February 5, 2020
By Grant Lindsley
The Power: Recognizing Women of Empire
Some of those who create the New York Empire experience for players and fans deserve special appreciation as we gear up for the 2020 season. In the wider world of ultimate, it’s unusual and often luxurious for players to have the perspective and planning of full-time personnel. In season, the Empire back office spends well over a hundred hours a week building the best organization in the AUDL. We’re highlighting four of the women who make it all happen here.
Barbara is the engine that makes the Empire run. As an owner, Barb navigates the big picture: setting the philosophy and mission of the organization, promoting the sport of ultimate, and establishing the team’s management and finances. But she also handles the nitty gritty: hiring staff, negotiating player contracts, even making PB&Js so that players can have something to eat during games.
That she already has a full plate as president of an insurance agency shows how much she cares about the team. She estimated spending over 40 hours a week in-season and upwards of 20 hours in the off-season, on Empire-related activity, which is almost certainly more than most players can say they dedicate to training.
After becoming interested in ultimate when her son (o-line cutter Matt Stevens) started playing, Barb followed and learned about ultimate until she and her husband, Paul Stevens, took majority ownership of the Empire after the 2017 season.
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, priorities for her are making the home game experience even more family-friendly, especially for kids, and also forging a fruitful new media partnership with Fox Sports 2. Most of all, Barbara seeks to keep running the team like a family.
Elly began as a statistician during the 2013 season, and since then her role has only grown. Two years later, she was the Director of Operations, and she has expanded the scope of that position, too.
The list of things Elly takes care of is impressive, but in a word, it is logistics. Travel logistics, gameday logistics, helping establish the East Division schedule, finding singers for the national anthem at home games, and more. Each task takes time and patience and excellent organization.
Take travel: over time, Elly has compiled a rolodex of hotels and restaurants to use when Empire’s on the road. She researches deals along every route and in every city Empire travels.
The schedule takes an enormous amount of coordination and cooperation across every team, which sounds like a logistical nightmare – every player should be sending thank you cards to Elly and the others who work so hard to arrange it. As soon as the schedule is set, Elly stays on the grind, locking in reservations and sending forms to the players to find out who’s gluten-free or has a work conflict and has to travel at odd hours. She coordinates with the bus company. She coordinates with the coaches (receives the active roster and sends it to the league before each game). She even coordinates with the refs, overseeing them at one point, which meant learning the rulebook.
Elly has a timeline for every step in the sequence of every home game, from when staff arrives to when fans leave. Who tell the refs in their headsets about a TV timeout? Elly. Who scripts what the Fosina field announcers say before, during, and after each game? Elly. Once the game starts, she doesn’t rest. She still sometimes takes stats.
And of course, Elly coordinates with the players. Her pre-game logistics emails are so thorough even Jack Williams can show up on time wearing the right clothing. Each email represents the culmination of weeks of work, and players feel her constant support.
“Needless to say, I enjoy multitasking,” writes Elly. “I enjoy staying organized and being prepared for all situations that might arise…In general, I think of my role like a director in theater. It is really easy to notice when the directing is bad, but usually you rarely notice if the directing is good.”
The pride in Elly’s work is evident. Whenever something is going right, it’s not coincidence. You probably have Elly to thank.
Pictured: Victoria Leontios with Empire photographer Jen Voce (IG: @aVoceBehindTheLens)
As Marketing Director, Victoria handles print and social media. Follow Empire on the gram (@empireultimate), and the stories you tap through are Victoria’s handiwork. Community outreach can take many forms, and most recently Victoria has supported Dan Hilton on the new Empire podcast, which interviews individual players about their experience in the league and their history in ultimate. She gets to work alongside her older brother Alex (Al), who does video for Empire.
During games, she’s working the merch booth, monitoring the front gate, coordinating with the DJ and the video stream, and generally making sure the fan experience runs smoothly.
One of her favorite parts of working with Empire, though, is clinics. It’s a joy for her to watch kids fall in love with the game. Travel games are also a highlight, because she can watch the game without the same burdens of hosting at home. The travel on the road can be quite long, especially coming back at night from Toronto and Ottawa, but Victoria says it’s all worth it.
Victoria is an integral part of the team in many ways. While she spends around 20 hours a week in the off-season and 35-40 in season, she’s also part of Empire’s social fabric, part of the family-vibe that the Stevens create. From Victoria herself: “The entire Empire franchise is truly a family through and through. Some of the players have become some of my best friends.”
Lastly, Victoria designs and orders all the Empire merchandise. (So, if you are a member of the rapidly growing syndicate who believes that tights will eventually replace shorts in ultimate, DM Victoria @empireultimate to let her know). Merchandise can be a tough job. It’s the job of a fashion designer with the added constraints of pre-set logos, color schemes, and gear that must perform. Luckily, she gets support from Melissa, the last but not least of the Empire staff highlighted here.
Melissa is literally part of the family business, and as such, her first stated job is “being Matthew’s #1 fan.” For her brother and the team at large, she is successful. Despite living in Florida, Melissa travels to almost every single game, including those in Canada.
Melissa hypes the crowd. She adds a flair in both presence and costume. In her own words, she provides “volume and endurance in the stands” and “dresses like a pickle," which I can personally attest to and agree that her spirit takes athleticism.
While Melissa doesn’t play ultimate, she’s part of it, as a fan, a promoter, and a member of what she hopes to become a Stevens family legacy in the Empire. And in many ways, Melissa does exactly what you’d want from any great teammate; she’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team. She describes herself as a utility player, running errands, refilling water jugs, setting up tents, making cotton candy during homes games, and generally looking for ways to take initiative and help whenever and wherever it would be useful. She also contributes with her artistic sensibilities in collaborating, for example, with Victoria to develop ideas for uniforms, apparel, and retail.
Speaking of apparel, to play us out, here’s a clip of Melissa in her element, the pickle extraordinaire, during last year’s Championship Game.