There’s more to your average sports game than meets the eye. It takes a dedicated team working off the court to prepare for each game and ensure fans show up and players are paid their due.
These and more are matters in which Rachel Pearcy, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the WNBA's Dallas Wings, is an expert. Drawing from her college athletics experience and history working in the power sports industry, Rachel works tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure strategic growth for Dallas Wings season after season.
In this episode of The Modern CFO, Rachel talks with host Andrew Seski about what it’s really like managing a professional sports team as well as how she keeps herself and the organization grounded in pursuit of success.
Please note that the transcript is AI-generated and may contain errors. The content in the podcast is not intended as investment advice, and is meant for informational and entertainment purposes only.
[00:00:00] Andrew Seski: Hello and welcome back to the Modern CFO podcast. I'm your host, Andrew Seski. Today. I'm excited to be joined by Dallas Wings CFO, Rachel Pearcy. Rachel, thank you so much for joining me today.
[00:00:20] Rachel Pearcy: Thank you so much for having me, Andrew.
[00:00:22] Andrew Seski: So I'd love to kick off our conversation with a little bit about the Dallas Wings. I know the team actually has origins near my hometown in Michigan. I'm excited to learn a little bit more about the team, and then we can dive into your route to the CFO role and shed some light on how sports teams are actually managed.
[00:00:38] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah. Our team started in Detroit and then we moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. We were there for a few years. And then the majority owner moved the team down to Dallas where we are now currently. And we've been here since 2016.
[00:00:52] Andrew Seski: So I did want to quickly mention that you were a college athlete, right?
[00:00:57] Rachel Pearcy: I was, I played softball. I was a pitcher at Angelo State University in West Texas.
[00:01:02] Andrew Seski: So preparing for this podcast, I did go through my college workouts this morning, so I'm very tired this A.M., but I'll try to keep things as lively as possible. You've only been with the Wings for how long now?
[00:01:13] Rachel Pearcy: For two years.
[00:01:14] Andrew Seski: For two years. So prior to that, were you in traditional finance roles or have you also been in these more unique positions?
[00:01:23] Rachel Pearcy: So prior to Wings, I worked for a private family and managed all of their companies for them. And then I was in the power sports industry. So that fun group entertainment like what you have with sports where there are large gatherings but also high dollars with it. Lots of different avenues for revenue generations. So a similar fun industry.
[00:01:47] Andrew Seski: So I think one of the quick insights that might be really valuable to listeners who may be considering a unique role like you have at a sports team. I think a lot of people may not understand that there are full operations teams to manage different aspects of large organizations, especially sports teams.
[00:02:05] Andrew Seski: So if somebody was interested in what maybe a great career pathway to a position that's similar to the one you're in, give us a little bit of what those guardrails look like in terms of choosing a route that you think would be relevant.
[00:02:17] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah, for sure. Had I known back in my college days that I wanted to get into the sports industry, I would've definitely tried to get an internship. I think that is a great entryway to come and learn behind the scenes. Most of the sports teams that I'm aware of have internships available in multiple different departments so that people can come in and see the behind the scenes. They see, even from my perspective, we try to bring the interns that we have in now so that they can see when I'm going through budgeting.
[00:02:48] Rachel Pearcy: We do all staff meetings so they can see behind the scenes of what we tweak, what at my level I'm working on and other teams are working on, other departments are working on. We really want people to see what it takes to produce a game, right? And so people can, those interns can come in and they see the behind the scenes of what it takes a day to prep for a game, the time you're there before people show up. What it takes for our players behind the scenes, right? It is not all of a sudden just the game is produced, right? You're there putting in time and effort weeks and months before prepping for these games and making sure you have fans at the game.
[00:03:25] Rachel Pearcy: So they get to see this behind the scenes. So I definitely think that if anyone has a passion in sports and they think that they want their career to go through it, definitely, as soon as you can, get your toe in the door with anything. I think it's definitely helpful to do that.
[00:03:40] Andrew Seski: Yeah. So just before we hop down, we were talking about some of the interest in private equity dollars chasing alternatives like sports teams. But I was thinking about how you think about strategic growth, if it's very similar to your roles in the past where you've got a number of stakeholders to report to. Maybe it's a similar function but the metrics look a little different. How do you think about strategic growth and success metrics at the Wings?
