SBJ/Sept. 11-17, 2017/Game Changers

Libby Geist, ESPN

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A
s the woman who oversees ESPN’s successful “30 for 30” franchise, Libby Geist has seen almost all of the series’ rough cuts before they ran on TV. More than once when Geist’s bosses have asked for her feedback, she’ll admit to being underwhelmed. “Meh,” she’ll say. “It was about sports.” Her bosses respond with a laugh, “Great! That means it will rate really, really well.”
Libby Geist
ESPN // Vice president and executive producer, ESPN Films and “30 for 30”
“I totally deny sports porn,” Geist said. “I am much more interested in the storytelling and cultural ripple effects of stories. I love a big flashy athlete or a big flashy story that people are going to engage in. But if the story doesn’t have a ripple effect or a cultural relevance, I’ll turn my head. I’m a good antidote to the rest of ESPN. I like to try and bring something completely unique to what else is on our air.”

Geist started at ESPN nine years ago and has had her fingerprints all over the “30 for 30” documentaries. The ones that make her proudest are the ones that go beyond sports: “Fernando Nation,” (“How in the world did he become as big as he did?”), “Fantastic Lies,” (“You didn’t have to show a frame of lacrosse footage in that story — it’s a story about media, coverage and the culture.”) and “Catching Hell.”

“We knew the sports angle and we knew the Chicago angle,” Geist said. “But I wanted to know everything that happened to Steve Bartman that night. Where did he get his tickets? Who was he sitting with? Where did he go afterwards? Pushing filmmakers to really think that way is my favorite kind of story.

— John Ourand



  • Where born: Evanston, Ill.
  • Education: University of Wisconsin, B.A. in political science.
  • Attributes I look for when hiring: Someone who likes to say yes and get “it” done.
  • Networking tip I’ve learned: Get out of the office and be visible in the community you’re working in. Sitting comfortably in your office and not getting to know people who are doing big things around you will limit your (and your team’s) growth and creativity.
  •  Best advice I’ve received for career development: To “own something.” Being the face of and getting to touch all aspects of a project gives you visibility, relationships outside your everyday world and makes it easy for others to understand what you’re good at.
  • Sports business industry can foster a healthier work-life balance by: Only scheduling games from 9-5 on weekdays? That’s a tough one, I’m not sure I’ll be the one to crack that code.
  •  If I had it to do over again: I’d be less critical of myself and recognize success when I have it.
  • Woman in sports business I’d most like to meet: Jeanie Buss. I’m fascinated by her story, her success and her balancing of family and business.
  • Is discussion about challenges women face working in sports necessary or played out? Not played out! For on-camera talent, I think it’s actually underreported how hard and often cruel it is to be yourself and succeed in sports media. In the office, I’ve been lucky to work in a place that supports and encourages women wholeheartedly.
  •  Causes supported: Michael J. Fox Foundation and The New York Harbor School.

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