Portia Archer sees her role at NBC Sports Group as being an advocate for the video streaming market, particularly at a traditional media company like NBC.
“Direct-to-consumer is a new way of business and a new line of business within the company,” she said. “It’s important that I’m able to evangelize across the company and socialize and educate about the benefits of taking risks and the benefits of moving into this new space that’s still relatively unknown.”
Archer joined NBC in 2016 and was part of the team that launched the streaming service NBC Sports Gold. She spends her days as a jack-of-all-trades, doing
everything from identifying properties for the platform to programming and scheduling the service.
“Everything that we do is a risk and something that we haven’t done before,” Archer said.
She referenced the decision to put Premier League games on NBC Sports Gold as a risk. “It took about a year to get people comfortable with taking that risk, but Premier League Pass has been one of the most successful things that we put up on NBC Sports Gold to date.”
Archer has gained a sterling reputation inside NBC’s offices.
“Portia is an invaluable asset to the NBC Sports Digital team,” said Rick Cordella, executive vice president and general manager of NBC Sports Digital. “Her vision, passion and work ethic are crucial in leading a creative, forward-thinking team that is tackling the emerging direct-to-consumer business.”
— John Ourand
Get involved. That was one of the first pieces of advice Kathy Beauregard heard when she was named athletic director at Western Michigan 21 years ago.
As a member of the NCAA’s bowl certification committee in the late 1990s, Beauregard was struck by the oversized championship rings each of the men in the group wore. Her mind wandered as she thought about the ring she’d wear when her Broncos won a Mid-American Conference football championship.
Beauregard had to wait nearly two decades, but Western Michigan got its rings after the magical 2016 season when it went 13-0 before falling to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.
“What I dreamed my entire career about was happening,” Beauregard said.
The long trip from gymnastics coach in 1979 to being one of just seven female ADs in FBS when she was hired in 1997 enabled Beauregard to raise her family in her hometown of Kalamazoo and eventually become the longest-tenured AD in the conference.
As she manages a $31 million annual budget, Beauregard is solving the challenges that come with being AD at a school outside the power five, which includes capitalizing on WMU’s dream season in 2016. Since then, 40 percent of the donations to the university have been directed to athletics, giving her department a critical spike in funding.
“It’s not a job I ever believed I’d have because there just weren’t that many women in AD roles,” she said. “But every time a woman fills one of those jobs, there is a sense of pride.”
— Michael Smith
ESPN’s Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu was on Amtrak heading from Washington, D.C., to New York in 2011 when she started chatting with a man seated next to her who looked to be about 80 years old.
Brzezinski-Hsu did not recognize the man at the time. Shortly into the conversation, she realized she was talking to Bill Rasmussen, the person credited with launching ESPN more than 30 years earlier.
“I had no idea who he was,” she said. “As I was bragging about my current job, I realized who I was talking to.”
Brzezinski-Hsu, who is the head of ESPN’s in-house ad agency called CreativeWorks, made sure to keep in touch with Rasmussen and describes him these days as one of her mentors.
“He had the idea to have sports available 24/7, and he stated a mission that is still ESPN’s today — to serve sports fans,” Brzezinski-Hsu said. “That’s ultimately what I set out to do at CreativeWorks. We know that fans are watching ESPN programming. By default, they are experiencing the ads. Our mission with CreativeWorks is to create ads that serve them and are fun for them.”
Brzezinski-Hsu oversees an 86-person team and has earned a reputation for creativity and business acumen.
“Carrie has that rare combination of creative chops with sales and marketing insight,” said Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of global sales and marketing. “Her uncanny ability to understand our clients’ brands — in tandem with what makes ESPN’s relationship with sports fans unique — is magical.”
— John Ourand
Alba Colon chose a challenging time to make the leap from General Motors to Hendrick Motorsports. But she made the decision by following her own advice.
Colon left a longtime role at GM in January to join the storied NASCAR team. But she did so at the start of a year where the team had a new car model in the Camaro and two new drivers. The transition contributed to a winless streak that ended when Chase Elliott won at Watkins Glen International on Aug. 5.
“I really knew that there would be some growing pains, so I was completely ready for that,” said Colon, who grew up in Puerto Rico. “It was hard not to win [at first] but that win that we just got a couple weeks ago, it made everything sweeter.”
Colon’s role involves using digital simulation and analytics to improve the performance of HMS’ cars and finding areas where the team can slightly improve its speed.
She has traveled to Puerto Rico in the past year to help rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Maria. Colon also has mentored kids there, and she realized that some of the advice she gives them was something she needed to heed when she first got the call from HMS.
“I have always told younger people when I talk to them that, ‘Hey, you can never close doors; you always have to keep your mind open.’ … I just said to myself, ‘This is your time to take on a new challenge like that.’ It’s one of those things you cannot say no to in your life, you need to try it, and I’m very happy with being here.”
— Adam Stern
Jen Cramer knows that most of her childhood friends probably don’t believe that she’s working in sports today.
“I was the type of person that was picked last and that would hide when the ball came,” Cramer said with a laugh.
