It is hard to imagine a time when USA Basketball did not dominate the international game. In the early 1990s, the United States Women’s National Team suffered embarrassing losses at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and the ensuing FIBA World Championship in 1994. Those subpar performances served as wakeup calls to USA Basketball that it needed to double down on its commitment to the women’s basketball.
Right around that same time, the United States was preparing to host the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Recognizing that all eyes would be on American athletes competing on their home soil, USA Basketball identified sponsors that would invest in the women’s game formed a dedicated program.
Among the 12-member Dream Team was University of Virginia point guard, Dawn Staley, who was cut from 1992 National Team roster.
Hearing that she lacked international experience, Staley set out to change the trajectory of her career by signing a contract to play overseas. She constructed a homemade calendar and marked off the days that she spent training and perfecting her craft. When asked what motivated her to pursue the 1995-1996 team, Staley will tell you that she did what she did not want to do, in order to become an Olympian.
“When someone tells me ‘no,’ I am going to break my neck trying to prove them wrong,” said Staley during the inaugural USA Basketball Women in the Game conference.
The three-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000, and 2004) has indeed proved her doubters wrong.
At 30 years old, while still competing in the WNBA, Staley became the head basketball coach at Temple University. She led the Owls to six NCAA tournaments and a #15 national ranking – achievements that were firsts in the program’s history. And in 2008, she took over the reins of the University of South Carolina women’s basketball– a program once considered the doormat of the Southeastern Conference – and delivered its first NCAA Championship in 2017.
Staley added: “The likelihood of me being where I am today, and the things that I have accomplished today is because I beat the odds. People that I grew up with said that I wouldn’t be a National Champion or an Olympian. I stayed persistent and continued to be extremely competitive.”
Over 20 years have passed since Staley joined USA Basketball as an athlete. And now, her story has come full circle as she is the 2017-2020 Women’s National Team head coach.
“I don’t think that it is unusual that a point guard becomes a good coach,” said Carol Callan, USA Basketball women’s national team director. “That 1995-96 team had a passion for being more than just basketball players in that year-long program. And it shows today in terms of where a lot of those players are in giving back to the game.”
As keepers of the game, USA Basketball and Staley are extending their reach beyond the basketball court. Through the Women in the Game initiative, the governing body “educates high school girls, college-aged women and young, female professionals about career paths in the sports industry and how to turn a passion into an opportunity.” In addition to the two-day conference (April 7-8 at the Windward School in Los Angeles), attendees will have the opportunity to apply for a six-week mentorship program designed to help develop future female leasers in sports.
“I had no exposure to coaching, except for the coaches who coached me. I saw how hard it was for them to do this and balance everything, so I shied away from that,” said Staley.
“But once you get exposed to coaching, you fall in love with it. And you want to go to the very top as a competitor. I am very fortunate to have been around great basketball with USA Basketball.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com SportsMoney (December 8, 2014)
Dr. John Wesley Rice Jr.’s first born was supposed to be a boy. His son would carry on the family name, values, traditions, and most importantly – love football. Instead, he and his wife, Angelena Ray Rice, brought a girl, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, into the world.
In 1954, it wasn’t just any world; Birmingham, AL was a racially charged community where equal opportunities for African Americans did not exist. The sports landscape for women was also far from equal, as it was decades before female athletes would experience the benefits of Title IX. However, those circumstances did not matter; Rice Jr. consciously raised his daughter no differently than he would raise a son.
In Rice’s memoir, Extraordinary Ordinary People, she describes her father as a “feminist” from day one – there wasn’t anything his little girl could not do.
As a child, she was molded into a classical pianist, as well as a competitive figure skater. Professionally, she was taught to be a fearless leader and pursue her goals with limitless horizons. Following in her father’s footsteps, a career in academia came calling. In 1993, Stanford University appointed her as its provost; making Rice the youngest person ever and first African American to hold that prestigious position. By 2001, her highly-regarded foreign policy expertise propelled her into the White House, where she served as the first female National Security Advisor and subsequently the 66th U.S. Secretary of State.
Although, it was Rice’s deep passion for her father’s favorite pastime that ultimately created their strong bond and set the stage for her barrier-breaking roles in sports.
