SBD/Issue 94/Sports Industrialists

Catching Up With New WNBA COO Christine Godleski

WNBA COO
Christine Godleski
The WNBA has operated without a COO since May '05, when ANN SARNOFF resigned from the position, but the league has filled that leadership void with CHRISTINE GODLESKI, who worked her first full day for the league on Monday. Godleski previously worked for ESPN for 12 years, most recently as VP & GM for ESPN Outdoors. After leaving the network in '06, she remained busy, working as a consultant for various companies, as well as volunteering to teach in Tanzania, where the proximity to Mt. Kilimanjaro inspired her to climb the mountain in late '06. Godleski took time out from her busy schedule earlier this week to chat with Staff Writer Erik Swanson about her new role, the challenges of leading ESPN Outdoors and her experiences in Africa.

Favorite vacation spot
: Tanzania. I spent a couple months living in Moshi
Must-visit Web sites: WNBA.com, ESPN.com
Favorite sport to follow besides WNBA: Football -- especially college football
Most memorable sporting event you've attended: '09 WNBA Finals

Q: What will your primary responsibilities be with the WNBA?

Godleski: I'm going to focus on the day-to-day league operations, executing the key league events -- which would be things like the WNBA All-Star Game, the WNBA Draft and the Inspiration Award -- and then just supporting the league and the teams in all of the revenue-generating opportunities. The details of that will still remain to be seen, because I've been here a day and a half.

Q: Are you taking on these responsibilities from someone else, or are these needs that weren't being met already?

Godleski: As I understand, the last COO was here in 2005, so this is a newly created role at this point in time for the league.

Q: What are the biggest growth areas you see for the league?

Godleski: The league certainly has come off a great season. They have had attendance and viewership increases, so we would look to continue to use that success model for growth in that perspective. And then just the popularity of the sport -- there are so many passionate fans out there and also youth that play basketball, so to continue to tap into that and really bring the best product we can to those fans.

Q: What inspired you to join a property like the WNBA after spending much of your career in media?

Godleski: Since they've had such a great success and track record, and obviously being at ESPN and having had exposure to the NBA and as of late the WNBA, just watching that success. It's certainly looking at it from a different angle, but still tied to that passionate sports fan.

Q: You spent several years after leaving ESPN as a consultant. What did that work consist of mainly?

Godleski: It was a variety of companies that I serviced, really just focusing on their revenue-generating or business efficiency. Pretty similar to what I'll be doing here for the WNBA. I did that for a number of clients, everything from small projects to large projects, including clients like the Wall Street Journal and some post-production houses, etc.

Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced leading ESPN Outdoors, one of the network's less familiar properties?

Godleski: Well, on an average day if someone had a choice to spend time selling an NFL spot or a fishing and hunting spot, guess where they spent their time? (Laughs) We certainly had a lot of management support. ... There was a lot of passion, a lot of support, and we really saw television hours increase. But our goal was continuing to get everyone excited about that passion, so we would do things like bringing them out to an event and letting them experience it. From a sales side, a lot of New Yorkers weren't as familiar with those sports, so they were excited to get out and see what it was like. But just keeping it top-of-radar when we were fighting against some big sports like NBA and NFL.

Q: Tell me about your experience summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Godleski: I took the Machame route. There are several routes, and it's not the Coca-Cola route, which is the quickest one up the mountain. It's typically a six-day climb. There were certainly days where you think, "This is never going to happen," as you look up and you see the peak of the mountain. And then as you get cold and tired and cranky, someone is there to literally push you along if you need, and you start to see the top and you see people getting up there, so you think, you know what, I'm not coming back for a long time so I can do this.

Q: And were you already in Tanzania at this point?

Godleski: I was. I spent about five or six weeks volunteering at a preschool, working with six- and seven-year-olds and getting them ready for their primary school education. And trying my best Swahili, which was not good! (Laughs)

Q: Did your climbing interest stem from your ESPN Outdoors work, or vice versa?

Godleski: I would say my climbing interest stemmed from looking up the mountain every day and saying, "Wouldn't that be great to go up there," because where I lived I could see it. And I've just always had a passion for challenges and adventure, and this was something that seemed to be a great challenge and adventure. ESPN Outdoors certainly helped me work and enjoy my challenges and passions at the same time, so they probably led to each other.

Q: Do you plan any additional climbs in the future?

Godleski: I don't have any on the radar, because I'm going to be spending a lot of time with the WNBA getting up to speed on everything. I have a lot of learning to do, it's only day two. ... So not in the immediate future, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out.

Q: Are there any big stories or trends in other sports that you're keeping an eye on?

Godleski: Obviously, I'm excited about the NBA All-Star Game in Dallas this year. I think we'll also just be taking a look around to see what other leagues, how they're doing and what experiences they've had and how that may play into some of the work we're doing here at the WNBA.

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