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Remembering Basketball Pioneer Pat Summitt

How do you say goodbye to a woman who inspired generations of athletes and defined what it means to be a coaching legend?

You don’t.

Instead, you keep her memory alive in your heart and mind.

Pat Summitt, 64, who died on Tuesday after a nearly five-year battle with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, was the queen of women’s basketball.

imagesAs the longtime head coach at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Summitt guided the Lady Vols from 1974-2012. After 38 seasons, she had amassed a record of 1,098 victories and 208 losses, making her the winningest coach in college basketball history – both men and women. She was also the first men’s or women’s coach to reach 1,000 victories.

Summitt was the gold standard in coaching.

She built a powerhouse program, and we were her women’s basketball disciples. When she spoke, we listened. She was a fierce competitor who stressed unwavering work ethic.

Anyone who witnessed Summitt’s greatness will tell you that no one worked harder than she did – and the results showed.

Her coaching recorded included 18 Final Fours, eight NCAA Championships, and an Olympic gold medal.

The seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year championed gender equity in women’s sports, and we witnessed the fruits of her labor.

Loyal fans flocked to Thompson-Boling Arena to watch the Lady Vols, where on their attendance numbers often outpaced the men. Including the 1999 season where they compiled the women’s basketball record of 16,565 per game.

In 2006, she signed a contract extension that made her the first women’s basketball coach to reach the $1 million mark – a far cry from her $250 a month wages in 1974. In Summitt’s final season, she earned $1.5 million. Last year, 10 SEC coaches were paid more than $400,000. Coaches around the country have Summitt to thank for the road she paved.

Summitt commented on her historic contract extension by saying, “In women’s basketball, just the fact that we’re starting to generate more interest and revenue and television, you get the exposure for the university. All of those things are a plus in terms of potential compensation. That’s where I see our game improving and growing.”

Indeed, the game grew and improved under Summitt’s watchful eye.

I remember meeting her during the early 90’s at a Tennessee basketball camps, and again in 2013 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Her signature smile and warm embrace made me feel like I was the most important person in the room.  I wrote about those life-changing moments in the piece Pat XO: ESPN’s Love Letter to Pat Summitt.

Summitt was an icon and the greatest basketball coach of all-time. She raised the bar and we all owe her a debt of gratitude. More importantly, we owe it to Summitt to keep her spirit and legacy alive.

WNBA Reveals The 20 Greatest Players Of All Time

June 21, 1997 will forever be etched in stone as the date of the inaugural WNBA game.

The sold-out crowd of 14,284 fans gathered at the Great Western Forum – the longtime home of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers – to watch the New York Liberty versus the Los Angeles Sparks.

new_wnba_logo_tsFast forward to season 20 and in honor of that historic day the WNBA announced its 20 greatest players  and most influential players in league history – Top 20@20 presented by Verizon.

Among the honorees are Sparks forward, Candace Parker, and Minnesota Lynx forward, Maya Moore, who were adolescents at the time of the league’s founding, are now the WNBA’s brightest stars.

In Parker’s eight WNBA seasons, she was named the 2008 Rookie of the Year and voted as a two-time regular season MVP (2008, 2013).

Moore has won a WNBA championship in three out of five seasons (2011, 2013, 2015), in addition to being voted as the 2013 WNBA Finals MVP and the 2014 regular season MVP.

This season, Parker’s 11-0 Sparks and Moore’s 12-0 Lynx are off to the two best starts in WNBA history, breaking the 10-0 mark set by the Lynx in 2012.

Their upcoming matchup will once again place June 21st in the record books as it is the first time in the WNBA, NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL that two teams with ten or more wins, no losses, and no ties will meet during the regular season.

In addition to being two of 20 most influential WNBA players on the court, Moore and Parker have also cemented themselves as vocal off the court leaders who are championing increased exposure for the league.

In 2015, Moore penned the Players’ Tribune essay – (In)Visibility – where she called for celebrating the female athlete and the WNBA product. Moore described growing up without a local WNBA team, so instead she chose to admire the Houston Comets – the dominant team at that time – and WNBA pioneers Tina Thompson, Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes.

Women whom she said, “I saw myself in them and them in me.” Today, Moore stands next to them as one of the league’s greatest players.

When asked what changes she has seen since writing her essay, Moore said, “In general media coverage has improved. This a good year for women’s basketball with the Olympics coming around and our 20th season. I am confident that the piece that I wrote was a good part of the conversation that has led to more conversations. I think we are heading in the right direction so far in 2016.”

While a lot of sports fans still wonder where the league is headed, the consensus among WNBA players and coaches is that in its 20th season the league is on an upward trajectory.

For more information on the WNBA’s Top20@20 presented by Verizon visit WNBA.com.