As the daughter of a football coach, she naturally developed into a student of the game. Together, they analyzed offenses and defenses, and each NFL season began by studying Street & Smith’s pro football report. The Cleveland Browns was their chosen team, which they faithfully followed after he ministered on Sundays. Meanwhile, an eventual move to Tuscaloosa resulted in a fond family affinity for the Crimson Tide. While she would never become John the all-American linebacker, her taste of the gridiron came by way of the “Rice Bowl” – the annual family touch football game played the day after Thanksgiving at “Rice Stadium” (also known as their front yard).
Football has and will always be in her blood.
It is a fact not known to many, save for Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott, who in 2013 invited Rice to join the inaugural College Football Playoff Selection Committee. In an interview with ESPN, Rice explained that her selection derived from having diverse perspectives and an ability to make decisions under pressure; plus, her vast knowledge of the college football system, which stems from Stanford Athletics reporting to Rice during her Provost tenure.
No stranger to controversy, her addition to the who’s who group of college football experts reignited the long-standing debate of women’s roles sports. A handful of football fans and analysts publicly questioned whether it is possible for a woman to be an expert in America’s male dominated past-time without having played on the field; while others noted her inclusion as an opportunity to advance the conversation of gender equality.
Publicly, Rice took the criticism in stride, noting that it is possible to know something from following it and studying it. Moreover, she respectfully pointed out that the former and perhaps most influential NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle, did not play football; including, other members of the playoff selection committee – namely former Big East commissioner, Mike Tranghese, and former college football writer, Steve Wieberg.
Ironically, what critics believe Rice doesn’t know about football are in fact the very same lessons she learned from her father while growing up in the segregated South – how to spot when your talent is being underestimated, what it means work twice as hard and do everything better, and prove every naysayer in your path wrong. Rice didn’t become one of the world’s most influential leaders without tenacity. Additionally, she has the added skill of being able to identify grit on the football field.
She never set out to make history; adding the title “first female” to her long list of credentials was never a goal. But in a strange twist of fate that has been her calling.
In recognition of her historic contribution to sports, EY’s Women Athletes Business Network – an organization committed to building a better working world where more women leaders with talent such as Rice’s emerge – sat down with Rice to learn more about her unimaginable journey, how she defied insurmountable odds, and what it takes to continually challenge society to think differently about race and gender.
Forbes.com was given exclusive access to the interviewconducted by Olympic gold medalist and EY Women Athlete Business Network advisor, Donna de Varona. Here are selected highlights from their conversation.
On the role of sport and transitioning from big dreams…
Rice: I really did believe with all my heart that I could make it as a musician, but at some point you have to face a certain reality that there are people who are twelve years old who can play from sight, and maybe you should just find another course. Skating was somewhat easier to leave behind because I loved skating but I always knew that my options were limited there. I loved the training and to this day I think I probably learned more from the discipline of working hard to be a skater than I did from anything else in my life.
On discipline and performing at high level…
Rice: From the physical side of it, I have remained committed to being fit my entire life. When I was Secretary of State and had to be at my desk at 6:30 am, I got up at 4:30 am in the morning to exercise and I would remind myself “you used to do this as a kid.” I also think it gave me a sense, and all athletes have this, there are days when you perform gloriously and there are days when you just don’t have it. You learn how to deal with both, you learn how to deal with the highs of doing really, really well and you learn how to deal with the lows of being terribly disappointed in a performance after having worked really, really hard. Life is like that; you have to get accustomed to highs and lows.
On Title IX…
Rice: I know what it was like before Title IX. I went to college in 1971 and I started very young, but I graduated in 1974, so I was just at the edge of the beginning of Title IX. Being very active with intercollegiate athletics and with women’s athletics in particular, here at Stanford I now see the confidence of these young women. They’ve come up through elementary school, high school, and now into college expecting to play at a high level, competing at a high level, and having the benefits of excellent coaching and excellent training. Title IX has made a huge difference and it’s made a difference in the way that people view women.
On affirmative action and opportunities on the basis of gender…
Rice: I’ve been a proponent of what I call “soft affirmative action.” I don’t believe in quotas. I came to Stanford from the University of Denver. Stanford didn’t normally get its faculty from the University of Denver, but I was here on a one-year fellowship. They thought I was smart, they liked what I did and they found a way to hire me because they wanted to diversify the faculty, so in that sense it was affirmative action. I think it has worked well for Stanford, certainly worked well for me, and so I think if we just say, “instead of affirmative action we’re going to make efforts, affirmative efforts to diversify” and that might mean taking some unusual steps, most people would agree that that’s important.
