Alumnus Quarterbacks Major NFL Events
Eric Finkelstein, senior director of event operations for the NFL, still leans on lessons he learned as a Brockport student.
Eric Finkelstein '98 technically drafted New England Patriots quarterback and future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady into the National Football League (NFL).
Two years after graduating from SUNY Brockport with a degree in communication, a concentration in broadcasting, and a minor in political science, and less than a year after starting as an assistant of event operations for the NFL, Finkelstein was chosen to be a league representative in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
"Tom Brady was selected 199th overall, and I happened to be handed his card with his name on it. So, I was the first NFL employee to see that he was about to be drafted by the Patriots," Finkelstein said. "I handed in the card to officially draft Brady into the league."
While Finkelstein was a minor component of that noteworthy moment in NFL history, the now senior director has been a key orchestrator of 19 Super Bowls, 10 Pro Bowls, and a number of signature events put on by the league over the past 19 years.
Finkelstein, who has loved sports since he was young, remembers attending Major League Baseball spring training with his father when he was 10 years old.
"I met the radio announcer for the [New York] Mets, Bob Murphy, and he made such an impression on me that I decided right then I wanted to be him," said Finkelstein.
When it came time for his college search, Finkelstein looked into schools known for their strong sports broadcasting and communication programs. Even after he had already decided to attend a SUNY school close to his Rockland County home, he and his family followed their original college search travel plans and took a tour of the Brockport campus.
After spending more than two hours exploring the campus radio station, WBSU 89.1 The Point, Finkelstein told his father, "We have to get our deposit back. This is where I have to go."
Brockport became Finkelstein's home for the next four years, and he spent all of them working for the radio station as an on-air DJ, promotions director, and ultimately operations manager.
While Finkelstein did not yet realize he would eventually shift his career focus, his experiences at the radio station prepared him for that shift.
During his junior year, he coordinated a station Easter egg hunt that proved to be wildly popular. Prizes ran out — and children were crying. Finkelstein jotted down the name of each child who did not receive a prize, bought extras, and sent them to the children's homes after the event.
"It was the first real event I ever did, and it still sticks with me to this day," he said. "It always reminds me to prepare for every contingency possible and to make sure you never have a crying child."
After graduating, Finkelstein interned for the Rochester Red Wings, then worked in the Mets ticket office. A year later, he landed his first position with the NFL.
"I knew I wanted to work in sports in some way, and I decided from the experience I had in all different sides of the radio station that I might want to work in a front office for either a league or a team," said Finkelstein. "I ended up doing both."
One of his favorite NFL events was the concert that kicked off the 2002 season.
"We actually shut down Times Square. It was like New Year's Eve," he said. "It was right after the September 11 attacks, so it had added meaning, and it was really special to show that New York was back in business."
"The best compliment I can get is silence. If I'm doing my job correctly, then nobody knows I did it. It's something I always strive for."
Finkelstein's most recent focus was the 2018 Draft, April 26–28, which was held for
the first time in an NFL stadium.
"It was the largest draft ever in the sense that we could accommodate close to 24,000 people [in the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX]," he said. That's 20,000 more people than the historically largest draft in Radio City Music Hall.
Finkelstein said he "thrives off the challenge" of evolving events from year to year and from place to place — but the thrill does not come without drawbacks.
"I want students who might be interested in pursuing this kind of position to consider the amount of time and days on the road it involves. It's a major commitment," said Finkelstein. "But, I don't ever take it for granted."