The full list includes nine current players: Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Seimone Augustus, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi and Lindsay Whalen.  Eleven former players are also among the honorees: Cynthia Cooper, Yolanda Griffith, Becky Hammon, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Deanna Nolan, Ticha Penicheiro, Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and Teresa Weatherspoon.

How Women Are Reforming FIFA’s Brand Crisis

This is the story of the world’s most popular sport – football – that spans more than 100 years. It is treasured and unites generations of fans. However, over the years, its governing body – the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) – which is responsible for the regulation and promotion of the sport worldwide has struggled to maintain the integrity of the beautiful game.

A 2015 indictment of former FIFA officials by the United States Justice Department alleges racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering, among other offenses rocked the football world.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch described the situation as deep-rooted, rampant and systematic corruption that spans two generations (1991-2015) of soccer officials abusing their positions of trust for personal gain.

FIFA’s brand and its reputation have taken a major hit.

In a recent Victim Statement and Request for Restitution filed with United States District Court Eastern District of New York, FIFA is attempting to reclaim tens of millions of dollars in damages that it alleges was caused by its former officials; FIFA notes: “The damage done by the Defendants’ greed cannot be overstated. Their actions have deeply tarnished the FIFA brand and impaired FIFA’s ability to use its resources for positive actions throughout the world…”

Further, the court filing continues, “Yet today, FIFA has become notable for the Defendants’ bribery and corruption, not its many good works the Defendants are responsible for harming FIFA’s brand and bringing FIFA and the game itself into disrepute.”

FIFA’s brand recovery will not happen overnight. However, its recent institutional reforms point in the direction of FIFA embracing a once marginalized voice – women.

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“There were three of us on the FIFA Executive Committee, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Of course it is time for reform, but why isn’t anyone talking about gender equality?’ The fact that we were there and we had the opportunity to be heard. It is called the power of the pulpit,” said Executive Committee member, Moya Dodd, regarding the role of gender equality in FIFA’s reform movement during her address at FIFA’s 2016 Women’s Football and Leadership Conference.

“Having a position means that I can stand here and talk, and some people will listen. That gave us the opportunity to step into the game when things opened up when the football world was reeling from the shocks that occurred in May and September.”

For Dodd and her colleagues, Lydia Nsekera, who was the first women elected to the executive committee and Sonia Bien-Aime who was the first female non-dedicated seat executive committee member, those shocks to the game provided their opening to move the ball – gender equality – forward.

“When the game opens up, your first instinct is to accelerate into the space and to find a teammate who is running into that space. That is really what the reform movement on gender equality [is about] – that is how it began. A few of us looked at each other and said, well you know if we can make a difference here, we can make ten years of progress in six months.”

Women all over the world joined the conversation.

#WomenInFIFA was active on social media with 47 million Twitter timelines spreading the message of gender equality. Football advocates, including the lone female voice on the 13-member reform committee, Sarai Bareman, deputy secretary general of the Oceanic Football Confederation, and Tatjana Haenni, deputy director and head of women’s competitions at FIFA, said that one way to improve the game is to let women in the door.

On February 26, 2016, the world and FIFA’s Extraordinary Congress were ready to hear that message.

Notably, gender equality was an election issue during the highly publicized FIFA presidential election to replace the former president, Sepp Blatter, who is serving an eight-year suspension from all football-related activities.

Candidates including the newly elected president, Gianni Infantino, were asked by the UK-based organization, Women in Football, what they would do on gender equality.

“If I am elected the next FIFA president, women’s football will be a priority and this will be reflected in how FIFA distributes its development funding,” Infantino replied. “We will increase FIFA dedicated staff to oversee an appropriately monitor the development programs delivered specifically for women’s football projects.”

Infantino continued his comments: “Furthermore, we will strengthen cooperation with the confederations to create synergies for greater support. Lastly, specific initiatives will be put in place to support the member associations to develop their club and league strategies, to further drive that growth and improve the grassroots and elite player pathway systems.”

Additionally, when asked if FIFA should be a leader and a model of gender equality and if he would commit to identifying and eliminate any gender pay gaps in FIFA, Infantino answered, “Yes.”

While the reforms passed by the FIFA Congress do not incorporate all of the measures that Dodd and her colleagues originally proposed – a 30% representation of women in FIFA leadership and fair resourcing similar to Title IX – they do dedicate at least six voting seats on the new 36-member FIFA Council to women.

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“I think we have the momentum on our side – on women’s football and the women in football side,” said Haenni when asked about gender equality next steps.

“So far there was no clear FIFA women’s strategy, and I think that is one of the first things FIFA now needs. And I am very positive that this is something we will get.”