On football and the benefits of understanding sport…
Rice: I’ll tell you a funny little story. I worked for a year for the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a fellow. I was female, I was black, I was a civilian, three strikes; and so I show up at the Joint Chiefs of Staff that deals with strategic nuclear policy. They did the deployment of nuclear weapons, a very male environment. So I arrive and they say, “The rookie makes the coffee” and I said, “fine, I’ll make the coffee!” I’m not going to get on my high horse about that. But that week I won the football pool and from there on out, I was in. It is a language that transcends gender, and by the way, I have an awful lot of women friends who are football fanatics. So it’s not just something that helps you bridge the gap with men, sometimes you find that there are these women who have the same passion that you do for football and for all sports.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com SportsMoney (October 20, 2014)
“Sports in all its forms and definitions have never been more impactful on the lives of girls and women,” said Christine Driessen, ESPN CFO, to an audience of top female athletes and women in sports influencers at the5th Annual espnW Women + Sports Summit.
While the female consumer purchasing power has been widely reported at 85%, it seems that only recently thebusiness sector has replaced the shrink it and pink it mentality with authentically listening to the needs of women.
Earlier this month, we saw an example of this when a 12-year-old girl raised her hand and exercised the power of the female market in the form of a letter to Dick’s Sporting Goods. She questioned their failure to represent women athletes in its basketball catalog, and pointed out that the only female included in the advertisement was sitting in the stands. Days later, the attention surrounding Dick’s Sporting Goods DKS -0.89%’ short-sided actions resulted in its Chairman and CEO, Edward Stack, apologizing for the “obvious mistake” and guaranteeing that next year’s catalog would prominently feature female athletes.
Across the board, female consumer voices are powerful; the game-changers are speaking up at earlier stages in their lives, and businesses marketing to women are now left with only one option, which is to listen.
During the espnW Women + Sports Summit, women’s professional sports brands and business leaders gathered together to discuss their strategies for serving women in the marketplace. Here is how the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Under ArmourUA+1.8%, EY, and Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) are driving market trends and growth.
Disruption is the new norm. Change is the catalyst for growth.
In 2013, the WTA celebrated its 40th anniversary by reaching 33 countries across 54 events. By 2023, its CEO and Chair, Stacey Allaster, envisions the tennis association as “the most inspirational and exciting sport entertainment experience on earth,” with its athletes competing for $200 million in prize money. How will the WTA accomplish that? By disrupting everything that you think you know about tennis. From the smallest detail of allowing fans to keep stray tennis balls, to bigger feats of live streaming all tournaments and incorporating mobile technology data – expect the WTA to become even more fan friendly by progressively pushing boundaries.
Identify a Human Story.
The women’s athletic apparel market in North America is estimated at $14 billion. But focusing on the “traditional” definition of a female athlete and her spending habits left companies like Under Armour capturing only 1/5 of the market. How do you connect with to the remaining 4/5?
For Heidi Sandreuter, Under Armour’s Vice President of Women’s Marketing, the answer includes touching a cultural nerve, creating a human story that consumers can connect with, and designing products worthy of a woman’s “will.” Launching the I Will What I Want campaign allowed Under Armour to reach consumers who identify with being told that cannot do something and then rising above adversity. The ad featuring American Ballet Theater soloist, Misty Copeland, which shatters body image, age and race stereotypes associated with being a ballerina, has compiled over 6 million views on YouTube.
Sandreuter notes that in the last year Under Armour’s brand preference increased from 9% to 19% among their target consumers. And since launching the campaign, the company experienced a rise in brand awareness and relevance, as well as purchase intent.
What is the key to gaining new business partners and keeping them? ForLPGA Commissioner, Michael Whan, the answer is simple – ask what keepsthem awake at night. At the LPGA, every business relationship begins by understanding the world of their partners better than their own. The LPGA wants to know what their partners are talking about and how sponsoring a golf tournament can benefit their businesses. This role reversal strategy puts the focus on the person who is writing the check, which Whan encourages every LPGA golfer to thank personally. By making professional golf a client-driven customer-centric sport, the LPGA is experiencing double-digit television growth (up 75% from 2010), which has led to 11 additional marketing sponsors plus 12 new events in the last three years.