[00:04:05] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah, for sure. So, you know, two of our main revenue channels are sponsorships and then ticket sales. So with our team, we haven't really got into the TV revenue yet. So when you think about sponsorship and you think about ticket sales, getting into the granularity of it, it's like, okay, for me, I have never been in an organization where I had to manage ticket sales. And so you look at it and it's like, how do you grow that? How do you reach a new consumer who maybe doesn't know about your product? And that is the same in any industry that you're in, right? How do you reach more consumers? How can you grow? There's brand awareness. There's people that, it's a supply, right? If they're purchasing your product, how do you get them to purchase more?
[00:04:48] Rachel Pearcy: So we really have gotten creative with our ticket sales team of, let's look at the data, let's put some metrics behind it, maybe that we've never looked at previously, and start seeing if there's any correlation to our marketing. See if there's any correlation to these people. Is there any relationship? Is there any businesses that tie to this and really just dive in and look historically so that we can grow in the future, right?
[00:05:12] Rachel Pearcy: And I think that's what a lot of people in my position try to do. As, you know, technology gets more advanced, as you try to use it to your benefit so that you can tell the why to your owners, right? You have to help explain to them what's going on behind your business. Why did you see revenue growth? If you don't know the answer, you're not gonna be able to know downturns in your business either, right? You have to be able to understand the why.
[00:05:37] Andrew Seski: Absolutely. I think during the pandemic, there is a huge shift to way more transparency being required by not just, you know, firms, obviously teams, anytime there's a stakeholder who has questions. I think this whole push to digital has created a much more transparent environment for stakeholders but put a little bit more onus on management teams to report really effectively and really timely.
[00:06:00] Andrew Seski: I did wanna mention and bring up if there were any sort of unique or evolving demands of your current role, whether it be you specifically in your role or the WNBA in general. Obviously coming out of a pandemic, there are a number of probably really aggressive initiatives to get things running at full speed again. But maybe if you could just give us a quick comment on maybe some of the more unique challenges that other businesses probably are not facing.
[00:06:27] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah. Some of the unique challenges, especially last year versus this year, because one of the COVID requirements have decreased or gone away this year, but last year it was, how do you get fans in the building, you know? And that's just the top layer of question, right? And then even further than that, how do you get people in the building and with COVID protocols and people feeling safe, and then how do you regulate vaccination status or not, you know? Because there's all these different regulations, especially in the state of Texas of you can do this or you can't do that.
[00:07:01] Rachel Pearcy: And so that took our entire team to come up with a plan. It wasn't just, it's up to the game operations to figure this out, it's up to ticket sales to figure this out. It was everybody on board because if ticket sales came to me and said, okay, based off of our protocols and what we can have in the arena, these are how many seats I can fill.
[00:07:21] Rachel Pearcy: It's like, okay, now what is the value of this seat versus what we sold it for? And so on my side, we had to sit down and go through every single detail of, it was X and now it's Y. And what does that look like? And then, oh, if the protocols changed to whatever on this game, how does that affect future games and our seats availability?
[00:07:40] Rachel Pearcy: So the amount of scenarios that we walked through last year, the amount of scenarios that we walked through even during the season, you know. We had so many different changes we had to make and for our entire team, it was constant pivot, constant change. Figure out how to make it best for the consumer who's coming out for our games. Figure out how to make it best for our internal people so that they're not constantly doing the same repetition work. But at the end of the day, we have to have the best results forward, right, for the consumer. And then I have to have the best forecast for our owners as well.
[00:08:14] Rachel Pearcy: So it was constant and it was neat because that's not something that you would ever go through in your career historically.
[00:08:22] Andrew Seski: How do you think about structuring a really collaborative environment with the rest of the C-suite operations team with all of these pivots? It must have been really important to overcommunicate and have everyone on a very, very level information playing field and a lot of solidarity and vision to be able to pull off the pivots quickly.