As women continue to advance the conversation of gender equality in football, Dodd offered her own pitch to Infantino regarding commercializing women’s football.

“We do not need you to think about women as a problem that needs to be solved or addressed and ranked in order of all of the other problems you are facing,” said Dodd, while speaking directly to Infantino during a panel discussion at the FIFA Women’s Football and Leadership Conference.
“We are part of the solution commercially because we have one big revenue stream, one big asset called the men’s World Cup. We need more than one. There are a couple of opportunities sitting right there. The women’s World Cup, maybe a club world cup to start diversifying our revenue streams. Any businessperson will tell you that is a good idea.”

Dodd concluded by addressing FIFA’s brand crisis.

“We have a really bad brand problem, and women are part of the solution to fix it. Because of all of the horrible things you hear about FIFA, none of them are about women’s football. I have not heard a bad thing about the Women’s World Cup. I have not heard a bad thing about women in football. Nobody is saying, ‘If only there were less women in FIFA, it would be a better game, right?’ There is part of your branding answer.

For the women’s game, the reality is that it is growing globally, and the product on the field is  improving. As competition advances, sponsors and media attention will follow.

Growing the women’s game is not just fair, it is also smart business. By correcting the most profound and systematic injustices in football – the under representation of women in leadership and under-resourcing female participation – FIFA just might bring integrity back to the game and save its brand while doing so.

Stuck In A Rut? Here’s How To Win Like The UConn Huskies

The University of Connecticut (UConn) women’s basketball team captured its fourth straight national championship with cold-blooded efficiency.

Its seven-time James A. Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year, Geno Auriemma, made history by winning a record 11 championships and passing the legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach, John Wooden.

Much has been talked about, debated, and analyzed surrounding UConn’s dominance and whether it is good or bad for basketball. However, this it is not the first time critics have questioned whether a basketball team is too good for their sport.

160406072024-01-womens-bball-0406-super-169In 1997, a Sports Illustrated cover story asked, “Are the Chicago Bulls so good they’re bad for the NBA?” And more recently, GQ Magazine questioned the Golden State Warriors’ unparalleled record by commenting that they are “so good they’re ruining the NBA.”

Sure, no one enjoys watching lopsided blowout victories; yet, somehow when accomplished female athletes attain perfection it attracts vitriol from women’s basketball outsiders.

Meanwhile, inside of the women’s basketball landscape, there is no denying that the Huskies’ dominance challenges their opponents to become better.

Take Lubbock Christian, the eventual Division II national champions, for example, who played the Huskies in an exhibition game at the start of the season.

“They started the year off by beating us by 56 points,” said head coach Steve Gomez. “I appreciate it so much because it was the best drubbing we have ever taken. It got us off to a good start learning how to compete with the best.”

Syracuse Orange head coach, Quentin Hillsman, commented on UConn’s dynasty before the finals match up, describing the Huskies as a team that has forgotten how to lose.

“I want to be bad for basketball one day,” said Hillsman jokingly. “I want you all to say he is really bad for basketball. Because I tell you right now, if winning every game is bad for basketball, then let me be that.”

Yes, UConn won every single game this season compiling a 37-0 record. Remarkably, the team has not lost a game since 2014.

Led by WBCA National Player of the Year, Breanna Stewart, arguably the greatest player in UConn history, the Huskies are disciplined, technically proficient, and the embodiment of excellence.

While I sat behind UConn’s bench during the national championship game, I was in awe of their talent and attention detail. Their poise and confidence were inspiring, and a true testament to what is possible when athletes are focused on a single goal – to win a championship.

There is no denying that the players are talented millennials, a generation that is often criticized for being spoiled and lazy. Rarely are 20-something voices heard or even praised for that matter, however, after the Huskies cut down the nets and celebrated their victory, I wanted to learn what it takes to win four consecutive national championships.

I caught up with the players in the locker room and asked them one question: “What advice would you give someone who wants to perform at a high level?” Here is what they had to say.

Never apologize for being great.
Kia Nurse – Sophomore, 6-0 Guard

Never apologize for being great at something or wanting to be great at it. There are people who are going to be in your path along the way, who understand you and understand why you fight so hard and compete so hard each and every day. And there are people who will not understand it, hate on you and not appreciate it. But never apologize for being great at something or wanting to be great it.

If it is easy, then you are doing it wrong.
Gabby Williams – Sophomore, 5-11 Guard

If it is easy, then you are doing it wrong. That is something that you have to learn quick, especially at this program. People come in, and they see the outcome, but they do not see what goes into it. At times, we do make it look easy on the court that is because we practice until we cannot get it wrong anymore.