John Skipper, ESPN President and Co-Chairman of Disney Media Networks, has an unmistakable southern accent. It is the type of drawl that makes you sit up straight, lean toward the edge of your seat, and hang on his every word.
He grabs your attention.
His tenure at ESPN began in 1997 as the senior vice president and general manager of ESPN The Magazine. A few years later, oversight of ESPN.com was added to his vitae, and in 2003, a promotion to executive vice president ensued. In 2005, Skipper became ESPN’s executive vice president of content. Here, he guided the creation, programming and production of ESPN content across all media platforms.
2012 marked the beginning of his most influential role with the network. Since taking over the reins, ESPN signed long-term agreements with Major League Baseball, the college football playoff, and AT&TT -0.43% U-Verse, just to name a few. This year, FORBES listed ESPN as one of the world’s most valuable brands in sports with an estimated brand value of $15.0 billion, which is up from $11.5 billion in 2012.
It is safe to say that Skipper has devoted his entire career in sports to mastering the art of capturing audiences.
His most recent challenge is advancing ESPN’s women’s sports audience. Skipper and his teamTISI +2.2% are driven to increase women’s sports viewers and advertisers, and leave them wanting more. Specifically, his attention and talent is focused on espnW which is “ESPN’s first dedicated content and digital business initiative designed to serve, inform, and inspire female fans.”
A sample of the 2013 participants include: Anucha Browne, Vice President of Women’s Basketball Championships, NCAA; Sharon Byers, Senior Vice President, Sports & Entertainment MarketingCoca-ColaKO -0.49% North America; Donna de Varona, Olympic swimmer and member of the IOC Women and Sport Commission; Laura Desmond, Global Chief Executive Officer, Starcom MediaVest Group; Janet Evans, Olympic swimmer; Julie Eddleman; North America Brand Operations Marketing Director, P&G; Julie Foudy, Olympic soccer player and television analyst; Michelle Kwan, Olympic figure skater; Kathryn Olson, CEO, Women’s Sports Foundation; and Merritt Paulson, Owner and President of the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer and Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.
“It was our intention to build upon the legacy of ESPN and women’s sports and to take a leadership position and focus our efforts on what we could do to drive women’s sports forward,” Skipper said about the fourth annual espnW summit.
“This is a unique venture where we invite friends, partners, athletes, and leaders in women’s sports to come and have a discussion and help us think about what we might do next. It is one of the few events where we end up with a set of priorities, which we want to take action on.”
An example of that action is the extended partnership between ESPN and the WNBA. At the 2012 summit, WNBA President, Laurel Richie, made a powerful impression on the attendees by urging them to consider what they could do to get behind the WNBA and help move the league forward. Skipper proudly announced that ESPN stepped up to the challenge and earlier this year announced a long-term television partnership with the league.
“We got behind it, and ratings were up this year. This is the best year we’ve had,” said Skipper. “We want to continue to show this leadership and do more for women’s sports. We believe in it. We believe in supporting female athletes and female executives, and we want to be leaders in that.”
In the words of legendary UCLA softball coach and espnW advisory board member, Sue Enquist, “There is something to be said about a company that makes an investment not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it recognizes that it will translate into a meaningful business decision down the road.”
Skipper and ESPN are leading that charge.
During the espnW: Women + Sports Summit, Forbes.com caught up with Skipper to discuss ESPN’s role in elevating how women see sports in their lives, how espnW exposes the best and brightest female athletes to the world, and the challenges associated with this mission. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Alana Glass: Why is the espnW: Women + Sports Summit an important event to host year-after-year?
John Skipper: We decided about three years ago that we wanted to establish an overt leadership position for ESPN Women’s Sports. We have been the leader in televising women’s sports for years, and we do more women’s events on television than the rest of the sports business put together. We wanted to have a directed initiative, effort, and brand that allowed us to make our efforts more coherent and consistent.