But while the Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing vice president of partnership marketing may not have had on-field skills growing up, her acumen off it has proved to be a boon for the league.
Since joining MLS in 2016 to oversee its partnership sponsorship efforts after nearly a decade at Turner Sports, Cramer has helped the league secure several multiyear, multimillion-dollar renewals with key partners such as Adidas, AT&T, Audi, Heineken and Wells Fargo.
Those deals have also come with significant increases in the activation around them, as Cramer has worked with her team of more than 20 to revamp the league’s approach to partnership servicing, including establishing new measurement and analytics protocols, and helping partners lean further into multimedia and digital content activations.
“Our goal is to help our partners amplify soccer 365/24/7, and make the sport come to life,” she said.
— Ian Thomas
Running community relations for WWE, Mary Ellen Curran sometimes finds herself considering the sport’s dramatic storylines when matching talent to an appearance or campaign.
All sports properties play up their perceived heroes. But only WWE relies on an equal proportion of villains to execute a scripted plot.
“We are storytellers and we have antagonists and protagonists and eventually good overcomes evil,” said Curran, who oversees cause marketing initiatives and nonprofit partnerships at a global media company that ESPN recently honored with its League Humanitarian Leadership Award. “When we’re implementing our [anti-bullying curriculum], kids ask the same question: ‘You’re a bad guy.’
“‘I’m a bad guy on TV, but that’s not who I am in real life … In real life, we’re friends. And we would never do anything to each other that you might see us do in programming.’”
Curran started out at the U.S. Tennis Association, then moved to the NHL, working in communications, marketing and licensing. After a brief stint in consumer products, she found her niche in community relations at the NBA and WNBA.
Curran was assistant vice president of philanthropy at The Hartford six years ago when a former NBA colleague contacted her about an opportunity to reorganize and elevate community relations at WWE.
“I had background in a lot of areas and was able to bring that experience to community relations, which then translated into building platforms and programs and partnerships that really told a story,” Curran said.
— Bill King
When Kathy Duva lost her husband, Dan, to a brain tumor in 1996, she knew that, with three school-age children at home, she couldn’t fill his role as head of boxing promotion company Main Events, even though he’d passed controlling interest to her.
“I remember sitting at my kitchen table thinking, ‘What do I do now?’” said Duva, who had handled public relations for the company whose stars included Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Arturo Gatti. “For the first time in my life, I didn’t have anyone I had to please. So the answer was, I could be or do whatever I wanted.”
Duva decided to go to law school, taking classes on a schedule that allowed her to be home with her children in the afternoon. But while she was in school, business at Main Events turned south. She felt she had to take over control, but she didn’t want to give up on a law degree. So she hired an experienced boxing executive to manage the company. When she finished school, she took over as CEO.
“I knew the business, but running it was new territory and it took a while for me to develop the confidence that you need,” Duva said. “You have to understand, I moved from my father’s house into my husband’s, like a nice Italian girl was supposed to. My father was wonderful. He encouraged my education and my love of sports. He said, ‘You can be whatever you want to be — but be a good wife and mother.’ That’s how I grew up.”
Today, Duva’s staff is made up almost entirely of women, including Chief Operating Officer Nicole Duva, an attorney who also is her daughter.
— Bill King
It’s standard practice for Olympic bid committees to make famous athletes the face of their sales pitch both at home and abroad, and Janet Evans was no different with Los Angeles 2028.
But Evans, a four-time swimming gold medalist at the Barcelona and Seoul Olympics, was no mere talking head. She made the campaign appearances, but continues to serve as director of athlete relations for the organizing committee. That’s a substantive role for a group that’s made big promises about improving the comfort of athletes and their families.
Evans has developed a robust public speaking business and is putting her outgoing personality to work for her community — both her home of Los Angeles and the community of elite athletes around the world.
She credits the coach from her Olympics career, Mark Schubert, who helped her through the tough lessons of her late-career comeback. “He taught me I wasn’t always going to win, and that life was going to throw me curve balls.” That drove her to prepare for a life after the medals.
The question that drives her today is, “How do we give athletes opportunities above and beyond those 16 days [of the Olympics]?” she said. And LA28 Chair Casey Wasserman, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA28 CEO Gene Sykes “gave me the confidence and the bandwidth to say, ‘this is what we’re going to do.’”
— Ben Fischer
Pilot Flying J, the country’s largest chain of travel stores and truck stops, had barely dipped its toe in the sports marketing waters two years ago. Whitney Haslam Johnson changed all that.
She launched Pilot’s most extensive rebrand and facilities overhaul since the first store opened in 1958.
It was a gutsy move, considering Pilot’s robust market share with more than 750 travel centers nationwide. She saw an opportunity to extend the brand.
The first major move was to title sponsor the Tennessee-Virginia Tech season opener in 2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The first-of-its-kind college football game was played on a field constructed in the middle of the racetrack. A record crowd of 156,990 attended.
Since then, Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot has doubled down with an SEC corporate sponsorship to become the conference’s official travel center.
Haslam Johnson, the daughter of Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam, has never taken her position in the family business for granted. She has worked across many of Pilot’s lines of business to acquire a 360-degree view of the firm.