Prepare the right way.
Moriah Jefferson – Senior, 5-7 Guard

You have to prepare the right way. You have to work extremely hard each and every day. This championship did not start at the tournament; it started in the summertime when we were doing workouts with the military. You have to work hard each and every day, so when you are tested and put in tough situations, you are prepared for it.

Win or lose, put it all out there.
Breanna Stewart – Senior, 6-4 Forward

When you feel the most satisfied. You feel like you have done all that you can do. When you are working this hard and performing at that level, there is nothing else that can be asked of you. No matter win or lose, anything like that as long as you are putting it all out there that is what you want.

Get up and go after what you want.
Briana Pulido – Senior, 5-7 Guard

It is hard work, but that is not something that is not every other day or every other week, it is hard work every single day. There is a sense of not giving up. You will be hit by obstacles in life, and you just have to know how to get up and go after what you want.

Dedication is knowing what you want.
Saniya Chong – Junior, 5-8 Guard

It takes dedication; know what you want and what you love. You are obviously going to make mistakes. How are you going to step up and figure it out?

Learn how to handle failure.
Natalie Butler – Junior, 6-5 Center

It takes a strong work ethic. Determination, I think that is the biggest thing. Seeing what you love and just going out there and having the passion for it. If you do not have the passion for what you are doing, you are not going to get what you want out of it. And not to be afraid to fail, because you’re going to fail through the processes.

WNBA President Lisa M. Borders Says NBA, WNBA Are Joined At The Hip

As women’s collegiate basketball is on the verge of crowning its 2016 national champion, the NCAA Tournament does not end the basketball conversation; rather it shifts toward the professional level – the WNBA.

The league is entering its 20th season with a brand-new marquee partner, Verizon, and a new president – Lisa M. Borders.

new_wnba_logo_tsBorders joins the WNBA after serving as chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation and vice president of Global Community Affairs. In that position, she articulated the values of the company by virtue of its charitable giving and heightened Coca-Cola’s brand by strengthening communities in 207 countries around the globe. Now, Borders is charged with an almost identical task in elevating the WNBA’s brand in its current 12 markets and future markets.

Handpicked by NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, to lead the league, Borders is certainly no stranger to the WNBA. She was instrumental in its expansion to Atlanta in 2008 and has been on the sidelines as a long-time Dream season ticket holder ever since.

And if anyone doubted whether championing female athletes is her top priority, on Borders’ first day on the job, she released a statement on behalf of the WNBA regarding comments made by former Indian Wells CEO, Raymond Moore, about the women of the WTA.

Borders said: “At a time when the physical and emotional benefits of athletic participation have never been more clear, we need to empower female athletes and promote opportunities for girls and women to play sports, rather than promote outdated, offensive and uninformed opinions.”

I spoke with Borders shortly after the WNBA presidency announcement. We discussed her passion for women’s basketball, what she sees for the future of the league, and how she plans to collaborate with Commissioner Silver. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Glass: You’re adding to a trend that I’ve seen where fans, female fans, have moved from the sidelines and have stepped up and taken leadership positions within the WNBA.  We saw that in Los Angeles with its former ownership group and the current owners in Seattle who were season ticket holders.  Now, you’re moving from the Dream sidelines to the league office. What was it about the WNBA that attracted you to the presidency position?

Borders: I do things that make me happy, that are important to me. And passion is my barometer for that; how excited do I get when I go to a game or talk about it or read about the WNBA.  And I get incredibly excited about it.

That passion was turned up in 2007 when Donna Orender, my predecessor, came to Atlanta to invite us to consider having a team here.  I was a bit by the bug, but it was cemented when I went to a luncheon in New York where she and her team then were launching a program called Inspiring Women. And Madeleine Albright was the keynote speaker. What stood out to me most was she made a statement that, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.” I picked up my phone and said we’re bringing a team to Atlanta.  We put together a group to do just that.  So my passion was as a season ticket holder yesterday and today as an appointed president of the WNBA.

Glass:  You’re moving from a consumer products company, Coca-Cola, to professional sports. How do you view your background in leading within a global brand?  How will it translate to your new role in leading the WNBA brand?

Borders: There are great skills at the league office, and they are very deep in sports management and organizational management. I view my skills as complimentary to what’s already there.  We’ve got people who are marketing experts.  We’ve got those who are business operations experts. I see myself as the tip of the spear but as a part of a much larger organization, not just the league office, but the 12 teams in the markets that they play in today.  Everybody has a role to play, and mine is to be out front and make sure that we are getting it right. Listening to all the voices, being as inclusive as we can be, being as transparent as we can be, and being as accountable as we can be. I see my skills as completely complimentary to those that are already present to help elevate the WNBA to its next level of maturity.

