Three former New York Jets stars—quarterback Joe Namath, defensive tackle Marty Lyons, and running back Curtis Martin—huddle with Matt Higgins, who suited up for the Jets' business operations seven years ago. Higgins recently made an all-star team in his own field, being named to the “40 Under 40” list of top sports executives in Sports Business Journal.
No one can ever accuse Matt Higgins of being a slacker. Since graduating from Queens College with a degree in political science, Higgins has gone from the Office of the Mayor of New York City to the front office of the New York Jets.
Higgins credits his time at QC for much of his current success. Indeed, he refers to the school as his “path out of poverty,” as he grew up poor in a working-class neighborhood in Bayside. His parents divorced when he was nine. Raised by his mother, Linda, he fondly remembers sitting in on Saturday classes she was attending at QC. “She was a great writer,” Higgins says of his mother, who earned a BA from the college and also pursued two master’s degrees there.
Like his mother, Higgins was a strong writer. While still in college he wrote a column for the Queens Tribune called “The Action Desk.” “I would tackle local problems and basically do investigative-type journalism,” he says. His column garnered several New York Press Association awards, as well as a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
Not long after that, a profile of Higgins in the Daily News grabbed the attention of staffers in Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration. He would become, at 26, the youngest press secretary in New York City history. Says Higgins, “Rudy cared that I could write, I was smart, that I would work my tail off for him, and I’m grateful for that.” He also recalls the mayor’s strong work ethic and that he “rarely slept or took a break.” Higgins was not far behind the mayor, as he attended Fordham Law School at night while working as press secretary.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Higgins assumed control of communications for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. During this time he wrote numerous speeches for Governor George Pataki. But soon he felt it was time to switch teams.
“The New York Jets are big, they’re in the public domain, but at the end of day it’s not life and death,” says Higgins, who joined the Jets in 2004 in a business operations capacity. “It’s a nice change of pace.”
Now an executive VP with the team, Higgins has helped revitalize the New York Jets’ brand by overseeing the team’s efforts in marketing, sponsorships, merchandising, broadcasting, social media, and human resources. He also was instrumental in bringing the Super Bowl to New York/New Jersey in 2014.
As something of a reformed workaholic, Higgins offers advice to those still obsessively answering every last email into the wee hours of the night: “If you don’t have vision, then all you have is execution. You need to look at the road ahead instead of just always driving.”
Favorite music: The xx and all sorts of indie music.
Favorite book: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
Surprising fact: He’s planning to run a marathon on every continent; in 2009 he ran the New York City Marathon in just over five hours.