Dawn Hudson Steps Down as NFL's Chief Marketing Officer

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Dawn Hudson.
Dawn Hudson. Credit: NFL

Just days after its chief operating officer quit to run Seattle's proposed NHL expansion team, the National Football League finds itself in search of a new marketing head.

Dawn Hudson on Friday told The Wall Street Journal she was stepping down as chief marketing officer of the NFL, a post she'd held since September 2014. Hudson, who intimated that her position at the league since day one had been conceived as a short-term appointment, said she was not looking to assume another marketing role after she officially parts ways with the NFL in April.

A former PepsiCo North America President and CEO, Cola War veteran Hudson first met NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in 2002, when Pepsi unseated Coca-Cola as the league's official soft-drink sponsor. Prior to joining Pepsi in 1996, Hudson was managing director of the now-defunct agency DMB&B's New York office and put in several years at DDB Needham, Chicago.

In accepting Goodell's offer to lead the NFL's marketing efforts, Hudson was charged with promoting a brand that had begun straining under the weight of accumulative controversies, including an ugly spate of domestic-assault incidents involving active players and a torrent of damning scientific evidence linking the concussions sustained while playing football to degenerative brain disease.

Before the opening kickoff of the 2017-18 NFL season, Hudson also had to contend with the sociopolitical powder keg of the anthem protests, a movement which would become even more divisive when the President of the United States began sharply criticizing players for exercising their right to free speech. While establishing any definitive correlation between the protests and the NFL's ongoing ratings decline is complicated by the lack of empirical evidence, there is no denying that the league has been facing significant headwinds of late, with overall TV deliveries falling 18 percent over the course of the past two seasons.

If Hudson's marketing initiatives didn't move the ratings needle, she certainly can be said to have brought a sense of whimsy to an organization that has long been characterized as the "No Fun League." At the end of the season, Hudson and her team worked with Grey New York to develop what would prove to be the second most-popular Super Bowl LII ad, per USA Today's Ad Meter. The 60-second spot, which featured New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and two-time All-Pro wideout Odell Beckham Jr. reprising the climactic dance sequence from the 1987 theatrical "Dirty Dancing," was a nod to the league's sage decision to spike its draconian anti-touchdown-celebration rules.

Another signature Hudson heart-warmer was 2017's "Super Bowl Baby Legends" campaign, which featured toddler versions of former Bears head coach Mike Ditka, erstwhile Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin and Jets signal caller Joe Namath decked out in a tiny faux-coyote-fur coat.

The NFL's search for a replacement CMO will be conducted within and without the organization. In the meantime, the league has elevated NFL Media topper Maryann Turcke to succeed the departed Tod Leiweke as chief operating officer. Hudson told the Journal's Alex Bruell that Turcke's promotion "seemed like a natural breaking point," inasmuch as the new COO "deserves someone who will be in it for the long-term with her. That wasn't going to be me."

Turcke is now the highest-ranking woman on the NFL roster and the first to serve as COO. A native of Ontario, Turcke had recently been president of Toronto-based Bell Media.

In a statement released Friday morning, the NFL wished Hudson well in her future endeavors and highlighted the efficiency of her efforts.

"Dawn provided refreshing insights and perspectives on how to portray our game, players and the special bond fans have with the NFL," the statement read. "The league's multi-platform campaigns have further deepened the connection with fans throughout the year, culminating with exciting and engaging Super Bowl messages."

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