“Coming out of college, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work for a truck stop,” Johnson said. “But I pretty quickly learned that the job really is more about people and engaging with those people, whether it’s at one of our travel centers or at a football game.”
— Michael Smith
Leading the basketball marketing division for CAA Sports seems like a natural fit for Jessica Holtz, who grew up attending New York Knicks games with her dad. Today, she leads the team representing such stars as Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid.
Her early interest in basketball led to an internship and a job marketing players at the NBA and later at Excel Sports Management. She joined CAA in 2014.
“For Jessica, working in service of such high-profile clients isn’t a desk job; it’s an all-encompassing lifestyle, and she embraces it,” said Michael Levine, co-head, CAA Sports. “Her hard work, dedication and impact on our players, as well as CAA Sports, is a reflection of how deeply she cares.”
Holtz oversees Paul’s large endorsement portfolio of blue-chip companies such as Nike and State Farm and was integral in the launch of his independent production company, Oh Dipp Productions.
In addition to orchestrating landmark deals for Embiid and Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, Holtz led marketing efforts for George after an injury many thought would end his career.
Holtz said her ability to help her star clients deal with the pressure of their careers and to achieve their life goals is what she enjoys most about her job. “What I like to do day to day is making their lives easier off the court, securing partnerships and growing their brand in a way that really matters and is authentic to them and that really moves the needle,” she said.
— Liz Mullen
Lynn Holzman was settled as the commissioner of the West Coast Conference, so returning to the NCAA, where she previously worked for 16 years, wasn’t something she thought about.
That was before the governing body looked her way for one of the most influential positions in college basketball.
As the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball, Holzman would have the power to shape the game’s future over the next decade or two. When it was put like that, Holzman couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
She’s been in that role for eight months now, and she’s found several similarities between her current role and what she did as commissioner. It’s branding and marketing, media contracts and social media campaigns, except now they’re geared toward the greater good for women’s basketball.
Often that leads to ideas like revamping the regionals into a structure that would bring the final 16 teams to one site for a celebration of women’s basketball. Holzman is open to those discussions, as long as the benefits extend beyond more eyeballs on the event.
“If the goal is to grow attendance, that’s one thing,” Holzman said. “But will it make the games better? We have to ask that question too.”
— Michael Smith
More than a year after filling some of the biggest shoes in motorsports marketing, Ashlee Huffman says her group within CSM Sport & Entertainment is finding its footing.
Huffman was promoted in May of last year to lead CSM Sport & Entertainment’s motorsports division, formerly Just Marketing International. That agency — founded by Zak Brown, now CEO of McLaren Racing, and led by Jon Flack, now president of Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports — was bought by CSM in 2013.
“When I first took the position, it was immediately a wave of fear in thinking, ‘These are big shoes to fill; I will never fill these shoes,’” Huffman said. “What was key for me was immediately going, ‘Those aren’t my shoes to fill; that’s not my role to fill.’ This is a different agency.”
CSM’s motorsports group is expanding its offering beyond motorsports, Huffman said, and the group’s ethos has evolved. She cited an increased focus on experimentation and using an entrepreneurial mindset as two key changes in identity. The company recently won new accounts in selling the IndyCar Series title sponsorship for Hulman & Co. and with Ticket Guardian.
“I would say for the last four or five months, our energy has been so good; people are trying new things, and that’s definitely a change in the culture,” Huffman said.
Before Michelle Johnson distinguished herself as an Air Force lieutenant general, the Iowa native starred on the basketball court at the U.S. Air Force Academy and became the first woman inducted into the academy’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I was a two guard,” Johnson said. “I loved the game.”
Today, as head of referee operations for the NBA, Johnson relies on both her stellar military accomplishments, which include being the first woman superintendent of the Air Force Academy, and her love of basketball. She joined the NBA in 2017 after retiring from the military, but not before calling another Air Force Academy graduate to learn about the job and the league.
“I called [San Antonio Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich, who knows a little bit about the NBA,” Johnson said. “To the credit of [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver, they wanted me to bring process and organization to really polish up the referee operations.”
Johnson has helped create recruitment strategies while increasing training, oversight and evaluation methods for the 165 referees across the NBA, WNBA and G League.
Her sense of organizational leadership came from serving as a command pilot with over 3,600 flight hours in eight types of aircraft, a job where teamwork was critical to successful missions. It’s the same approach Johnson is taking within the referee ranks.
“We feel like we are really building a team to take on challenges,” she said.
— John Lombardo
In 2004, Diane Karle took note of what was happening in the wine space: The wine auction market was on fire, wine bars were popping up everywhere and large companies were using expensive wines as a form of entertainment for clients.
Three years later, Karle began thinking about the business side of the category. She targeted wine as a lifestyle vertical and recognized an unmet need that existed in the cross-sector of the sports fan and the wine drinker.
“That was when I said ‘there’s no real agency that is … representing the category,’” she said. “It was an undervalued, kind of undermarketed category within all sports teams.”
