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Zaileen Janmohamed: Focusing on “How” Instead of “Can’t”

Get to know Bay Area Host Committee CEO Zaileen Janmohamed and her journey to championing some of the biggest sporting events in the Bay Area.

One story about Bay Area Host Committee CEO and President Zaileen Janmohamed’s childhood tells you one important thing about this enterprising child of East African refugees from civil war and Idi Amin’s murderous regime: She doesn’t give up.

“My parents were so nervous about being in a new country [Canada], and raising first-generation kids, where society was so different than what they were used to,” she said. “They were very protective, so they stuck with what they knew, their perception of what girls are supposed to do.

“I was disappointed that I couldn’t do everything that my friends could,” Janmohamed continued, “and feeling I was different from other girls in school. What they typically did versus what I couldn’t, which was to play a lot of sports.”

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But she found ways to do what she loved.

“It took persistence and some sneaking around,” she said. “My mom started to realize that I was probably not in the library. I was likely in the gym, playing basketball or hockey. One day, she came early to pick me up just to see what I was doing and found out. It was a blessing in disguise because she started to realize how much love I had for sports.”

Janmohamed went on to graduate from Simon Fraser University and earn an MBA and Masters in Sport Management from the University of Massachusetts, where she also founded the Women in Sport Business Program. These days she lives on the Peninsula with her family.

She went on to earn an impressive record for building sports sponsorships, including managing VISA’s sports sponsorship around the world for Olympic Games and economic development for the 2028 Olympic & Paralympic Games in Los Angeles.

In 2016, she was honored by a place in Sports Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40 Class” and Leaders in Sport’s “Leaders Under 40.” Adweek named her one of its 2021 “Woman Trailblazers.”

Taking the Helm at the Host Committee

Janmohamed was chosen to head the World Cup Host Committee board in March 2023 — months after the Bay Area was chosen for the international sports event. For most, that would be enough to manage, but almost immediately, the board started talking about a Super Bowl bid.

“[When] I walked into this job, we had one event, the World Cup,” she said. “I have a board of directors that is very aggressive and passionate. They think sport can turn this region around. And they said, let’s get more.

“Now, some were saying, ‘I don’t think you can do a World Cup and a Super Bowl in the same year,’” she continued. “And I asked, ‘Why not?’”

Janmohamed’s question was, “How can we do it and make it great for the community? What are the benefits of doing both versus just thinking about all the reasons why it can’t be possible.”

The bid was done in six weeks and Janmohamed made the pitch to the NFL. “There’s normally a five minute presentation to the owners,” she said. “You talk about the Bay Area, what you’re going to do to grow the game. And I’m thinking, ‘Why don’t we say something that’s about how we’re going to do it, why we want to do this.’

“I think the Bay Area is a completely different region,” she continued. “We have diversity that needs to be celebrated. If the NFL wants to grow this fan base, this is the place to do that. I had one slide that talked about my life story. I talked about the fact that my parents are from East Africa and that I was an Indian woman working in an industry that was predominantly male. I talked about the Bay Area being very reflective of those types of people. You could have heard a pin drop.

“It’s okay to share your story,” she continued. “It’s okay to talk about things that are meaningful to you because they’re all human beings.

“Roger Goodell stood up and he shook my hand really firmly and said, ‘I don’t know if we’ve heard that type of presentation before.’ I don’t know if that was good or bad but we got it, we got the game, so I’m assuming it was good,” said Janmohamed.

One of Janmohamed’s goals is building a standing Bay Area sports commission instead of relying on ad-hoc host committees.

“I think that we have lost out because of that [lack],” she said. “I think that we could host many more sporting events in the Bay, and not just host them to host them because it’s cool.”

She cites the economic benefits and that these events are community celebrations.

“We’re talking about the legacy that we’re going to leave in this community,” she continued. “What are the things I’m going to work on in 2027-28 so that people in the community feel like they’ve benefited? You can do much more in the region if you continue rather than dissolve when the event is over.”

Even the Bay Area Host Committee logo emphasizes the larger community commitment.

“Our logo is basically eight lines,” Janmohamed said. “Those eight lines represent the eight bridges that connect the nine counties of the Bay. The connection of the bridges are symbols of how we connect with each other.”

A Musical Side

Janmohamed isn’t just about sports, however. She’s also a music lover and in private life she’s a DJ.

“In my late teens, early 20s, I picked it up and had a lot of fun playing for parties and just for myself,” she said.  “After I had kids and moved to the Bay Area, I stopped — I didn’t have my equipment and just didn’t have the time.

“Then, three years ago, I was on vacation with my husband, just sitting looking out on the water,” she continued. “I looked at him and said, ‘I think I want to start DJ-ing.’ By the time I got back from vacation, I’d already ordered brand new equipment that was sitting on my front step.

“It opens up a different side of my brain. I’ll find myself doing it before a big presentation,” said Janmohamed. “This is a different type of creativity. I don’t have the time to do as much of it as I want to. But I love it.”

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