Thad Sheely, the Jets' executive vice president of finance and stadium development who for more than a decade shepherded Woody Johnson's quest to build a state-of-the-art stadium and a best-in-the-NFL practice facility for his team, has announced this morning that he is leaving the Jets to start his own real estate company.
"It was really a great opportunity to build a billion-and-a-half-dollar NFL stadium in New York — it's been an amazing journey," said Sheely of the expedition that ultimately led to the completion of the stadium for the start of the 2010 season and the selling of the naming rights to MetLife this past summer. "I never thought that it would take 11 years to finish, but I realized once we sold the naming rights, the stadium was finally done. I'm ready for a new project."
That project will be Sheely's own New York-based real estate development company that he has titled GridWorks LLC, a name reflective of Manhattan's street grid as well as reminiscent of his passion for the gridiron, the field of endeavor he's now departing.
Sheely thanked Johnson for the opportunity to direct the projects that led to the opening of MetLife Stadium as well as the transfer of the team to the new Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, which opened its doors to the Jets on Sept. 1, 2008.
"We talk a lot about how this is a new era, a golden era for the Jets. It doesn't come without effort or investment," Sheely told newyorkjets.com this morning. "Woody's investment in the team has been unprecedented. He wants to win and he knows how to invest now in order to win in the future."
Johnson called Sheely "an extremely valuable member in the history of the New York Jets" when he addressed the organization's employees today. In an email to the staff, Johnson said:
"Shortly after becoming owner of the Jets, two objectives that I believed were critical to the success of the franchise were constructing a world-class practice facility and building a stadium the Jets could call home. Thad brought both initiatives to a reality. I will always be grateful to him for helping to transform this franchise through his creativity and determination.
"Thad's a bright, driven visionary who thrives off the challenge of building successful enterprises. His considerable abilities will serve him well as he moves on to the world of New York City real estate."
Sheely said his job has always revolved around real estate and when he left the Miami Heat, where he was vice president of business development, to join the Jets' front office in 2001, "the Jets didn't have any real estate. Part of what I feel we've been able to achieve with the Jets is the acquisition of the hard assets of the stadium and the training facility. To me, those are as important as the underlying brand assets, something we didn't have before."
Getting the stadium built in partnership with the Giants had its twists and turns for Sheely and the Jets through the West Side of New York City. Although the team wasn't able to build their new stadium there, Sheely said the lessons of the West Side were very valuable in moving on to the project in the Meadowlands.
Asked for his favorite moment with the Green & White, Sheely paused in his second-floor office overlooking the Jets' practice fields at the training facility, thought, then smiled and pointed to the six-foot-wide panoramic photo of MetLife Stadium on the wall behind his desk.
"It was something special, walking into that stadium lit up in green at night," he said of the Jets' first games in the new stadium, for the preseason opener against the Giants on Aug. 16, 2010, and then for the regular-season opener on Sept. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens. "It's been a really spectacular ride."
He also stressed his pride in the consolidation of the Jets' operations, split between the football headquarters in Hempstead, N.Y., and the business operations' base in Manhattan, into the Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park, N.J.
"For 10 football Sundays a year, the stadium is home for our fans," Sheely said. "But we spend 355 days of the year at this facility, which is really the nerve center of our operations now."
Sheely will move on to his new venture in New York only after a spectacular ride halfway around the world. He's going to climb Mount Everest — well, he'll be making a trip to Everest's famed base camp. Things are looking up for him in several different ways.
In his role with the Jets, Sheely also managed the team's finance, information technology, ticketing operations and development of new business ventures. He began his career in sports as an investment banker with Prudential Securities' sports facility finance group. He's served as an adjunct professor at NYU's Tisch School of Sports, Hospitality and Management, lecturing on sports facility finance.
Sheely received his undergraduate degree from Columbia College and his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He was a 2010 recipient of Sports Business Journal's "40 Under 40" Award presented to outstanding sports executives. Raised in Youngstown, Ohio, one of the cradles of football, he resides in Montclair, N.J., with his wife, Gabby, and their two sons, Ben and Nick.