[00:08:43] Andrew Seski: So how do you think about being collaborative being in the sports world and having actual teammates running around? I'm sure there are a lot of really great analogies we could pull from your athletic career and finance team. But just thinking in terms of being collaborative and transparent with your team about how decisions are being made, I feel like you have a pretty unique vantage point of not only having access to all the data and forecasts and actually having the spread between, you know, what a seat is worth today versus tomorrow based on a number of different scenarios.
[00:09:12] Andrew Seski: But I think it's really impressive to be able to pull off these pivots as quickly and efficiently as you have. So I kind of wanted to know what that looks like internally.
[00:09:21] Rachel Pearcy: Whenever I'm hearing you say that, it kind of takes me back to my days of pitching, honestly, being on the field. And if my coach calls a certain pitch, all the infielders and the outfielders, if they can see, would be able to see the pitch that's called. And the reason that they saw that is so that they're prepared for possibly the spin of the ball, so that the direction of it coming off the bat.
[00:09:44] Rachel Pearcy: It's no different than being prepared for a season that's coming up, right? You have to know what you're expecting. You have to know what it's gonna look like coming at you if it does. And so it's really, it's that collaboration, right? People are expecting me to give this forecast for them so that they know how to do their job accordingly. They know what they have to spend. They know how they can go and be successful in their departments, which makes us successful, you know, and the owner successful.
[00:10:12] Rachel Pearcy: And to do that, it's constant collaboration. You're constantly communicating. If someone has a different idea or something new, you're gonna invest in your teammate to give them that platform, to be able to run with their idea. That doesn't mean you don't question. That doesn't mean you don't challenge people. But at the end of the day, do you want to give your teammates and the executive team that platform to have the ability to go out and make these changes that may give you success that you haven't seen previously?
[00:10:41] Andrew Seski: I really like that. I always pause the podcast for a quick second just to say, if you're listening on your phone to hit back that 32nd mark and just relisten. I really like that analogy. I think it's perfect for the role.
[00:10:53] Andrew Seski: I did also want to ask about how you think. In a lot of conversations I've had with CFOs at growing organizations, wearing a million different hats is, seems like a pretty typical scenario for a lot of CFOs, including some HR functions trying to help attract top talent.
[00:11:12] Andrew Seski: I've got a really interesting conversation coming up where, I haven't heard this one before, but a CFO was mentioning how he is basically an editor or just an editor of a novel, right? He is helping the conduit, helping the mission be kind of perpetuated by ensuring that financials are sound, projections are correct and accurate. And they're also, you know, keeping the mission alive by finding other people who were, will organically align with it kind of naturally.
[00:11:39] Andrew Seski: So do you have any kind of, I know, I'm sure you wear many hats at the Wings as well. But how do you think about scaling and tracking top talent in kind of a, I'm not sure if you're remote, partially remote or anything like that, but it seems like the needs of hiring these days have been a little upended.
[00:11:58] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah, especially in the sports world. We're not a normal eight to five organization, right? And so I wear a lot of hats in my role and so did a lot of pretty much every other position, especially on the executive team. It's a roll up your sleeves, get in, and help grow the organization, you know? We get a lot of young talent. And so there's definitely like a gap between like our executive team and our, the next few steps down between people.
[00:12:28] Rachel Pearcy: And for us, that's encouraging. We want people to grow with our organization, right? And so we want to invest in teaching them and helping them take what they've learned in their experience and be able to promote that through our organization. And so you really, you kind of take them by the hand and you let them grow and you want them to grow with your organization to see what all they can, what they're able to foster, and new ideas that they're able to bring up.
[00:12:57] Rachel Pearcy: Because for some of us, we learned what, in our career, what people taught us to do. I learned to budget a certain way. Well, that's adapted and changed, completely changed. And how, like you said, technology has changed in the last few years more than any other time. Well, that means I have to adapt and change and we may have people that come in that have a different experience. And I welcome the ideas and most of our executive team welcome the ideas. And I think that's really how an organization, you get people to come in organically and help if they feel like they can actually have a voice in the growth.
[00:13:31] Andrew Seski: Yeah, I think this actually ties really nicely into maybe what you think of as your personal definition of what makes a modern CFO.
