Heather Brooks Karatz graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2009 and went on to work in and around the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL in the decade following. She eventually joined the Los Angeles Football Club – or LAFC – as the executive vice president and general counsel, and helped establish the franchise’s roots in LA.
This February, Brooks Karatz is bringing another sports franchise to the City of Angels – the LA Wildcats of the revived XFL. Sports editor Sam Connon talked to Brooks Karatz about her journey through the sports world over the past 11 years, and how she plans to make spring football the next big thing in LA.
Daily Bruin: You went to Vanderbilt for your undergraduate degree but UCLA for law school – do you feel a much stronger connection to LA than anywhere else that led you to becoming president of the Wildcats over any other franchise?
Heather Brooks Karatz: Absolutely. LA is home – I married an Angeleno, I have two kids that were born here, so this is our home and this is our community. It was really important – at the league level – that the presidents were hired for all of the markets that had strong connections and understanding in their markets.
DB: And I know the graduate student experience is different than the excited freshman student section kind of mindset, but how engaged were you with UCLA Athletics when you came out for law school?
HBK: I was honored to be a part of the UCLA system and I really enjoyed my time there. I will say that I was studying a lot though because it was law school, but I did try to take advantage of as much of the UCLA community and culture as possible.
DB: You helped lead the charge for bringing LAFC to town, so leading a new team into LA isn’t all that different for you. How did you go about it last time? Did you utilize any UCLA connections and what do you want to do differently this time around?
HBK: I was really fortunate to be a part of the LAFC journey, but it’s a very different journey than the one we’re going through right now with the LA Wildcats. So with LAFC, we had a multiyear runway of building that team and franchise, and tickets were on sale for several years before we played a game. In addition to that, we built a $350 million stadium in the heart of downtown Los Angeles that people could check out. And most importantly, it was a new team, but it was part of a league that had been around for decades. So, the consumer understood what it meant to be a part of the MLS and understand the rules and the competition and the other teams and players LAFC would be playing, so there was context. In this case, we are truly starting from scratch. It’s not only a new team, but it’s also a new league with eight new teams around the country and we’re playing in Dignity Health Sports Park, which is currently the home for the LA Galaxy. But what I did know from my LAFC experience was how important it was to build a team with our community, and that grassroots effort is something that is a tentpole component to the Wildcats’ journey. From day one, we have made sure that our fans have had a voice in this process and that the Wildcats are a reflection of all of us, not something that we are building in a box in our office.
DB: Even the NFL has hit some road bumps in reintroducing professional football to LA. What are you doing to make sure things go differently for the Wildcats?
HBK: I think it’s great how this city is embracing football. Everything that we do for the LA Wildcats and the XFL is for the love of football, and we are excited to be a complement to the Rams and the Chargers and the rest of the football product in Los Angeles and bring more of it to football fans in the spring. So, regardless of whether you’re cheering for the Bruins or cheering for the Trojans, you should all be Wildcats fans in the spring.
DB: So you have professional experience in or with almost every major American sports league – what have you taken away from each of your positions across the past decade?
HBK: I’m incredibly fortunate. I’ve had a really unique set of experience in sports where I’ve been able to work on the league level with the NFL and the NHL, and on the player level with Relativity Sports, where I represented top-tier talent across the NFL, MLB, NBA and even soccer as well. And then being on the team side and venue with LAFC – and again now on the team side – all of those experiences combine together for a really unique perspective as to what it means to build a league from the ground up and a team from the ground up, (and) do it in a way that is true to this market.
DB: The XFL has fizzled out in the past – what makes it different this time around and what sets it apart from the other American leagues you’ve worked with?
HBK: What’s really exciting about this journey is that everything we do is about football, family and fun. And we are building this the right way for the long term. So we’re going to have a great year one, but we’re going to be back next year, the year after and the year after that. And it’s something where we recognize that fandom has to be earned and not given, and we’re going to build this the right way and build generational-long fans. What fans are going to see Feb. 16 at Dignity Health Sports Park – and I hope to see lots of Bruins there – is a great game day experience, whether you’re 8 or 80 years old. There’s going to be something for everybody, and the football is going to be exciting, competitive, gritty, and Wildcats definitely know how to win.