So in 2008, Karle launched Wine by Design, an agency that sells licensed and team-branded wines, manages wine sponsorships and produces events.
Using the sports contacts that she built up over her career — including six years as a vice president at IMG and three years at Carat, where she launched the agency’s sports and entertainment business in 2002 — she landed her first client, the New York Jets.
Her company now services a client portfolio that includes an exclusive wine license for all 30 Major League Baseball teams and team-by-team deals in the NBA and the NFL, including the first commissioned commemorative Super Bowl wine.
“I saw an opportunity at a very relevant time to change the perception and what could be happening with wine,” Karle said. “That was an illustration of, you know, changing the game for that category.”
— Elly Cosgrove
In 10 years, the Nashville Predators have gone from a franchise on the brink of relocation and ownership uncertainty to one of the strongest markets in the NHL with a game-day experience that is among the best in pro sports.
Reflecting on this drastic shift and the team’s magical run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final highlighted by the tens of thousands that took to the city’s streets for watch parties, Predators Chief Operating Officer Michelle Kennedy said one thing comes to mind: “It’s certainly a lot more fun now than it was back then.”
“When I think back of what shape the organization was in and where it is now, I get chills,” said Kennedy, who joined the team in 2008 as in-house counsel after serving as an associate director of athletics at Vanderbilt University and as an auditor at KPMG. “You wake up every morning and pinch yourself.”
But Kennedy, who oversees all governance and compliance, legal, finance, IT and human resources matters, and the rest of the organization have no plans to rest on their laurels.
“We love riding the big wave, but we’re not people who are satisfied,” she said. This summer, those changes include tweaks to game presentation and arena upgrades, including a new audio system, control room and LED ribbon boards.
“We’ve coined this term around here, unapologetically irreverent,” she said. “We do hockey our way, and we think it’s very endearing — we love to watch people have fun.”
— Ian Thomas
Nona Lee has been with the Arizona Diamondbacks for nearly the entire 20-year history of the team. But she is now at the center of some of the franchise’s biggest changes.
Lee played a key role helping negotiate the Diamondbacks’ 20-year rights extension in 2015 with Fox Sports Arizona, an estimated $1.5 billion deal that is the largest financial transaction in club history, and the development of the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick spring training complex, which involved working with a sovereign Native American community.
Now Lee is at the center of the club’s efforts to improve and replace Chase Field. The club in May completed a complex set of negotiations with Maricopa County that will allow the Diamondbacks to seek out potential sites for a new stadium and make them responsible for maintenance and event booking at the current ballpark.
“There has been a lot of change happening, and we’ve had our challenges. But now we’re at the beginning of another opportunity to grow the franchise and expand our brand,” Lee said.
Lee is also the president of the Sports Lawyers Association, marking just the second time a woman has led that national organization in its more than 40 years of existence.
“I’ve been on the board there for some time, but it’s a huge honor to now be in this role,” she said. “My whole aim there is to really set this up for the future, getting more people involved and improving our outreach. There is a lot we can still do there.”
— Eric Fisher
Sandra Lopez is one of the key figures in Intel’s accelerating push into sports. But her original career path had her headed in a very different direction.
Lopez went to college in California to study textiles and clothing marketing with an eye toward a career in the fashion industry, ideally as a designer. But she soon pivoted after seeing the immense opportunity a digital future could provide.
“I was starting toward a career in fashion, but I always liked creating new businesses, and it was so clear how transformative technology was going to be across all of society,” Lopez said.
Lopez has taken a prominent role at Intel Sports in key areas of focus, including immersive video, augmented and virtual reality, and analytics.
“We’ve seen Intel transform itself from a PC-centric world to a data-centric world, and with all of these experiences, it’s all about connecting consumers and getting them closer to the things they love,” she said.
Lopez has also been a prominent voice in the development of female executives in technology and has been recognized for her efforts in this area by organizations such as the National Diversity Council.
“Career mentorship and sponsorship have been so critical to where I am,” Lopez said. “Mentors are your advisers, the ones that help guide you. And sponsors are the ones that advocate for you and help provide opportunities to rise and grow. Both are hugely important, and it’s been a big mission for me to help mentor and sponsor the next generation of leaders in our space.”
— Eric Fisher
As a partner in a Jacksonville law firm, Neera Mahajan Shetty wasn’t looking for a new job and had no particular aspirations to work in sports when the PGA Tour came calling in 2008.
“Given my background, I didn’t have any connections to the sport and I’m not an athlete,” she said. “I didn’t know there was an opportunity for me. It certainly was not a straight path.”
Mahajan Shetty, a Houston native, knew a bit about the tour after doing some outside counsel legal work for the organization. Today, a decade later, she oversees four attorneys and 10 paralegals in her post.
It’s a critical behind-the-scenes position where she has distinguished herself in tackling matters including employment law, business litigation and other legal issues facing the tour.
She most recently helped win the dismissal of a class-action lawsuit filed by caddies alleging improper use of their likenesses and images. The dismissal was upheld on appeal last month.
“I handle some things that aren’t always pleasant,” Mahajan Shetty said. “A lot of what I try to do is make sure we are upholding our values and conducting ourselves in the most ethical and legal way. That is my role.”