The summit is a high-profile, highly visible, once-a-year gathering of leaders across different categories of women’s sports. Whether it is the leagues, marketers, athletes, media, to talk about the state of women’s sports. Where are we and how do we continue to press forward with growing women’s sports?
AG: Recently, I learned that the day after ESPN was founded in 1979, the network aired women’s sports the next day. Is it challenging to get the message across to fans that ESPN has been committed to women’s sports since day one?
JS: When we started espnW, it clearly had an advocacy position and a leadership position. We wanted to advocate for women’s sports. That was what the 40th anniversary of Title IX allowed us to do. Establishing a public brand, is clearly about us trying to put a stake in the ground that we are leaders here.
And of course, I’ll refer to the legacy. We have been [broadcasting] women’s sports for a long time. Now it is just a more concerted public effort to continue to do that and to be more of an advocate. We also want to do it because we think this is not only good business, it is good externally. Obviously, we also think it is good internally. We are trying hard to diversify our workforce and to make sure that people know that women have every opportunity at ESPN.
AG: How does espnW fit into ESPN’s overall business model?
JS: For most of ESPN’s history, our proposition to advertisers has been about reaching young men. That has been the business advertising platform. We believe that because of Title IX, women have participated in sports at significantly higher and higher levels. That has translated into more and more women also watching sports. Now, it is not a one-to-one relationship. Just because women play basketball, does not mean they watch women’s basketball, but they might watch men’s basketball. Or they might watch NFL. So in terms of business, it is about ratings.
Women watch more and more sports, and we want those women to believe that ESPN is their home to watch sports. As women watch more sports, marketers will use sports to reach women. Traditionally, they have not used sports in a lot of ways to reach women. That opens up new advertising categories for us.
AG: How has the corporate and business community responded to espnWand the summit?
JS: What we are trying to create with the summit and this engagement is to move marketers toward understanding that sports is a great way to reach women. It is also the fact that the women they reach through sports tend to be more active, more engaged, and tend to be higher socioeconomic groups, so it is a good place. We want more advertisers to move forward, to understand the power of sports to reach women, and to engage with us on that.
AG: What are the challenges or hurdles associated with your goals?
JS: The biggest challenge we would love to crack are the ratings for women’s sports. We saw good movement this year with the WNBA, which we are happy about. We have seen good numbers, for instance, women’s college softball. But we would like to see that all fans, men and women, have a greater interest and respect and avidity for women’s sports. We would like more people to watch the WNBA. I think that it is probably the hardest thing we have to figure out how to crack here.
As a female journalist and sports fan, I cannot help but notice that people are often
uncomfortable talking about women’s sports. And when the subject of creating platforms specifically dedicated to female athletes and sports fans arises the conversation goes from uncomfortable to divisive.
There are those who are firmly against any programming or platforms that cater to female sports fans and athletes, and there are those who are for it. The part that baffles me is that in 2013, the “for and against” conversation still exists. On some level it is almost as if there are “red” and “blue” sides on this issue (and considering the tone and tenor of today’s political climate, we’re seeing first-hand what happens when two sides cannot agree).
It would be naïve of me to think that my comments regarding this issue can all of a sudden create unity on this topic, but I invite you to consider this question.
If women’s sports were everything WE believe it can be, what would it look like?
“We’d covered women’s sports for decades. We’d served millions of women, but we’ve never focused on women as a target audience with a discreet business unit,” said Gentile. “We just started thinking, if we were to create a business at ESPN for women, what would it look like?”
They talked to women to find out what they wanted and what they would accept. In response, they heard, “I know ESPN is a leader and they have incredible credibility. If they do it right and it is authentic, I’d embrace it.”
So began the genesis of espnW, a place for women who love sports; that speaks to them as athletes and fans.
“We thought long and hard about these five letters, espnW, and what they need to represent and what they need to stand for,” Gentile said. “They need to be action oriented and forward looking, consistently progressive, innovative and also of the highest quality. And we want this to be a brand that women think is cool and vibrant.”
In 2010, espnW launched with a five and ten-year business plan. During the first annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit, Gentile spoke openly about the dynamic of women’s sports fans and coverage at ESPN. At that time, ESPN.com reached over 5 million women a month, and ESPN the Magazine reached over 3 million female readers that year. Women made up over 40% of the viewing audience, yet only contributed to 23% of the viewing hours.