[00:13:39] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah. Adaptation, you know, you can, if you're gonna, if you sit back, it's not gonna be successful for you, right? You have to be able to always look for advancements. And I go back to sports on that. If at sports, if I would've sat back and just said, like, okay, I'm comfortable where I'm at, I would've gotten surpassed and I didn't wanna be surpassed. I wanted to be the best. And so I have that same mentality when I take my career at hand, is I want to be the best, not just for me, firstly, but for that organization.
[00:14:14] Rachel Pearcy: My career has always been a top promoter for myself as far as pushing myself to be better, challenging myself. And to be a CFO, it's a very proud title that I hold. And it's something that I always wanna challenge myself to be better at. And I think modern CFOs have done that, right? They have pay gap. They've changed. Everybody went through a pandemic, but not everybody had the drive to continue making the changes that the companies needed to see on the other side of the pandemic.
[00:14:43] Andrew Seski: I try not to make any generalizations, but that seems to be a very shared or consistent trait amongst a lot of the CFOs that I've interviewed there. So I really appreciate that.
[00:14:53] Andrew Seski: I wanted to ask about the role of culture within the organization. I know that outside of the owner pool, there's also a foundation. Is that, that's right?
[00:15:03] Rachel Pearcy: Yes, that's correct. We have a foundation for the Wings and we're in the process of creating a foundation for our second team as well.
[00:15:10] Andrew Seski: That's pretty exciting. So is that, does that work overlap with your day-to-day operations? Yeah, okay. It sounds like it does.
[00:15:18] Rachel Pearcy: It does. So I'm responsible for all of the entities and, for the foundation, that's the biggest part, you know. You need the support within the community. You need people to understand that it's not just about brand awareness, right? You're out making a difference. That's one of our biggest missions is our social justice play that we have inequality, especially with women's sports. You know, we wanna get out and we wanna make a difference. And so it's getting out in the forefront when people see that.
[00:15:48] Andrew Seski: So fundraising has to be a fairly large piece of time allocated to it seems like the media awareness for all of the games and also fundraising and making sure that you're also creating these incredible success stories along the way.
[00:16:04] Andrew Seski: It seems like you are extremely busy, but I do wanna think about what is top of mind for you in the next 12 months, and then maybe we could extrapolate out and think about what you're most excited about in the next three to five years.
[00:16:17] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah. The biggest thing for us to be successful is for not only our front office behind the scenes to be successful, but our team on the court has to be successful. You have to want players to be wearing your jersey. And that's so much further than where you're located, who your coach is, who the players are. It's your foundation as a core for that team, how you support them, how you make them feel welcome, the camaraderie that you have.
[00:16:48] Rachel Pearcy: It's just like, whenever you're going, someone's gonna go to college, right? There's so much more than just the stamp of where they went to school. It's the experience. And that's how it is too with the basketball team. We have to want to have people come here, stay here with us, and grow with the organization on the court.
[00:17:04] Rachel Pearcy: And then off the court, we have to support that. So we have to figure out how we can be successful, how we can drive revenue so that we can offer more to our players and drive more people being here for that successful championship. That is always everyone's biggest driving force.
[00:17:19] Andrew Seski: That's great. And what about, is there anything going on in the WNBA or trending in this space that's exciting maybe several years out?
[00:17:28] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah. Las Vegas just had their practice facility. It's almost finished. And then Seattle just announced that they're having their first, it's women's own practice facility for their team as well. So I keep putting that in our owners' ears of, hey, something to look ahead to. This may become a new need or a new requirement, right, for our teams to help grow with the league. But also like it helps grow our team, right? And it gives us different experiences that we can provide with having that for the girls. So it's something we are trying to grow, and I know the league is doing everything they can to grow the awareness cause they're doing a great job with it.
[00:18:04] Andrew Seski: That's excellent. One of my favorite questions I ask on every podcast that I do, we can take this really anywhere you want so it doesn't have to be about basketball, it doesn't have to be about the CFO role, but if there's anything that you feel is underestimated in the world today, what would that be?
[00:18:21] Rachel Pearcy: That's a big question. You know, I think really for us, my husband and I have a good foundation with our church. And for us, that has always been everything that we've gone back to is like who you are at your core and where your foundation lies helps drive you. And especially when you think about all the demands of my job that I have and other people within my role and responsibilities, who you are at your core is going to drive your success and the organization's success. And so I think that's one of the biggest underestimated items is, you know, going back to that belief for you personally and where you hold true to that.