Glass:  WNBA fans are excited about the 20th season. Fans who have been following the league are asking questions wanting to know about increased attendance, viewership, and marketing. And wanting to know what those strategies look like moving into Season 20. What can you share about the league’s strategies in those areas?

Borders: Certainly, the 20th year is an opportunity for us to reevaluate what’s working, what’s not working, and are there new things that we should be doing. All of our stakeholders have a point of view on what we could be doing to make the experience even better and to make it even more attractive to current fans and fans that we are hopeful will come and join us.

My first thought is fans need an opportunity to experience a game.  If they can come to a game, it’s fantastic. The deal that we’ve struck with ESPN where they are broadcasting live all of the playoff games, that’s a new and improved opportunity for people to get a front-row seat at the WNBA. NBA TV has 40 games going, and we’ve got Live Access. I hear the fans loud and clear, but I don’t want to get out too far in front of my colleagues who have done great work thus far.

Glass: You mentioned earlier about stakeholders and individuals with whom you’ll be working with. The Associated Press reported that Commissioner Adam Silver asked you if you’d be interested in the position. And we all know that no one is more important to the future of the WNBA than Commissioner Silver, who was very instrumental in the league being launched in 1997. How will you and the WNBA collaborate with Commissioner Silver?

Borders: Adam and I are joined at the hip on this one. I asked him initially when we had a conversation about the WNBA and this role if he was committed. I didn’t ask him if he wrote the business plan. I didn’t ask him how he did it. I asked him if he believed in this league.  And he assured me unequivocally that he was 1,000 percent committed. Because in the absence of commitment, it doesn’t matter who wrote the business plan. If you don’t have belief at the very top of the organization, it’s not going to work. And so I agree with you 100 percent that without Adam’s full stamp of approval or his fingerprints on this, it doesn’t work.

We are joined at the hip, and I recognize that the NBA and the WNBA are joined at the hip.  There are things that we do; we leverage inside the business because there are economies of scale that can be garnered by the two leagues working together. So at a minimum, we are operating as efficiently as we can by leveraging resources.  If we are not philosophically aligned, it doesn’t matter how many resources are leveraged.

Glass:  As you move into the start of the season, tell me, what are you most excited about? What successes from the previous 19 seasons are you hoping to build on?

Borders: I want to celebrate where we’ve come from. We tend, I think, as human beings, not to celebrate the successes.  We tend to look at what there is yet to be done. I think there’s an opportunity to build on the folks that have come before us. We’ve got an extraordinary group of women, past, present and, ultimately, those that we will have in the future who will have the opportunity to live out their dreams and the full potential of their lives.

Lesa France Kennedy, International Speedway Corporation Debut $400 Million DAYTONA Rising

Lesa France Kennedy, who topped Forbes’ list of the Most Powerful Women in Sports and serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the International Speedway Corporation (ISC), has added another accomplishment to her impressive credentials – constructing the world’s first motorsports stadium.

Led by Kennedy and ISC, which in 2015 accumulated $645.4 million in total revenue, DAYTONA Rising is the $400 million redevelopment project that is reimagining the American Icon – Daytona International Speedway (DIS).

After 31 months of construction, DAYTONA Rising features 101,500 permanent and wider seating and 60 luxury suites with a revamped hospitality area.

The massive redesign includes 11 football –field sized social areas (called “neighborhoods”) featuring dining and retail amenities. Four of those neighborhoods are sponsored by founding corporate partners – Toyota, Florida Hospital, Chevrolet and SunocLFK1-5502-1940x1385o – that each hold the naming rights to one of five injectors. The redesigned entrances include over 20,000 square feet of fan engagement and vertically span four concourse levels.

“Daytona Rising is going to help us launch new events,” said Kennedy while noting the expanding business opportunities for DIS, such as hosting the Country 500 during Memorial Day weekend and the Ferrari World Finals in December 2016 – the first time this event will be held in North America. “I think it is going to propel us to a whole new level when it comes to reaching fans and providing entertainment and content.”

Beyond racing, ISC and Kennedy are constructing ONE DAYTONA – an $120-150 million 181-acre retail, entertainment and dining complex located directly across from DIS. Anchored by Bass Pro Shops, Cobb Theaters and Marriott Autograph Collection, the phased development project is set to open in 2017.

Leading up to the 58th Daytona 500, I caught with Kennedy to discuss DAYTONA Rising, the growth of ISC, and what she sees for the future of motorsports. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Glass: The Daytona 500 is an iconic Great American Race and you have been connected to it for so many years. What are your thoughts about this year’s Daytona 500?

Kennedy: All of us are very excited about it because the speedway itself has been totally transformed into a modern day sports stadium. It is one of the most unique properties that I have ever seen. You have to see it to believe it and to appreciate and understand it. The magnitude of it is just amazing.