Gentile said, “That’s a dynamic we are going to change, by creating a specific and unique environment for women at espnW.com. We are creating a home for women athletes and fans – the place for sports-minded women to go and stay.”
However, the concept of espnW was not met with tremendous fanfare, and it suffered bruises in the beginning. There were critics who did not understand what they were trying to accomplish, and many who did not want to understand.
“That was a bit unforeseen because a lot of that criticism came before we even had a product. They assumed the worst. That this would be dumbed down, that it would be pink, or it would be condescending,” said Gentile.
“I think what they missed is the authenticity behind it. And unfortunately, some of that criticism came equally from men and women.
Interestingly enough, Gentile believes that the criticism they experienced in their first two years has made the site stronger. She was never under any illusion that creating a dedicated digital platform for women to converse and see issues that matter to them would be easy. As a result, espnW sharpened its message, took more risks, and explored innovation.
Recently, espnW launched a new responsive website that allows users to seamlessly shift between a desktop, tablet, and mobile device. Additionally, its 2012-2013 integration featured the Nine for IX documentary series, In the Game with Robin Roberts, the 3 to See, andThe Summer of W. As a result, ESPN.com is reaching10 million women per month, and in August of this year espnW.com reached over 4 million women.
“We’re reaching new women. We’re also serving the women that we’ve always served,” Gentile said. “We’re also opening a lot of eyes that women’s sports are part of the future. The dynamic of changing viewing hours and habits; that is going take a long time.”
Fortunately, Gentile has found that the conversation surrounding espnW has swung from a lot of people questioning why to people saying “what’s next?”
So what is next?
There are plans to go deeper in the college space, where espnW will be featured in women’s basketball and softball telecasts. Also, there is more that they want to do across television. Ideally over time, you will see more and more programming from espnW across the network that engages women.
Also, expect to see continued partnerships with the corporate community. Nike, Gatorade, and P&G were founding partners even before there was a product, and they are still on board. Likewise, Toyota, JBL by Harman, Under Armour, and Rite Aid are sponsoring espnW’s fourth annual Women+ Sports Summit currently being held in Dana Point, California (October 9-11).
espnW and its summit demonstrate the belief that people who have different conversations about women’s sports can collectively come together and imagine what the future can look like.
America’s Sweetheart. Hot. Sexy. Exotic. Girl Next Door.
These are labels used to describe the world’s most accomplished female athletes including former gymnast and Olympic gold medalist, Mary Lou Retton; NASCAR driver, Danica Patrick; former professional beach volleyball player, Gabrielle Reece; Olympic hurdler, Lolo Jones; and former world number one professional tennis player,Chris Evert.
Athletic accomplishments are supposed to speak entirely for themselves. But in the world of women’s sports the way a female athlete looks adds another layer of scrutiny. The value placed on appearance rather than achievements is difference between a woman excelling in her chosen field or having to relying on alternative revenue streams.
Tonight, ESPN films and espnW explore the double standard placed on women to be dominant athletes on the field and sexy off of it in the Nine for IX film Branded (August 27 on ESPN 8 pm ET).
Executive produced by Robin Roberts and Jane Rosenthal, and directed byHeidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Branded explores the question: can women’s sports ever gain an equal footing with their male counterparts or will sex always override achievement?
“You look at a male athlete, and they can make their entire living based off of their skill. For a female athlete we make most of our money on the side,” said Hope Solo, a professional soccer player who is featured in the documentary.
How did we get here?
“Girls get the message from early on that what’s most important is how they look; that their value and worth depends on it. And boys get the message that this is what is important about girls,” said Jean Kilbourne, EdD, Senior Scholar Wellesley Centers for Women.
And according to renowned historian and feminist author, Barbara J. Berg, PhD, “Patriarchy really is America’s default setting. Where men hold the positions of privilege and power, and where women very often are treated as second-class citizens.”
No matter what women achieve, we still live in a culture where a woman’s value is judged on her appearance; if you are very beautiful and attractive you can succeed. Being strong, smart, and accomplished is not enough, and this mind-set has trickled down to sports.
Branded offers poignant examples of evolution of this phenomenon.