[00:18:58] Andrew Seski: Excellent. And I do want to hear a little bit about your softball days. I feel like we've referenced it a couple of times now. But can you tell me a little bit about that experience? It seems like it's been a great analogy for all of the hard work and being more proactive than reactive as a finance leader. That'd be kind of fun to just chat about, you know, your college athletic career.
[00:19:20] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah. Well, I started playing softball at five and then, yeah, the only girl on the tee-ball team. So, but it was, I just loved sports. I grew up with my dad and mom put us in sports and thankfully my dad was a big driver in my success with being a pitcher. He was my pitching coach. And so we spent endless hours together and challenging each other and him challenging me to be better.
[00:19:43] Rachel Pearcy: And my mom, for instance, would put all the K's up for strikeouts along the fence. And so it was a concert reminder where you were and where you wanted to go, right? I would always challenge myself of how many I wanted to accomplish in a game. And then my parents were such a big support and helped continually pushing me forward where a lot of kids would get burned out, those that like softball, constantly traveling.
[00:20:10] Rachel Pearcy: And then once I started getting college letters coming in, very young, it was kind of like, I could do this. I could accomplish something that is my dream. I kind of tied that back to like women's professional sports, right? It's very limited of what young girls can do. And for them that's a dream and they continually work and strive to that. So for me, being able to go to college on a full-ride scholarship was something I'd always worked for and dreamed for. And it was something my parents got to enjoy as well because they got to see the hard work and its success from it.
[00:20:43] Rachel Pearcy: I was only able to play three years. I ended up having a bad back injury. So following my sophomore year, I had emergency back surgery and I was able to come back from it. But that was one of the most challenging mental and physical things of my life. I'd never been injured before and so it's kind of that driving hardworking mentality I think at 19 years old was really what stuck with me through all of this too was having to overcome that. And my college coach would always tell me mind over matter, right? If your mind's in the right place, you can overcome anything. And it's so true and it holds true today.
[00:21:21] Andrew Seski: Yeah. I was just thinking back to my own college athletics experiences. I transferred colleges midway through, but I have done a, it's a very amateur sport of rowing. But you know, I've done club where there's no funding. I've been on the US national team where there are endless resources. I've been in varsity programs where there's a little bit in between. And just seeing all of the random support that comes out from people who are just passionate about the space versus those who, you know, are interested from an investment standpoint, those, you know, just and around, you know, something just everyone can get very excited about.
[00:21:57] Andrew Seski: I really like the fact that, you know, you've had your own experiences that you can drive and try to help realize through and like actually actualize through, you know, a whole bunch of other people. So I think that passion really shines through. So that's very cool.
[00:22:10] Andrew Seski: I did wanna also comment on how people can get in touch with you, maybe about joining the team if there are hiring opportunities and mostly about how they can get involved with the team, how they can watch the team, and how they can look at the foundation to see if it might be right for them.
[00:22:29] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah, absolutely. I'm on LinkedIn, so I could be found there. All of our jobs are posted down on LinkedIn as well if anyone has any interest in the positions. And then my email address is always, you know, open to anyone to send my way, help get out to some games even if we're at an arena not here in Dallas. So playing at your ED local, just reach out and I can help with that. And then the other item was, we're on Bally Southwest, Bally Sports Southwest. You can find us there and then we place, there's a few different names on ESPN as well.
[00:23:04] Andrew Seski: Excellent. And just for my own knowledge, are there more teams being created all the time now or is it relatively infrequent?
[00:23:11] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah. So I think this is the first year I'm aware of that they're really looking at an expansion team. I think there's been a few things teased out there recently, so we'll see. I know there's been a few different evaluations on different teams and some really great numbers that came out of it. So I think the league is finally at a point that expansion is really possible in and being able to take that to a new level for the league.
[00:23:37] Andrew Seski: Excellent. Well, I think that the league's probably very fortunate to have a great example of a model that works well, that they can try to mirror elsewhere. That's gonna be really great. I think there are some rumors about Philadelphia maybe getting a team soon, but all rumors. But that would be very exciting.
