When Jodi Markley was growing up in Miami, her older sister Barbara made this prescient observation: “All you do is play sports and watch sports on TV.”
At the time, TV was a three-channel universe. And when she wasn’t playing sports, Markley parked herself in front of anything involving the Miami Dolphins or gymnastics, and was a devotee of ABC’s Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay.
These days, Markley is senior vice president of operations for ESPN — the largest single department in the company — and is responsible for everything that needs to happen, logistically and otherwise, to put its 3,000-plus live remote events and thousands of hours of studio programming on the air.
“Jodi is the complete leader,” Kevin Martinez, vice president of corporate outreach for the network group, said. “She walks the walk, learns constantly and demonstrates that you are defined by what you’ve learned.”
It’s a job that requires grace under pressure all of the time, like when a mobile truck caught fire on the way to an event or when games run way long. “Nothing ends on time. Nothing happens when it’s supposed to happen,” she said. “That’s what makes it so exciting!”
Markley’s route to ESPN involves a very small suitcase, a “short” trip to Connecticut, a horrible movie and plain old serendipity. It goes like this: After she graduated from the University of South Florida with a communications degree, relatives hooked her up with work on the crew of a movie being shot in the Nutmeg State. “It was the worst film ever made — it’s not on IMDB,” Markley laughed.
While there, she picked up a side job as an associate director with the ESPN mobile unit covering events at the Hartford Civic Center, and a weekend gig working in-house at ESPN’s studios. She eventually worked her way up, and up, and up, to senior VP, production and operations, for ESPN International — ultimately launching ESPN 35 times around the world, as well as 13 versions of SportsCenter in different languages.
“I’ve worked with Jodi for over 20 years, on everything from network launches, show launches and overall event management. She’s always the person who ensures that we’re extremely organized, and covering each and every detail,” Chris Calcinari, vice president of ESPN & ABC Sports Remote Operations, said.
Six years ago, Markley felt the need for a change and heard about an open spot in operations. She found out who would make the decision, walked to his office, learned that he was in the restroom — and waited. “When he came out, I said, ‘Can I walk you to your office? I want to talk to you.’ ” During the short walk, she asked for the job, and ultimately got it.
Markley credits her pluck to a family full of strong women and a career full of strong mentors. Her mom and dad ran a paramedical company in Florida; she’s one of four overachieving daughters — one sister is a lawyer, one a pediatric surgeon and one a veterinarian.
(Little known Markley family fact: While on honeymoon in New York, Markley’s father won the showcase prize on The Price Is Right. The haul: $1,000, diapers for a year, a case of Dove soap, and a movie camera.)
Colleagues say Markley is a wonder woman because of her steadfast commitment to the people of ESPN. Several described scenarios in which they became ill, and Markley went out of her way to help — helping a colleague with a long-term illness every day; driving another to the pharmacy and pushing her way to the front of the line to get an inhaler during an asthma attack. “One question I hear her ask her employees, colleagues and friends is, ‘What can I do?’ ” good friend and colleague Meg Green, senior director of talent negotiation and recruitment for ESPN, said.
Steve Anderson, executive VP of news and content operations for ESPN, said that when Markley became head of the network’s remote, studio operations and studio directing, “she immediately focused on the people — she created a strong, diverse management team that improved communication and transparency.”
Plus, she’s a life-saver. Once, while attending a dinner event at a National Association of Broadcasters show, a woman sitting near her began to choke. “I looked around. Nobody was doing anything, so I Heimliched her,” Markley nonchalantly recalled, adding, “She and I still get together from time to time — but she’s not allowed to eat any meat near me.”
At home, she’s a “die-hard gardener” and yoga practitioner. After a hard day’s work, she’ll “bust into a down dog” to chill out. She’s very close to her family, near and far — siblings still in Florida, plus husband Paul Rochford, and three kids: Samantha, 22, a business major at Southern New Hampshire University; Alison, 20, studying biology at Roger Williams University, and son Jacob, 16.
PASSION TO HELP
Her other passion — the Red Cross — emerged after watching her mother battle cancer 10 years ago. “My mother was my beacon of strength and it was so painful to watch her suffer. During her treatment, the nurses kept bringing her bags of platelets. “I was fascinated and wondered where they came from,” Markley said, adding: “I realized, I need to help somebody else’s mother,” and became a platelet and plasma donor. She went on to join the board of the Conn. and Rhode Island Red Cross three years ago: “That’s my passion.”
With a new 196,000-square-foot digital center set to open in May, including a brand new set, with brand new animation for SportsCenter; the launch of the SEC Network; the opening of a newly constructed production facility in Mexico — all coupled with applying multi-platform elements to the thousands of events ESPN produces — it’s going to be a big year for ESPN, and for Markley.
And she’ll take it all in stride. “We work in sports. We work in TV. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
TITLE: Senior Vice President of Operations, ESPN
CAREERHIGHLIGHTS: Senior VP, International Production /ESPN Classic/ ESPNews; VP, ESPN Operations and International Production; VP, International Production, ESPN
QUOTABLE: “One of my mentors once told me, ‘If you want friends, join the Y. It doesn’t matter what people think about you. Do the right thing.’ ”
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