— John Lombardo
Yvette Martinez-Rea didn’t know she wanted to work in esports. And esports tournament organizer ESL North America didn’t know it needed a chief operating officer.
But like so much in the frenetic world of competitive gaming, gumption and good luck led to success for both. Martinez-Rea left her position at a beauty content and commerce company (she’d worked for Yahoo and other tech companies for most of her career) for ESL in 2016, to become COO of an operation that had no human resources, no legal and no contracting process. In fact, the job was originally posted as director of operations when another candidate told them they needed to aim higher.
“It was really the growth and the numbers that attracted me,” she said. “Frankly, it feels a lot like the early days of tech.”
She earned respect early on by promising to change nothing until she’d been listening for six months. In February, she was appointed CEO after former Americas CEO Craig Levine took on a global strategy role.
Martinez-Rea has done the hard work, so often discussed, of blending the esoteric gaming culture with mainstream business. She’s driven distribution deals designed to broaden the appeal of esports, with Facebook, Caffeine TV, Hulu and Disney XP, and has brought in new sponsors such as AT&T. She’s also fired people. But as both an esports neophyte and a woman in the boardroom, she’s learned to expertly modulate her intensity with tact.
“I’ve been tough and strong and outspoken when I needed to be, but I’ve been careful not to do it until I’ve learned enough, or earned enough credibility in other spaces,” she said.
— Ben Fischer
Laila Mintas’ role swung as swiftly and certainly as a point spread after a key injury when the Supreme Court cleared the way for U.S. states to allow sports betting earlier this year.
As deputy president in charge of Sportradar’s U.S. operations, Mintas went from finding ways for traditional and emerging media entities to use the data in their coverage of sports to focusing on what has been the company’s core business elsewhere in the world — working at the intersection of bookmakers, gaming regulators and sports properties.
“It is an interesting environment, with the major leagues and all the different stakeholders,” said Mintas, who was raised in Berlin and made her way to the U.S. after roles monitoring betting integrity for FIFA and CONCACAF. “I was not only dealing with the day-to-day business at Sportradar, but also became the main person in doing education around betting for different stakeholders — the leagues, but also media companies, regulators, legislators and, of course, all our existing and potential customers such as bookmakers and casino operators.
“I’m now basically leading the efforts of Sportradar to help shape the betting market in a way that makes sense for all the different stakeholders to participate, but also to ensure that integrity and consumer protections are in place. The betting business has again become the main focus of my work.”
— Bill King
After graduating from Georgetown University, Liz Moulton wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted to create broader societal change. She did some consulting, teaching and coaching, and later went to Harvard and earned a master’s degree in leadership.
But she found her true calling in one of the most unexpected places. “I was recruited to executive search off an airplane,” she said.
Beginning at Russell Reynolds in early 2010, before moving to Korn Ferry and now Spencer Stuart, Moulton has led prominent executive searches for the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. She got her big breakthrough into sports when she led the search for a new Big East commissioner, which began in late 2011 and was filled by Mike Aresco.
Just 10 years ago, hiring within the industry shifted to attract a diversity of gender, race and background, Moulton said. One of her passions is helping elevate women within sports.
“I want to be known as the woman who helps other women because there’s just not enough of that,” she said.
Some of her proudest executive searches include chief revenue and marketing officer at the Washington Nationals in 2014, commissioner of the newly formed Big East in 2013, and executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the NHL in 2016. All positions were filled by women — Valerie Camillo, Val Ackerman and Heidi Browning, respectively.
— Elly Cosgrove
Joanne Pasternack joined the Golden State Warriors in April 2017 not long after the white-hot franchise began construction of the Chase Center set to open next year in San Francisco.
It was a critical time for the team, not just from a business perspective but also from a philanthropic perspective.
“When ownership reached out, they said they wanted to circle around a more comprehensive philanthropic program as we moved into Chase Center,” said Pasternack, executive director of the Warriors Community Foundation and vice president of community relations. Since joining the franchise, she has increased the foundation’s charitable fundraising by more than 100 percent while leading myriad community development projects.
Prior to joining the Warriors, Pasternack worked for the San Francisco 49ers for a decade making her mark as vice president of community relations.
But when the Warriors called, she jumped at the chance to join one of sports’ biggest brands and create a more unified philanthropic program that links the various departments within the organization.
“It was a new challenge I was looking for,” she said. “I absolutely recognize that I am here in the right time and right place to amplify philanthropy in sports.”
Buoyed by that success, Pasternack will be starting a new role outside of sports later this month when she joins ServiceNow as senior director of global impact. She will develop a global corporate social responsibility portfolio for the cloud computing company based in Santa Clara, Calif. Pasternack also will be responsible for the company’s corporate social responsibility and community investment strategy across 70 cities around the world.
Lara Pitaro Wisch happens to have one of the most powerful figures in sports media as an older brother, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro.
“I spent a very happy childhood tagging along with him, particularly playing sports since Jimmy is one of the best natural athletes you’ll see anywhere,” Wisch said. “And Jimmy has really been one of the secrets to my success and the best barometer in my world for what is the right answer.”