In the 70’s, Evert was the first female athlete to cross the $1 million mark in endorsements based on her skill and girl next door image. However, equally accomplished but less feminine athletes, such as Martina Navratilova, were not offered similar opportunities. In the 80’s, Retton was the most visible female athlete who endorsed IBM, AT&T, Energizer, McDonald’s, and Wheaties. Given her visibility, advisors told her to smile and not say anything that could possibly upset people, which left her feeling voiceless.
The 90’s ushered in an era where women’s team sports were front and center. The WNBA launched in 1997 and today continues to be the longest running women’s professional basketball league is sports history. The women of the WNBA are tough and competitive, and at times accused of being too physical. Some suggest that the league should take greater strides in the direction of femininity to attract more viewers. Do we honestly want fans, especially young girls and boys, to think that wearing tight short shorts is more valuable than hitting a three point shot? Besides the WNBA knows its core audience would not accept stooping to the lowest male chromosome just to increase ratings.
Juxtaposed with the WNBA, is Patrick who is a talented auto racing driver and not shy about exploiting her sex appeal to attract fans and sponsors. Yes, her Go Daddy commercials sting and women across America cringe every time they air. However, in a male dominated sport where gaining corporate sponsorships directly impacts performance on the track, have we given Patrick much of a choice?
Yes, sports is a business, but is it fair that a segment of athletes must rely on their beauty in order to fully participate? Ultimately, we have to find a way to transform our culture, awaken our consciousness, and change minds.
Research shows that women and girls who participate in sports are less likely to take drugs, engage in abusive relationships, or have unwanted pregnancies. And they aremore likely to graduate from high school, receive post-graduate degrees, and earn more money.
A new study, coinciding with the 41stAnniversary of Title IX, released by accounting firm Ernst & Young has added an additional benefit of Title IX and the impact of participating in sports –becoming a C-suite business executive.
Ernst & Young commissioned a global online survey to investigate the important role of sports in the development of female executive in connection with its Women Athletes Global Leadership Network, whichI reported on last March. The first-of-its-kind network is designed to connect female elite athletes with business and government leaders who can mentor, inspire, and open doors after their competitive sporting career.
“When I think about Title IX, we see the societal impact that it is having, ” saidBeth Brooke, Global Vice Chair, Public Policy for the Ernst & Young organization, a US Title IX scholarship recipient and one of Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women.
“We all know business financial performance improves when more women are in senior levels of management and leadership.”
Brooke and Donna de Varona, Olympic Champion and advisor to Ernst & Young’s Women Athletes Global Leadership Network, have long believed in the strong correlation between sport and success in business, most of which anecdotal or based on outdated research. In the end, their assumptions were validated.
The study found that 90% of the women surveyed had played sports either at primary and secondary school, or during university or other tertiary education, with this proportion rising to 96% among C-suite women. Moreover, in comparing C-level female respondents to other female managers, far more had participated in sports at a higher level. Ultimately, 55% of the C-suite women had played sports at a university level, compared with 39% of other female managers.
The respondents included 821 senior managers and executives (40% female, 60% male) who work at companies with annual revenues in excess of US$250 million. Together they represented 15 different countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States) and a wide range of industries including but not limited to agriculture, automotive, entertainment, media and publishing, government/public sector, financial services, and technology.
“I find it fascinating that sport has such a strong connection to success in business,” said Brooke. “Arguably C-suite women are some of the most successful women, and more than half of them played at a more advanced level than just the general population of women in business that had sport in their background.”
Additional research findings include:
90% of women agree that teams are the best way to address increasingly complex business problems, while 82% agree that improving their organization’s ability to develop and manage teams will be essential for future competitiveness.
When comparing C-level female respondents to other female managers, a far higher proportion had participated in sports at a higher level, especially at university or as a working adult. For example, nearly seven in ten (67%) women now occupying a C-level position had participated in sports as a working adult, compared with 55% of other female managers, while 55% of the C-suite women had played sports at a university level, compared with 39% of other female managers.
More than three-quarters, or 76%, of women agree that adopting behaviors and techniques from sport in the corporate environment can be an effective way of improving the performance of teams.
“As a Title IX advocate and the first president of the Women’s Sports Foundation I have always felt that if you have numbers and research you can make your case,” said de Varona.
