• Halftime is Showtime

    The Coolest 12 Minutes in Television
    By Nancy Spitler

The playoffs are underway and the countdown to Super Bowl 50 has begun — that four hours of football mania, punctuated with the year’s best advertising, endless commentary and a no-holds-barred halftime show.

Clemson alumni know firsthand that football can stir the soul, delivering ecstasy or agony depending on the score when the clock strikes zero. But even if your preferred team loses miserably in the upcoming Super Bowl, Sarah Moll ’99 has been busy making sure that when it comes to halftime, you (and the other 100-million-plus viewers) won’t be disappointed.

Moll has been researching which performers are trending, what albums are selling and whose albums are soon to be released. She’s been negotiating and finalizing contracts, and thinking through every moving part of an intricately choreographed production that will be scrutinized by millions of viewers. She’s been working with a production company to coordinate the hundreds of volunteers who come back, year after year, just to be part of something this big.

And when the clock ticks down to the final seconds of the first half, everything goes into motion.

There are 8 minutes for set-up.

12 minutes for the production.

6 minutes to get off the field.

“I don’t breathe for 26 minutes,” Moll says.

  • It’s not everyone who has top artists calling to see if they can be a part of what is undeniably the largest music event of the year.

A powerhouse in the music industry

She is not actually in the music industry, yet Moll is regularly named to such lists as Billboard’s Power 100 (2015), Billboard’s Women in Music: the 50 Most Powerful Executives in the Industry (2013, 2014) and Billboard’s 40 Under 40 (2014, 2015). She is included with those labeled as groundbreakers, game changers, progressive leaders, movers and shakers. It’s not everyone who has top artists calling to see if they can be a part of what is undeniably the largest music event of the year.

Her title is director of media events for the National Football League, and, as the title implies, that includes all the major music and television events. In addition to the Super Bowl halftime show, she handles the NFL “Scouting Combine,” the NFL “Kickoff” and the “NFL Honors” show, which she calls the “Oscars of the NFL.” And this year, the season included three games in London that also featured music.

Every Super Bowl offers its own challenges in seeking artists that match the varied parameters. “This year’s Super Bowl will be in the light of day,” Moll says, “which I’ve never had to do. Halftime will be at approximately 5 o’clock in California. That’s a whole different halftime show.”

She’s already looking forward to next year; the game will be played in a dome, which offers its own challenges and opportunities.

No matter how many of those Billboard lists she gets included on, Moll is careful to remind you that she’s not a one-woman show. “I get a little apprehensive taking credit for the halftime show,” she says, “because I am really a cog in the wheel, and it’s a very big wheel. I have two bosses who really let me go with it. They let me be the day-to-day point of contact with the artists and with the production company we hire to produce it. That’s why people see me up in the forefront, but it really is a team.”

  • With eight Super Bowls under her belt, and artists ranging from rock and roll icon Bruce Springsteen to relative newcomer Bruno Mars, Sarah Moll sets out each year to put on the best show possible.

Getting a foot in the door

A native of New Jersey, Moll has football in her blood. She grew up with a high school football coach for a father, and she had always heard about “that team that ran down the hill.” Her family stopped by Clemson on the way to Florida between her sophomore and junior years of high school and drove through campus.

“There were people on Bowman Field playing volleyball and Frisbee, and I thought, ‘This is cool. I could do this.’”

Later, when former Clemson coach Clyde Christensen was in New Jersey recruiting, Moll found herself thinking, “Clemson? I know Clemson. We should put that on the list.”

Sports was a recurring theme in Moll’s life as a Clemson student. A sports management major (Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management) with a minor in journalism, she was assistant sports editor for the Tiger newspaper, covering mainly men’s basketball. “Getting to cover Division I sports as a college student is a surreal experience,” she says.

Sarah Moll ’99

Sarah Moll ’99

She also worked in the football office as one of the Tiger PAWS (Promoting Athletics With Students), responsible for showing recruits and their families around campus. And it was in that football office that the girl from New Jersey found a home and several surrogate mothers who took her in, offering advice on everything from what to wear to whom to date (or not).

“Jill [Wilks], Karen [Blackmon], Ren [Winham] and Lynn [Sparks] — they were instrumental in raising me and helping me transition to Southern living,” Moll says.

The summer between her junior and senior years, Moll spent back in New Jersey in a plum internship at NFL Films. “I got to travel the country, meet amazing people and work with professional athletes. And I got to learn a ton, most importantly. I was hooked. I knew that TV and film production was what I wanted to do.”

When asked what advice she has for students wanting to get into the business, she replies, “Internships. Internships. Internships.” She follows that up with this bit of advice that obviously has served her well: “Show up early, stay late and volunteer for whatever you can.”

That was the mantra for her summer internship. “I really got thrown into everything. I produced commercials, got to travel, set up interviews — and I also did filing. It wasn’t all glamorous. I did a ton of paperwork; I worked on budgets. I volunteered for everything.”

And when the summer was winding up, NFL Films offered her a job in the sales department, where she could work part time and finish her degree at nearby Temple University.

She turned it down.

“A lot of people thought I was crazy to turn down a job with the National Football League at the age of 20,” she says. “But they didn’t go to Clemson. You only get one senior year. You only get one final football season, one senior year to hang out at TD’s and Tigertown. This is Clemson, and there truly is something in these hills.”