Pitaro Wisch has her own lengthy record of sports industry accomplishment. With MLBAM since 2004 in a variety of legal roles, she played a key behind-the-scenes part in what baseball’s trailblazing digital arm has done across the online and mobile arenas.
More recently, Pitaro Wisch was a key adviser in the two BAMTech equity transactions, totaling $2.58 billion, in which Disney became the majority owner of the MLBAM spinoff. She also spearheaded the MLB acquisition of Tickets.com in 2005, as well as industrywide ticketing deals with Ticketmaster and eBay/StubHub.
“It’s been a lot of change, but all good change,” Pitaro Wisch said. “There’s a lot happening in the media space, which is ever-evolving, and it’s been really gratifying to be at the forefront of all that change.”
— Eric Fisher
In 2008, Hania Poole was eight months pregnant and standing in Matt Hong’s office, trying to get a job that she wasn’t qualified for. Poole tried her best to convince Hong to hire her as Turner Sports’ senior director of business operations.
Poole was a manager-level employee at the time and knew that she was underqualified for the position. Poole didn’t get that job, but she created such a good impression on Hong that when he had another opening in his department several months later, Poole was the first person he called.
“We made that connection and when the opportunity was right he brought me over,” Poole said. “That’s what launched what I consider my real career. That’s when my career started feeling like a career. I truly enjoy what I do and I feel like the opportunities and progression come naturally. I credit that to making that connection and taking a little bit of a risk by putting myself out there at that point.”
Earlier this summer, Turner Sports promoted Poole to one of the most visible positions in the company — running its B/R Live streaming service. Poole will continue to run NCAA Digital, which includes the uber-successful March Madness Live.
“Hania is a dynamic leader who is admired by her colleagues and industry peers for her business acumen, innovative thinking and relentless pursuit of excellence,” said Hong, who now is COO of Turner Sports. “Without exception, she places the consumer experience at the forefront of every digital product in her purview.”
— John Ourand
Jennifer Pope is an integral part of the Los Angeles Kings and AEG’s efforts to help tens of thousands of people across Southern California through various philanthropic efforts, driving tens of millions of charitable donations and a deeper bond between fans and the team.
Who helped Pope get her start in sports? Her father, via a desperate phone call to appease his sports-loving daughter when MSG Network wasn’t working at their home right before she returned for college break.
“My dad called the network to figure out why, and he started talking to whoever answered the call about me and got me the contact info for the PR folks at the network,” she said. She later landed an internship at MSG Networks, then later joined the NBA. It was Pope’s work with NBA Cares that led her to the charitable side of sports.
Since arriving in L.A. in 2007, Pope has reworked the Kings’ foundation and community department, forging partnerships with local organizations such as Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. It’s been personal as well, with the Kings helping raise money and awareness for hydrocephalus, a rare, incurable disorder with which Pope’s son, Charlie, was diagnosed.
“You have an ability to really make an impact on a community, as well as on one kid or an entire family,” she said.
— Ian Thomas
Philadelphia 76ers Chief Operating Officer Lara Price has spent more than two decades working in the team’s front office. So, when Sixers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer last year created a new holding company that puts the Sixers, New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center into a single entity, Price was more than ready to help lead the transition.
“It’s been a little over a year now since we announced the formation of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which was a major undertaking,” Price said. “I think we did a really good job in the execution. Our goal was to set HBSE up for growth, and we were able to implement the structure that we have now that will allow us to grow and acquire new entities. Being part of the team that created and helped to craft that structure is one of the most exciting projects of which I’ve been a part. We have a big future ahead.”
Price also played a major role in the development of the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex that opened in September 2016 in Camden, N.J., and she oversees the operation of the Delaware Blue Coats, the 76ers’ NBA G League affiliate.
“I always look at change as an opportunity,” she said. “It’s in our DNA. We don’t like the status quo — we are push, push, push, go, go, go — and that’s exciting to me; there are opportunities there.”
— John Lombardo
Marianne Rotole’s journey into sports marketing started when she was 21 and just out of conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.
“I moved to Chicago from Michigan and landed at sports radio station The Score. That’s where I landed my first job,” said Rotole, who was a production intern at WSCR-AM in 1995.
“I was side-jobbing all over the place just to afford to live in Chicago,” she said of working in retail during her early intern days.
She was quickly attuned that she liked the public relations and marketing side of the business rather than news. “I just realized I found it really interesting, the PR side. I just felt more suited to that,” said Rotole, who grew up in Michigan.
In 1996, Rotole was interning with the Chicago Bulls in their media services department, and by 1999, she was senior manager of corporate communications for the team. She then moved to marketing and public relations posts at the Chicago Marathon in 2006, before accepting a marketing post with Octagon in 2010.
She’s risen from an account director to senior vice president at Octagon in eight years. Rotole launched the agency’s West Coast practice more than three years ago with the Taco Bell and Kaiser Permanente accounts. She also is active in Octagon’s new business efforts.