“I am thrilled about this research. I think the women who are athletes that have not awakened to the fact they have all of these skills will learn from the research, and those who are looking for employees and have yet to discover that diversity is strength.”
Also, I quietly wondered, “What’s next?” What happens to elite female athletes after the Olympic spotlight dims?
If you ask Donna de Varona, two-time Olympian in swimming and two-time gold medalist, she will tell you that shortly after the 1964 Olympics, due to limited opportunities for women, her career ended age 17. At that time, there were no discussions about where women could go in sports, and collegiate scholarships for female athletes were unheard of.
Seeing a need for change, de Varona became a strong advocate for Title IX and passionate about connecting women and sport with the business world. Now, after 40 years of progress, de Varona has a new partner, Ernst & Young, in her quest to mentor athletes. The global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services announced at the Laureus World Sports Awards’Women in Sport press conference that it is launching a Women Athletes Global Leadership Network.
“For years I think all of us have wanted to bridge the gap between women in sport and women in business,” said de Varona who will serve as a key advisor to Ernst & Young’s new program.
This program will build a connection between elite athletes and top women leaders. Additionally, the network will inspire and encourage female athletes across the globe to pursue meaningful careers after retirement, and it will focus on the following three elements:
Building the Leadership Network – The first-of-its-kind initiative will bring together a network of athletes and connect these inspiring women with Ernst & Young’s business network of top women leaders and entrepreneurs around the world (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania). The network will be designed to share lessons learned from career transitions, mentor and open doors, create opportunities and inspire the next generation to maximize its potential.
Highlighting Stories of Inspiration – Ernst & Young plans to leverage the power of Rio 2016 and the emotion of the Olympics by highlighting the success stories of women athletes who have successful post-sport transition into their chosen careers.
Understanding the Impact of Women’s Advancement in Sports and Society – Ernst & Young will commission research about the connections between sports and leadership, as well as the societal and economic effect that women’s access to and participation in sports have on education, health and development around the world.
Participants lending their support to Ernst & Young include leaders such as:Adriana Behar, Olympian and Member, Brazil National Olympic Committee; Deedee Corradini, President, International Women’s Forum;Anita DeFrantz, Olympian and International Olympic Committee Member, Chair of Women and Sports Commission; Nawal El Moutawakel, Olympian and Vice President, International Olympic Committee; and Donna de Varona, Olympian and former President, Women’s Sports Foundation.
While Ernst & Young is widely known for its accounting services, it is no stranger to the women’s empowerment landscape. According to Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair, Public Policy of Ernst & Young, Title IX scholarship recipient, and one Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women, the firm has been focused on women’s economic empowerment for many years.
Since 2008, Ernst & Young has sponsored the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program, which is an annual competition and executive leadership program that identifies women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale – and then helps them do it. And as an official supporter of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Ernst & Young’s marketing activation plan includes an alignment around the Olympic values of inclusiveness and its own values of the advancement of women.
“Coming out of London there was so much momentum around women. It was the first time all of the teams had female athletes and all of the sports were available to both men and women,” Brooke said.
“It reinforced to us that women are an emerging market. The leadership potential that exists in these elite athletes is so consistent with our beliefs in somehow trying to unlock the potential to foster more women’s economic empowerment and leadership.”
It is no secret that there is a direct correlation between women’s participation is sport and their leadership capabilities. Some of the world’s most senior women leaders participated in sports, including former US Secretaries of StateCondolezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, Brazil PresidentDilma Rousseff,PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, and DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman. Additionally, a 2002 survey byMassMutual Financial Group and Oppenheimer Funds (From the Locker Room to the Boardroom: A Survey on Sports in the Lives of Women Business Executives) revealed 80% of the women executives surveyed played sports growing up.
However, “When you look at the progress around women across all sectors, the progress is slow, and it is one of the frustrations,” said Brooke. “We look as this [leadership network] as a great opportunity to do what is necessary now.”
Ernst & Young recognizes that right now women athletes, just like women in business, need access to mentors and role models. Right now the world is in desperate need of leadership that is collaborative and knows how to leverage the value of diversity. And right now women athletes are uniquely skilled and trained to be global leaders.
Ernst & Young does not pretend to have the all of the answers, but it wants to open the playing field for women’s equal participation in business, sport, society, and the economy. Don’t you?