Glass: As you mentioned, Daytona Rising is the world’s first motorsports stadium. It took over 31 months of construction, and I am sure it was a labor of love. Looking back from when you started the project to where you are now, what were some of the highlights and points of interest?

Kennedy: One thing that stands out for me is the involvement of our founding partners.  They signed on early, and they were part of the design process, which has contributed to the uniqueness of this stadium. They each have a 20,000 square foot footprint if you will, and it is very interactive. It is a different way to display their products and to get in front of the race fans, and it is also very entertaining. I think the fans are going to love it.

Glass: Speaking of the fans, how have they reacted now that construction is complete?

Kennedy: We opened for the Rolex 24 event, and they were just overwhelmed. It was fun for me because we had a chance to see fans experience it for the first time. They would walk through the stadium with a whole new look about them. It was real exciting to see their first reactions.

Glass: Going back to your founding corporate partners – Florida Hospital, Sunoco, Toyota and Chevrolet. What does it mean to have these valuable brands on board, not only in terms of the Daytona Rising but to motorsports in general?

Kennedy: Our fans are the most loyal in all of sports, and they are very loyal to the brands that participate in NASCAR. We are very proud of the way they designed and displayed their products. It goes back to the close nature the fans have with the products and also with the brands. The way they have displayed it is in an interactive fashion, so it is not just passive. It is an entertaining experience between the fans and the brands.

Glass: Looking back at 2015, ISC had a banner year by exceeding financial expectations. What attributed to the growth and what are you anticipating for 2016, especially in light of the new Daytona Rising project?

Kennedy: You saw a lot of excitement and enthusiasm that was building throughout last year. And a lot of that was the momentum of the new Chase format. We saw that anticipation building all the way through that event. There were four events that were sold out last year; Watkins Glen International, Phoenix International Raceway, Auto Club Speedway and Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Leading up that all really elevated and launched us into the start of this season. So the Chase format in combination with the Daytona 500 and the new Daytona Rising I think elevates it to a whole new level.

Glass:  I understand that there is a new NASCAR charter system that was recently announced. There is anticipation that it will help with growth initiatives, track partners, as well as manufacturers and sponsors. I know it is very early in the announcement, but do you anticipate that this new system will flow into the business side – not only at DIS but as well as your other tracks?

Kennedy: I can speak about it from the track standpoint. The certainty provided to all the stakeholders will be very beneficial to the business, to the sport, and long term – the fans. I want to give you an example of the five-year sanction agreement. It is going to give the tracks the ability to see their schedules in the future and to have the certainty that they want to be able to invest in these facilities. It will give sponsors long-term visibility and overall it is going to be good for the sport. Talking about the five-year sanction agreements, often times our fans will plan way in advance their vacations surrounding our events. This is going to give them a chance to plan further ahead and to anticipate the events.

NFL Women’s Summit: Condoleezza Rice Talks Diversity And Inclusion In Sports

Dr. Condoleezza Rice did not set out be the first and only female member of the CollegeFootball Playoff Selection Committee. And she did not set out to break the long-standing male-only membership tradition at Augusta National Golf Club.

Her goal has always been to follow what she loves.

NFLWMA-P20107_IN_v3.indd“I think the truth of the matter is, people who end up as ‘first’ don’t actually set out to be first. They set out to do something they love and it just so happens that they are the first to do it,” said Rice, who discussed her historic achievements in sports during her remarks at the NFL’s Women’s Summit.

“I don’t tend to think about I am the first this, or I am breaking that ceiling. What you want to do, you want simply to seek to do things you enjoy – that you think you might be good at. Then once you are there, make sure you are not the last.”

While addressing an audience of 250 influencers in sports including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and tennis legend Billie Jean King, Rice noted that once someone has been the first, they have an obligation to make it possible for others to do what they have done.

When asked to speak about hurdles that still exist today for minorities and women in the sports industry, Rice used the example of faculty hiring at universities and filling corporate board vacancies.

She explained that there is a tendency in these sectors to look in the same places year after year for experienced candidates. Thus, employers repeatedly hire identical applicants.

“Part of the challenge of breaking through is to change traditional patterns of hiring and advancement. It is not a question of people don’t have merit or they aren’t as good, or they have to make a compromise,” said Rice.

Therefore, Rice recommends looking outside of normal channels for qualified women and minority candidates. This is why she believes the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations vacancies and now mandates that league-wide women must be interviewed for executive openings, is so important.

“When you are told that you have to diversify your pool, you will get remarkable candidates within that pool. Sometimes hurdles are not conscious hurdles, ” Rice said.

“People are not trying to discount or keep women or minorities out. But they keep looking in the same channels; they keep finding the same people who are overwhelmingly white and male. So, it is a reason to be creative in your hiring.”