So she came back, finished up and began mailing résumés out to everyone in the sports industry — all packed in mailing tubes, so they would stand out. NFL Films took notice, and offered her a job in the talent relations department, setting up interviews with celebrities, newsmakers, current and former players. She loved it.

“It’s not for everybody,” she says. “There’s no such thing as Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. It’s nights, it’s weekends, holidays. But listen, don’t get your violin out for me. The payoff was and is amazing.”

  • There are 8 minutes for set up. 12 minutes for the production. 6 minutes to get off the field.

    “I don’t breathe for 26 minutes,” Moll says.

It’s what you know and what you do that lets you stay

Moll tells the story of one of her early experiences at the job, working with the legendary Steve Sabol, one of the founders of NFL Films. He was scheduled to interview Sam Wyche, former head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, who lives in Easley. Sabol, who knew Moll had gone to Clemson, suggested she come along on the trip.

“This was my first trip with Steve, and there was no way I was going to screw this up,” she says. “So after we checked into the hotel, I got back in the car and drove around to every place we would have to go the next day, including every place I thought Steve would want to go, including where to go to get a great Southern breakfast. It may sound silly, but taking that extra time and never having to take a U-turn with your boss in the car — huge.”

That story illustrates the approach Moll has taken in every phase of her career at the NFL.

Sarah Moll ’99 with Katy Perry

Sarah Moll ’99 with Katy Perry

“I didn’t get where I am without being a hard worker,” she says. “And I’m also organized to a ‘T.’ Some people may call that anal, but I’m just organized. That’s just gotten me where I am. Who you know gets you in the door. What you know and what you do lets you stay, and I truly believe that.”

Seven years of hard work with NFL Films led to an opportunity to move to New York City and work in the NFL’s league offices. Among the responsibilities of the new job was overseeing the halftime show. That year, Prince had already signed on to perform.

“Let me get this straight: I get to live in New York City, I get to work on the halftime show, and it’s Prince?” said Moll. “Sign me up.”

“I never had a desire to live in New York City, but I’m really glad I did,” she says. “I feel like everyone should try and live in New York at some point in their life. I became the person I was meant to be, and I grew as a person and became very strong. I don’t think I’d be as good in my job if I hadn’t had a chance to work in the league office and learn the business side of things.”

She pauses. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

With eight Super Bowls under her belt, and artists ranging from rock and roll icon Bruce Springsteen to relative newcomer Bruno Mars, Moll sets out each year to put on the best show possible. In 2014, the Super Bowl drew 115 million viewers; in 2015, that number rose to 121 million. It’s hard to even imagine the pressure that brings.

Moll says the best solution to that is to try not to think about it. “I try to put on the best show possible and know that my work is going to speak for itself, and the artist is going to give 100 percent. You can’t think, ‘I want to top that rating.’”

She downplays her part in that success: “The game gets better, there are more people in the world. The jump last year was pretty big; Katy [Perry] is obviously attributed with that.”

Last summer, her role with the NFL shifted again. “I was spending more and more time in our Los Angeles office, so much that they asked me to move out there, creating the trifecta of working in all three of the NFL’s domestic offices.”

The move to California has been a positive change for Moll. “I live on the beach, so I go for bike rides on the beach probably every weekend,” she says. “I’ve started to pick up my golf game again, and I do a lot of yoga. The California lifestyle is really appealing to me.”

That lifestyle provides some relief from the pressure of a job that can be all consuming. “I’m not married; I don’t have children,” she says. “So it’s easy to be all in with your job, 24-7. I’ve been trying to consciously not do that — by having a life and taking some time off work. I take so much pride in what I do and the products we put together, so it’s kind of hard for me to turn that off.

“But I’m working on it,” she says.

  • "I pinch myself every Super Bowl Sunday."

A Clemson foundation

These next few weeks will probably not provide much time for Moll to relax. At least a month before the game, she’ll begin working with the production company and an army of volunteers who come back year after year to work the event, with the reward of a t-shirt and the knowledge they helped create the magic.

But she’ll have her Tiger Paw mouse pad with her, the one she takes to all her events. “Everybody knows this is where I went to school,” she says. “I’m just so proud to have gone to school here, and no matter what I’ve done, my four years here built my foundation. My parents instilled in me being a hard worker, but this is where you’re taught to be teachable and coachable. You’re learning time management and how to do a schedule and having to be somewhere on time and being accountable. Those are all things I do in my job every day, and I learned it here.

“Moving 12 hours away from home gave me the courage and the know-how to live in New York City, to move across the county and live in LA. I could do all these things because I started doing them all at the age of 18 when I came to Clemson.” Despite the pace, despite the never-ending details to be dealt with and the pressure of putting on a better show for a bigger audience every year, the job never gets old for Moll.

“I pinch myself every Super Bowl Sunday. I didn’t even know a job like this existed. It’s the 12 coolest minutes in television.”

Sarah Moll spoke on campus this fall about her journey from Clemson to the NFL. Watch the video:

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  1. […] organization, being a team player — and a passion for the Tigers. Take a look at the current Clemson World story featuring Sarah. And take the time to watch her conversation with Clemson students last year when […]

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