[00:23:55] Andrew Seski: Is there anything else that you wanted to cover that we haven't so far?
[00:23:59] Rachel Pearcy: Our future outlook, right, for the team?
[00:24:02] Andrew Seski: Yeah.
[00:24:03] Rachel Pearcy: You know, we're always looking three to five years out. And if we're not, right, we're not gonna be successful at that point because a year flies by, a season goes by so fast. And so that's really our biggest thing is how do we adapt and change and grow because you can only grow, right? Your arena is only so much of a size. And then you have, you know, a price, a ticket. A price of a ticket that can only grow and change so much and then you don't have the, you may not have the same consumer, right, that's interested in it.
[00:24:32] Rachel Pearcy: So it's really, again, it's going back into the data and figuring out who our consumer is, how do we improve their experience? So you're changing their experience and improving it. How do you get more people in the arena to see the experience that you've improved? And then how do you get more people to sponsor your team and want to be a part of it, right? They want to have their brand with yours. And that's really that big, the big item too, is having the community grow with you as you're growing within.
[00:25:00] Andrew Seski: So there, it sounds like there's a lot of community involvement then. Has that been one of the major sources of success so far, just community engagement?
[00:25:09] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah, that's definitely like, we've had sponsors with our team, a partnership with them since day one of coming here with the team and they've grown with us. They went through the pandemic with us, right? And so it's really, it's a relationship and it's not something, it's not a transaction for us. It is a true relationship and in growth.
[00:25:29] Rachel Pearcy: And so having that community support is definitely something of, you know, you think about those people that have grown with the team. The season ticket holders that have been with the team since we are here, they know our players. They don't just know their name. They don't just know their number. They know our players, they follow them, they know where they grew up, they know their parents. They are here invested in our girls and in our team. And that's really what helps drive us forward is knowing that there's people just as passionate as we are with our team.
[00:26:01] Andrew Seski: So because we have a lot of CFOs listening, how do the brand partnerships and corporate sponsorships work with the organization? Are you always looking for new corporate sponsors or is that kind of filled for now and then you look into the next few years to see if you can expand the program?
[00:26:19] Rachel Pearcy: Yeah. So kind of behind the scenes on that is that you only have so many assets. You know, per season with the W's so you either, you can either sell the value. Obviously, every asset has a value to it, but some people don't wanna be on the court. Some people wanna be on the sidelines of the court. Some people just wanna do a marketing play with you. Some people just wanna do a community play with you. They don't even wanna be in your arena. They just wanna be out in the community with you.
[00:26:44] Rachel Pearcy: So you have all the different aspects of some companies, what they prefer and what helps their mission be accomplished, right? It's not so much just yours, but what their mission is as well. So we're always looking for that, but then also we wanna do multi-year sponsorships with people, right? We really are driving this three-year plan because not only does it help their business with their future forecasting, it helps our business with our future forecasting.
[00:27:10] Rachel Pearcy: And you always do, you know, that end-of-year recap, how did it go? What can we do better? What did you like? What didn't you like? And just like we had BMW last year and for the very first time as a sponsorship, and it came back that they had more return from being in our arena with our fans than any other sponsorship they'd ever done. And so, because of that, we were able to grow, we were able to grow our partnership dollars. And also, my multi-year deal with them.
[00:27:38] Rachel Pearcy: And so it's not just about what it, yeah, it's awesome, you know. And it's not about what we just, what we get out of it. It's what also comes to the partnership, right. And that's what it's about. That's what makes it successful.
[00:27:50] Andrew Seski: That's great. That's a very high note to sort of wrap on, I mean. So just to kind of sum everything up, you're somebody who's exceptionally passionate about this space. You've found a way to apply skill sets and be able to also watch, you know, your team grow, these women grow, work with a foundation. It seems like you've somehow configured a really unique job opportunity where you get to work across all of these different functions and with all these different types of people.
[00:28:21] Andrew Seski: So I really appreciate you sharing all of that story and I'm excited to see if we can garner some more attention with the podcast and make sure that we have an opportunity to continue to spread the message about what you're doing and how you're influencing a lot of lives. So thank you so much for joining.
[00:28:38] Rachel Pearcy: Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.