On the other side, Rice thinks that women and minorities also need to say, “I don’t see barriers.”

She said: “There is a kind of toughness that has to come with being different and that is not going to change. It goes both ways; the opportunities have to be opened up because people have to be looking. And those of us who are minority and female have to say, ‘I am going to breakthrough. I don’t care what the numbers look like .’”

For more about the NFL Women’s Summit click here #InTheHuddle. Have something to say about this story? Comment below or share it here.

Watch Me Work, A Campaign To Salute The WNBA’s 20th Season


On June 21, 1997, the WNBA started its inaugural season by declaring “We Got Next.” The slogan – an ode to playground basketball – symbolically announced that the fledgling league was taking the court. It featured Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo and Sheryl Swoopes who were one-year removed from capturing Olympic gold and turning our attention to the future of women’s professional basketball.

Speaking of the future, season-after-season we knew that the next generation was watching the WNBA on television, cheering in the stands, and practicing in their driveways. We knew that more players would eventually play above the rim, the competition would get tougher, and countless girls would dream of winning a WNBA championship.

As the WNBA entenew_wnba_logo_tsrs its 20th season, those once nameless girls are now professional basketball players with the likes of Sue Bird, Skylar Diggins and Candace Parker.

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In the league’s newest marketing campaign – Watch Me Work – it highlights the legacy of its past while reminding fans just how far the W has come.

“20 years ago, players like Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper and Rebecca Lobo broke barriers with the founding of this league,” said Pam EL, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer for the WNBA, NBA and NBDL.

“And 20 years later we have these amazing players, like Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Brittney Griner, who are doing what they do on the court because of the inspiration that they found in those players 20 years ago.”

As El directs the WNBA’s brand development, overall marketing and advertising, she notes that it was during her time while serving as a marketing VP at State Farm Insurance – a WNBA sponsor – when she developed her appreciation for the players and fans of the league.

“When you think about our amazing athletes, their skill and the intensity and passion that they have for the game – we are simply trying to showcase that. They are very talented and dynamic athletes. This idea of ‘Watch Me Work’ is to celebrate that skill and intensity and passion that we all see in the game.”

WNBA veteran, Tamika Catchings, who is retiring at the end of this upcoming  season and known throughout the league for her passionate play, applauds the Watch Me Work campaign for focusing squarely on what it takes to become an accomplished professional basketball player.

“For so long when you look at women’s professional sports, we’ve been tagged that everything needs to have a sex appeal to it and be sexy,” said the 2011 league MVP and 2012 WNBA Champion. “The Watch Me Work campaign shows what we do behind-the-scenes to get to where we are on the court. It shows what we do to become complete basketball players.”

Along with launching its 20th season campaign, the league is championing the 30th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. On February 3, Catchings and players throughout the WNBA will promote opportunities for girls and women to play sports.

“Watch Me Work” will premiere on January 30 during NBA Saturday Primetime game between the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Additional spots will roll out at start of season, and air on TV and digital platforms.

Soccer Legend Abby Wambach Says ‘Investing In Women’ Is In Her Future – Here’s What’s Next

USA v Japan: Final - FIFA Women's World Cup 2015

Abby Wambach, the all-time leading scorer in international soccer, is hanging up her cleats.

In a retirement speech that could have been filled with tearful goodbyes and stories about the good old days, Wambach used her platform to send a powerful message about investing in women’s sports.

“I want to talk about where we can go and where we are headed. I want to talk about moving the ball forward,” said Wambach during her remarks at the National Press Club.

“I know that we’ve made huge strides. I know that we’ve made serious change happen. But I also know that there is so much more we can do. It is going to take a lot of effort. It is going to take people reaching into their pockets and investing in women. And it is not investing in me, it is about investing in the next generation of studs.”

For Wambach, investing in women’s sports is no longer the “feel good” thing to do, but rather a “smart business decision.”
Pointing to Fox Sports’ World Cup coverage, Wambach said they “killed it” last summer by believing in the women’s game and the growth potential that women could have.

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Fox Sports reported the 2015 World Cup as the “highest metered market rating ever for a soccer game in the U.S. on a single network, surpassing the previous mark set for the Women’s World Cup final between the USA and China in 1999 on ABC.”

Wambach also thanked her long-time sponsors – Gatorade and Nike – for believing in her over the last ten years.

“I have been so lucky to have the opportunity to call some of the greatest brands on the planet – my family,” Wambach said.

“You will never know how valuable you’ve been to me. And all I ask is that you keep investing women. Continue that fight, it will pay off. I promise.”

While the 2015 FIFA World Cup champion and 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year did not reveal her exact next steps beyond completing the USWNT Victory Tour and spending time with her family – she did state that she does not see a coaching in her future.

