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Shattering the Backboard: More Women Succeeding in Sports Business


By Ali Romano

Shattering the Backboard: More Women Succeeding in Sports Business

Get ready for a new lineup: More women are succeeding in the sports business game. At a time when interest in women's sports is steadily growing, women are looking to entering -- and advancing -- in sports media. To succeed in a male-dominated industry, women need to be persistent and find allies. That's the advice from established female sports executives. Growing the roster will take time and investment, but women shouldn't be deterred.

To elevate women in sports media and on the business side, women in the industry need to exert their influence and create opportunities for other women, said Anne Fiedel, Senior Director, Strategy & Marketing, Gym TV and Zoom Media. "We have to look for ways to drive women forward and make an impact," she explained. "By identifying what I can do and what I can contribute to, that's where it starts. Each of us doing that is what creates the ripple effect."

In support of International Women's Day, Fiedel spoke on a panel sponsored by the Female Quotient at SXSW focusing on elevating women's sports and women in sports business.​

Find a Role Model and Be One, Too​

In any field, let alone a male-heavy one like sports media, it helps to have fellow women in your corner. When Valerie Tyson, CEO of sports marketing firm Unrivaled Group, first started her career in sports, she said she was typically the only woman in the room. When she did meet other women, they were reluctant to help each other for fear of hurting their own position. Now, Tyson said her company is 75% female and, industrywide, women are much more supportive.

"Women are being better to other women, helping other women rise," Tyson said. "Now, you look around and think, we got this."

Some companies, such as NBCUniversal, also offer corporate-backed options, including women's networking and mentorship programs. "It is incredibly important to support other women," noted Bonnie Fallon, Vice President of Trade Marketing, NBCUniversal.​

Across Platforms, Keep Working to Raise Awareness​

One surefire way to get women on a more equal playing field? Give them more airtime. For instance, Gym TV reaches 25 million fitness fans through its place-based network. The network spotlights female athletes, trainers and fitness influencers in its original content, including recent features on power lifter and influencer Cynthia Leu discussing mental health. "We're doing what we can to elevate those stories," Fiedel said.

Fallon said that rather than just confining women's sports to Women's History Month or International Women's Day, NBCUniversal airs inspirational stories about women and female athletes year-round. Interest in women's sports broadcasts is growing too, and that's garnering attention from advertisers, she added. For instance, at the recent Beijing Winter Olympics, the women's hockey game between the U.S. and Canada attracted 3.54 million viewers, making it the second most-watched hockey game of all time for men or women.​

"It can make an impact, and you're going to reach your consumers through women's sports as much as men's sports, if not more," Fallon said.​

It will also go a long way if women are more visible on TV and online. That means more media coverage of events. Currently, only 3% of sports broadcasts are women's sports, according to Haley Rosen, Founder & CEO of Just Women's Sports, a women-only sports media platform.​

Women deserve more, and better, Rosen said. "There is a total lack of coverage. For a long time, you had predominantly white men in offices trying to tackle this gap in the market. The coverage was very feminine and very young and lifestyle content," she noted. "It left a huge gap to cover women's sports like sports because women's sports are dope and deserve to be treated that way."​

Covering women's sports is good business, the panelists agreed. Here's the argument: When women's sports receive coverage and attract sizable audiences, more media companies and advertisers take note. If brands spend more money to reach these audiences, networks will carry more events and give women more coverage and better scheduling. The rising tide will lift all boats, so to speak.

Raise Women Across Sports Business​

To elevate women's sports, the women on the panel said it is essential to have more women and people of color in decision-making roles. That will create more inclusive programming and attract more diversity to the industry, they asserted.​

"We need different perspectives to challenge our own ideas and we need racial and gender representation to diversify our ideas and to help others see themselves in leaders," Fallon said. "It is important to avoid misrepresenting women and people of color, which is tough when they aren't in the room."​

In eSports, women are fighting to get ahead like their counterparts in more traditional sports media, said Nicole LaPointe Jameson, CEO of eSports company Evil Geniuses. The success of their business is on the line. "Our space won't survive and won't be seen at the same pinnacle as a lot of the traditional sports if we don't better capture and engage the true broad audience of gaming, which is gender diverse," she said.

As women look to advance, Fiedel advises them to bring the same grit and determination as a female athlete hitting the soccer field or the tennis court. "Go for it and trust your gut," she exclaimed.

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