By Ben Raby
As the first woman hired as president of an NHL franchise (others have inherited the position or been part of the ownership team), Valerie Camillo embraces a unique responsibility.
“It’s important for me to demonstrate success,” said Camillo, president of business operations for the Flyers and Wells Fargo Center. “You hope it drives ownership (of other teams) to wonder what’s in that recipe and hopefully encourages them to follow suit.”
For Camillo, the recipe to success includes of mix of ingredients. Specifically, a mix of voices. “The best way to drive new ideas,” she said, “is to have a variety of viewpoints around the table.”
That belief has been at the forefront of Camillo’s efforts in managing Transformation 2020 – a multi-year $265-million initiative to renovate Wells Fargo Center.
Camillo, 47, was an executive at the NBA and with the Washington Nationals, before joining the Flyers in 2019. She was drawn to Philadelphia for the chance to oversee the arena’s makeover. Highlights of the project have included the installation of a 4K Kinetic scoreboard, new LED video and lighting systems and upgrades to the mezzanine, main concourse and suite levels.
“It’s not just switching out some fixtures and putting on some paint,” Camillo said. “It’s really getting into the gut of the building.”
While initial renovations began in 2016, Camillo noticed soon after she arrived that several concepts were designed with the goal of pleasing everyone.
“You do that,” she said, “you run the risk of appealing to no one.”
So, Camillo put her stamp on the project with a focus on customization. From more upscale dining options for premium ticket holders, to a new sensory lounge for individuals with autism to the club-like atmosphere that greets young singles in the Assembly Room, the makeover is hardly one-size fits all.
The goal, Camillo said, is to create customized spaces and experiences that target different customer segments. To do so, she sought a variety of perspectives when brainstorming. “We brought in a true cross-section of the company by diversity metrics and employment level,” she said.
Camillo estimated 40-to-50 employees were included in the design process for the new spaces. She described her leadership group as balanced – 50 percent men, 50 percent women. The 2018-19 Flyers team photo, Camillo noted, was the first to include women executives.
“We have women in key roles,” she said. “We have a diverse team making decisions on innovation. There’s very little group think.”
Camillo wants diversity in the boardroom because she wants it to serve an ever-changing fan base.
“Within the population of Philadelphia, younger buyers tend to be more diverse,” she said. “So, if we want to remain relevant as our core fan base ages, we have to win and attract the next generation of hockey fans. That’s a more diverse generation of hockey fans.”
That growth was most noticeable through sales for the Assembly Room, which includes 750 standing-room only tickets. According to the Flyers, the section brought in a new audience – 89 percent of those buyers had not attended a game in the previous three years, and at an average age of more than 10 years younger than the fan base as a whole.
“That’s exactly, strategically, where we need to be as a business and for the sport of hockey to remain relevant and healthy over the long-term,” Camillo said.
Camillo is also an alternate governor for the Flyers and a member of the NHL’s 15-person executive inclusion council. The EIC is among the groups the NHL recently formed to help promote diversity in hockey.
Camillo said she hoped more doors open for women to take on senior leadership positions in the NHL, outside of ownership.
“I think it’s really important to show that women have other means to rise to the top,” she said. “They can, just like their male counterparts, work their way from the bottom in the industry and then still fit in the top chair.”