Rather, Wambach has her sights set on an even bigger goal – changing the world.

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“I want to be a part of changing the world. The first part of my career I have been able to do that. I have been able to change the landscape of women’s soccer as we know it,” said Wambach.

“I was put on the planet to play sport and be involved in sport. I believe that sport can transcend and give people confidence. It can change the world and actually make it a better place.”

Moving forward, her life’s mission is to make sure that – all women – are given the opportunities they deserve. This undertaking includes her NWSL teammates that she’s leaving behind and professional women soccer players to come.

“I want it to be a feeder system into a national team. Of course, I do want to stay involved – in some way, somehow,” said Wambach during a conference call shortly after her retirement address.

“I want to do whatever I can to help grow this league, and make the league here in the United States the very best league in the world. If we have the best league in the world, then the international players will come. And if the international players come we can find enough corporate sponsors to make this league not only viable but actually thrive.”

Wambach inherited the beautiful game from Mia Hamm and the ‘99ers – whom she says taught her that character is tested when things do not go your way.

Admittedly, before announcing her retirement she was worried that women’s soccer would not be better off than how she found. Now, Wambach can safely say that deep down in her heart that the sport has grown and will continue to grow.

“I know that the next generation of players will grow the game in different ways. My role will be different now, but I am still committed to continuing the growth of women’s sport and beyond.”

Billie Jean King Tells Female Athletes To Negotiate, Stop Settling For Crumbs


In a New York City conference room packed with amateur and professional athletes, tennis legend, Billie Jean King, described her nearly five decade journey of championing for equal rights in sports.

Her remarks were a far cry from a “when I was your age” speech to the attendees of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s first-ever Athlete Leadership Connection – a program designed to help athletes become stronger leaders in their sport and transition into successful post-competition careers.Billie_Jean_King_Thumbnail_RightSize

Rather, King’s fiery energy mirrored a union town hall meeting.

She recounted the pivotal moment of the birth of women’s professional tennis in 1970 – describing it as nine women who were willing to cross the line in the sand and try to do something different. Facing suspensions from major tournaments including the US Open and Wimbledon, King recalled how pushing for change was their “moment of truth.” Together they were either going to fall flat on their faces or make something happen.

A few years later, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) was founded. Fast-forward to 2015, it is a thriving professional tennis tour. Last year, the WTA signed a 10-year $525 million media agreement with PERFORM, and today players compete annually for $130 million in prize money.

Indeed, the pioneers made something happen.

King’s legacy not only lives on through the WTA but also the Women’s Sports Foundation, which she founded in 1974.

“It is the job of the Women’s Sports Foundation – why Billie [Jean King] founded us 41 years ago – to be the voice of women and women in sports,” said Deborah Slaner Larkin, Women’s Sports Foundation CEO.

“To say ‘no’ we should not have to decide who to treat better – our sons or our daughters – we should treat them the same. They should have the same equal opportunity. Our job is to speak out…to be the conscience of the whole sports industry.”

As the foundation’s honorary chair, King continues to advocate for athletes, while counseling them to speak up and be leaders.

During the Athlete Leadership Connection – she challenged the participants to organize, promote their sports and decide how they can make them better.

For instance, when King asked an athlete what she wanted for her sport – whether she wanted to push it in a new direction or if she’s happy with where it is going.

The athlete responded that she felt “lucky” to be in her position.

“Oh, that is what they want,” King asserted. “You are supposed to be so lucky that you are getting these crumbs.”

She explained that when it comes to employment and money, women rarely negotiate. As a result, they lose out on more than $500,000 by the end of their lifespan compared to men.

“Women are also hired on performance, men are hired on potential,” said King while referencing a recent Wall Street Journal report on gender bias and women in the workplace.

King emphasized to the athletes that her crusade for equality was never just about making money. Instead, her goals centered on improving tennis and gaining exposure for the sport.

“The reason I wanted a lot of money in our sport is because I knew people would pay attention,” said King.

“It is the one thing everybody understands. Whether they work in a factory or whether they are a CEO – everyone understands money. That is the reason I felt it was so important to have money in the game. We got a lot of attention because we started making money.”

For King, attention directed toward women in sports should be an everyday matter. As an example, she is frustrated by the focus placed on the US national soccer team and not the professional women’s soccer league.

“Everybody talks about the women’s soccer winning and the ticker tape. But that is not what is important – the league is important,” King said. “The every day – not every four years. All of the emphasis is put on the every four years. You’ve got to make a living every day.”

Yes, every day!

Negotiating is every day. Facing your fears is every day. Not settling for less pay is every day.

Rimons twitter widget by Rimon Habib

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