We sat down with Gina Antoniello at the XFL office in Jersey City. She is the Head of Communications for the New York Guardians of the XFL, an American professional football league launched in February. In this role, Gina is the primary architect of the communications strategy, overseeing both business and football communications. At the same time, Gina is an Adjunct Faculty member at Columbia University and is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Sport Management at Troy University, focusing on athlete activism and social justice in sport and society. Read on to hear about her incredible journey in the sports industry and how her experience as a first-generation American and college student inspired her activism for equal access to higher education.
Tell me about the excitements and challenges you face leading communications for the XFL.
What’s interesting is we are not only launching a team, but also an entire league. The XFL is a single entity league which means that all of the teams have the same owner, and therefore work in tandem to leverage and combine resources horizontally. The newness of it is both exciting and challenging… it just hasn’t been done before. I have been part of start-ups but to be a part of a founding team and have a hand in being a chief architect of a sports league’s brand requires a lot of creativity and hard work. Our staff started our business planning in a one-room office with just three people (I was employee number three), and now we are playing in front of millions of people on national television, and we are inviting in a new generation of Tri-state football fans to engage with the sport in a way that is unprecedented. It feels like the privilege of my career and my lifetime. For longterm fan avidity, we need to continue to earn their engagement. Locally, we have to make good on a promise that we will give back to our community and always be genuine in what we say, what we do, and how we deliver that fan experience every time.
How do you build an identity for a start-up league like XFL and particularly with the team under your purview, the New York Guardians?
It would be a losing battle to tell New Yorkers who they are and what they care about. What we are trying to do is align our brand with the values of this region. When I think about what it means to be a New Yorker, I think of the courage of first responders, the ability of our people to thrive in constant hustle & bustle, and even the magnificent displays of humanity during our darkest times. Those people are our ‘Guardians.’ Now, if we can deliver a team that embodies those sentiments and then invite our fans to co-create that story with us, we’ll see our fanbase grow. This team is for everyone: it’s for football fans, but it’s also for anyone who wants to be a founding member and support a homegrown team right from its birth.