The move from sports PR to marketing was a big change for Rotole. “It was a true focus on marketing and to work with a brand,” she said. “That was the biggest shift and that was really the second pivot in my career.”
— Mike Sunnucks
Kristen Salvatore believes video games are a vehicle to bring together cultures and improve the world. And she thinks brand partners can help.
That altruistic belief in her job, combined with the rapidly growing deal sizes in esports, makes Twitch’s top sponsorship sales executive a person to watch closely as competitive gaming continues to make its way into the mainstream. Salvatore and Twitch sit at the center of the esports world, selling access to some of the most devoted, deeply engaged audiences in the world that have yet to be recreated on any number of streaming competitors.
“I find it genuinely rewarding too because I can say, ‘Everybody, come to the party,’” said Salvatore, who started out as a journalist, rising to become editor-in-chief of PC Gamer in 2007, before moving on to become director of brand strategy at game developer BioWare and App Store business manager for games at Apple.
Under Salvatore, Twitch has developed into a sponsorship emporium of sorts, handling sales on behalf of teams, publishers and tournaments along with selling its own inventory at events around the world and connected to its original content. Its Amazon ownership puts Salvatore and her team in the unusual position of offering both the media platform for esports and a retail sales channel, allowing them to offer real business-driving assets that are still hard to find in the mostly digital world of gaming.
Her credo, written both on a water-stained orange Post-it note in her office and her LinkedIn page: “Help people. Make cool stuff. Help people make cool stuff.”
— Ben Fischer
Ask Michael Strahan what his longtime manager and business partner Constance Schwartz-Morini is good at and he can’t give just one answer.
“Constance has a special talent for most things. She has the ability to see things in the long term and forecast why a move today may be good or bad in the next five days to five years,” Strahan said via email. “Her ability to see a clear road map through all the glitter and muck is a gift that has helped her shape the careers of so many of our clients, including myself.”
Strahan and Schwartz-Morini formed SMAC Entertainment in 2011 as a management and production company for sports and entertainment and business projects for clients who include broadcasters Erin Andrews, Tony Gonzalez, Curt Menefee and Deion Sanders.
Schwartz-Morini started her career working at the NFL before joining Arista Records and later The Firm agency. She managed Snoop Dogg in the early years of his career and still works on projects with him, including “Snoop Dogg Presents the Joker’s Wild.”
SMAC continues to assist in the growth and evolution of a digital production company called Religion of Sports, which was co-founded by Strahan, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and filmmaker Gotham Chopra.
Strahan is viewed as one of the biggest success stories of athletes crossing into the entertainment world, and Schwartz-Morini has been a big part of that.
“She has changed my life in so many ways,” Strahan said. “It gives me so much joy to see her success. She has earned every bit of it.”
— Liz Mullen
It was a quiet team bus for the Atlanta Falcons leaving NRG Stadium after they lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI in February 2017.
But Morgan Shaw Parker was huddled with team President Steve Cannon to craft an immediate digital outreach to the team’s heartbroken boosters.
“We needed to talk to our fans,” she said. “What was really important was we needed to understand what our fans were feeling. Had we gone dark, at that time, that would have been detrimental to our fan base and we decided not to, and we decided to have a conversation with our fans.”
Shaw Parker got to work on a video that spoke to the club’s connection with Atlanta and posted it across all of the team’s social and digital media platforms later in the week. Under Shaw, the Falcons have emphasized digital storytelling, so much so the NFL holds the club up as an example for the other 31 teams.
The club won two Webby Awards in 2018 for its revamp of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium website. Originally created to sell PSLs, the site was changed to emphasize engagement with fans.
“That was not something that created loyalty,” she said of the PSL strategy for the site, “nor would it tell the story of what [team owner Arthur Blank] is building in this city.”
— Daniel Kaplan
Tracie Speca-Ventura walked by an art gallery with sports exhibits in 1989 in Sherman Oaks, Calif. She was 19.
“I thought, this is super cool. There was a help wanted sign,” she said. “I went in and said I didn’t know anything about art, but I know a lot about sports and know how to sell.”
Speca-Ventura had just spent a summer serving as an assistant to Pete Rose and his family when he managed the Cincinnati Reds. Speca-Ventura’s father, Lee Speca, was Rose’s minor league roommate in 1961.
She got the job at that gallery, and in her first month organized art shows for the Los Angeles Kings featuring Wayne Gretzky and Mickey Mantle.
By 1992, she founded Sports & The Arts and is now a top art curator working with sports teams and their venues on art and historical collections, including at Yankee Stadium, Lambeau Field, Levi’s Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium.
“No one was doing this. No one does this on our scale,” Speca-Ventura said of the California-based company.
The firm is assisting the Milwaukee Bucks with artwork at Fiserv Forum and is talking to the Los Angeles Rams, Oakland Raiders and Golden State Warriors regarding their new venues.
“We have employed now over 250 artists,” she said. “There are probably 300 to 400 kids who have worked on our projects from art schools and universities.”
