When Alana Matthews was seven years old, she joined the boys’ hockey team in her hometown of Meadville, Pennsylvania. “Everyone in my family skated,” she says with a laugh. Her two brothers played hockey, and her dad was their coach. Her mother taught figure skating and got her on the ice at age two. “I didn’t really enjoy figure skating, but I was a strong and fast skater, so I thought hockey would be a better fit.” Except there were no girls’ teams for her to join.
“My mother was my biggest advocate,” she recalls. “She didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to play.” When the family moved to Pennsylvania, she joined another boys’ team. “I didn’t get to be on a girls’ team until I was a freshman in high school.”
A rash of knee injuries sidelined her for most of high school, though. At Colgate University, where she majored in political science, she played on a club team and did some play-by-play announcing for the boys’ varsity team.
Another long-held passion was to go to law school. After graduating from Southern Methodist University (SMU) Dedman School of Law in 2012, she worked as a litigation associate at Wilson Esler in Dallas. “I was more interested in transactional law, but it was a great opportunity,” she recalls, “and taught me how to think on my feet and to structure deals to avoid litigation.”
She knew she wanted to eventually work in the sports industry, and so she began an energetic campaign of going to conferences, including Sports Lawyers Association events; meeting with industry professionals; and reading voraciously. “I spent all my spare time hustling to build a network and educate myself.”
Matthews didn’t realize it at the time, but she had embarked on exactly what Richard Bolles recommends in his best-selling job-hunting book What Color is Your Parachute?: a series of informational interviews. “I met with lots of executives, but I wasn’t responding to job postings or asking them for anything,” she says. “I just wanted to learn what they did, what challenges they faced, and who else they thought I should talk to.”
One of those meetings was with Jason Farris, Dallas Stars chief operating officer and author of several books, including Behind the Moves: NHL General Managers Tell How Winners Are Built. Her knowledge, focus, and eagerness paid off, and she joined the Stars organization in 2014 as its first in-house counsel under the current owner, Tom Gaglardi.
She added another attorney to the legal department in 2016. “She worked for a large defense company for ten years, so she has a great deal of business experience and maturity,” Matthews explains. “That is essential here since we are juggling so many different matters—including personnel concerns, contract negotiations, taxation issues, and real estate acquisitions and developments.”
The team plays at and is a partner in the American Airlines Center in Dallas and operates, has its executive offices, practices, and holds community programs and events at Comerica Center in Frisco.
To help her stay on top of everything, Matthews has taken several executive education courses. She earned her certificate in accounting and finance from SMU to improve her understanding of corporate finance. She took an online course in strategic HR management from Cornell University. Soon after being promoted to vice president and general counsel, she took another SMU course in master negotiation. “It’s important to know what you don’t know, and then go and learn it,” she explains.
In March 2018, Matthews’s job was expanded to include executive vice president of business operations. She was seven months pregnant at the time.
“Though it was incredibly exciting to become more involved with the executive team, I have to be honest; it was a difficult year,” Matthews explains. “I was going on maternity leave two months later, so I had to get up to speed quickly on lots of different issues. It was our first child and we don’t have family here, so there was quite a bit to deal with after having the baby, too, including leaving meetings to breastfeed or picking him up from day care.”
“You shouldn’t make people choose between their job and their family. If you do, you will lose talented people.”
She credits the Stars management team for their support, and says the experience gave her much more respect and empathy for what working mothers go through. Becoming a mother helped Matthews become a better leader.
“You shouldn’t make people choose between their job and their family. If you do, you will lose talented people. You should ask people what they need and then help them succeed both inside and outside the office,” she says. “After my pregnancy, we improved our maternity and paternity leave policies and built more flexibility into our return-to-work programs. I’m glad my experience will make it better for other women in our workforce.”
Working in the sports industry has been everything she imagined—and so much more.
“I get to use my legal degree to contribute to an organization that gives so much back to the community. I love seeing local kids learning to skate at Comerica Center and fans having a good time at our games and knowing that I played a small role in providing that enjoyment,” Matthews explains. “I’m also proud to help North Texas become known for hockey, not just with our games but through our hosting of events like the 2020 NHL Winter Classic, which attracted 86,000 fans, making it the second-most attended game in NHL history. I find all of it incredibly rewarding.”
Winstead is proud to support Alana Matthews and the Dallas Stars. Alana is a distinguished team executive who leads with integrity, unity and excellence. We admire her business knowledge, passion for hockey, and commitment to making a difference in communities throughout Texas.