.
Five Questions for Jim Rushton:
- What is your favorite football movie?
Rudy (1993). It’s an inspiring story about a kid who wasn’t the greatest student-athlete and wasn’t the smartest kid, but the movie shows that if you stay focused on your goals, you’ll find success.
- You’re a numbers person. What’s your favorite number?
Three. People remember things in threes. Also, my birthday is September 3.
- What were some of your favorite campus spots at Hamilton?
The Village Tavern and Roma’s Pizza were terrific contributors to our campus life. (Laughs.) I also liked to meet friends in the quad in front of the library.
- What item in your office most represents who you are?
A wooden sign I picked up in Nantucket that reads: “There is no off-season.” It reminds me that on the business side of football, we work year-round. It also reminds me of Nantucket, one of my favorite places in the world.
- Teams often offer special promotions for fans. What was the oddest promotion you were ever involved in?
(Laughs.) When I was with the Miami organization we held “Kick a Field Goal for a Million Dollars,” where one fan got the chance to kick a 45-yard field goal. But that distance was too far. It was impossible! We should’ve thought of that. We took a beating in the press.