Wonder Woman Profile: Jodi Markley, ESPN
ESPN’s Jodi Markley: Born for Sports & TV
By Leslie Ellis
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, television 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 VP 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 the network’s 3,000+ live remote events and thousands of hours of studio programming on the air.
“Jodi is the complete leader,” said Kevin Martinez, VP of Corporate Outreach for the network. “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 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. That’s what makes it so exciting!,” the 2014 Multichannel News Wonder Woman said.
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 graduating from the University of South Florida with a communications degree, relatives hooked her up to 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 laughs. 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.
From there, she worked her way up, and up, and up to SVP, 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,” notes Chris Calcinari, VP of ESPN & ABC Sports Remote Operations.
Six years ago, she 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 attributes her pluck to a family full of strong women, and a career full of strong mentors. Her mom and dad ran a para medical company in Florida; she’s one of four over-achieving 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?,’” said good friend and colleague Meg Green, Senior Director of Talent Negotiation and Recruitment for ESPN.
For Markley, it really is all about the people. “Any well-oiled machine starts with happy people,” she says.
Steve Anderson, Executive VP of News & Content Operations for ESPN, said that when Markley became head of the networks 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 — literally. 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 recalls, 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, who starts the college search this year.
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 says, 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 animations, for Sports Center; 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.”
This profile originally appeared in Multichannel News.