— Mike Sunnucks
Sara Toussaint knew it would be edgy to get Landon Donovan to promote Mexico’s national soccer team for sponsor Wells Fargo this summer at the World Cup. While the U.S. team was not in the tournament, it still was a bold move, especially given the political dynamic between the two countries.
“We had been sponsoring the Mexican national team for four years and felt we hadn’t really moved the needle in that space,” she said. “Given the political climate in the U.S., we wanted to give this message of sportsmanship and inclusivity and cheering on a team that is our neighbor.”
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Chicago, Toussaint conceded that she was slightly naïve and underestimated the vitriol the campaign might spark.
She felt bad for Donovan, because he received the brunt of the online hostility, including accusations of treason.
“It was hard to see that being hurled at him,” she said. “That was the worst, seeing people question his allegiance to the U.S.”
“I read every single comment, every single post in response to Landon’s posts, in response to our posts … and I would say maybe a third was negative,” she said. “But the Hispanic fans loved it, loved it, loved it.”
And that ultimately is Toussaint’s mission, to market to Hispanics and target millennials, using Wells Fargo’s soccer sponsorship, including MLS and the Mexican team.
— Daniel Kaplan
Everyone in sponsorship marketing knows that sometimes less is more, and the right partner-property fit is more important than deal size. In reality, it takes extraordinary discipline to actually deliver on those principles, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Cyndie Wang has done it.
After a long stint at Visa, where she cut her teeth on the Olympics, and another at Octagon, Wang joined Hewlett Packard’s sponsorship shop in 2013. Since then, she’s endured headline-grabbing changes at the tech giant as it first split into HP and HP Enterprises in 2015, and then again two years later when it spun off the software business.
During this time, she intentionally downsized the portfolio, centralized sponsorship marketing into a single center of excellence, and executed a strategy that would include only deals that could lead directly to enterprise sales. Wang understands that properties need more than just a check — they need help optimizing the fans’ experience — and knows how to close the deal to make that happen.
HPE is integral in the construction of a new tech-enhanced stadium for Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, and will deliver connectivity services for fans at the Ryder Cup. Wang also has finished another deal with the Mercedes-AMG Formula One team, which will use HPE technology to drive vehicle development.
Of her approach to dealmaking, she says: “People don’t think I’m trying to sell them on something they don’t want. I want to work with them to create something that’s advantageous to them.”
— Ben Fischer
For Nichol Whiteman, the mission behind what the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation does could not be more clear.
“Sports has the power to change lives,” said Whiteman, executive director of the club’s official charity. “The things we’re looking to do, they’re so much bigger than just baseball or just the Dodgers.”
And over the past half decade, the record of accomplishments for Whiteman and the Dodgers Foundation has reflected that. During that time, fundraising to the foundation has increased 1,000 percent. The organization recently broke ground on the 50th Dodgers Dreamfield, providing L.A.-area youth safe places to play, and earlier this year the foundation hit a milestone of reaching 10,000 kids through the Dodgers RBI Youth Development Program.
The foundation’s annual Blue Diamond Gala has also become one of the most star-studded events in Los Angeles each year. This year’s event in June, headlined by John Legend, raised more than $2.2 million.
“When you’re getting 3 million-plus in attendance every year and the kind of fan support we have, you have an incredible obligation and responsibility to give back to the community,” said Whiteman, whose connection to the Dodgers was forged when she was vice president and Western region officer for the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
“But what we’ve done through things like our 50/50 raffle and our various events is make support of the foundation and our community initiatives a fundamental part of the overall fan experience and synonymous with being a Dodgers fan,” she said.
— Eric Fisher
The NHL’s slate of signature events has massively grown in the last two decades, going from four in 1998 to nearly 15 each year now, including several games held around the globe.
For Chie Chie Yard, that growth has mirrored her own at the league. She started as an intern in 1998 after playing for Japan’s women’s national hockey team in the Nagano Olympics and is now a key member of the team overseeing operations and logistics for events that range from the Winter Classic to esports events.
“When I first started working at the league, I was doing credentials for the draft; we still used Polaroid cameras, glue sticks and laminate for the credentials back then,” Yard said.
As a leader on the events team, Yard leads site visits and venue preparations and works with the league’s 31 teams and their players, as well as vendors and suppliers to ensure these complex, large-scale events run smoothly.
But whether it’s as high profile as the All-Star Game or as grassroots as Hockeyville, Yard said she loves helping bring the sport to fans around the world.
“Hockeyville is my favorite event,” she said, “and while it may not be as glamorous or have as many people watching as the others, all you need to see is the look on the faces of all these little kids from a tiny community when NHL players step on the ice.”
— Ian Thomas
Portia Archer: There have been a number of people who have impacted and influenced my career. One of the most influential is my mother.
Kathy Beauregard: My parents, sisters, husband and son. They have been by my side through every step of my career.
Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu: Bill Rasmussen, ESPN’s visionary founder (thus the reason I have my dream job) and also someone who has become a mentor and friend.
Alba Colon: My father. From him, I learned the skills to be successful like dedication, the power of teamwork and a constant pursuit of knowledge.
Jen Cramer: Seth Ladetsky and Keller Withers at Turner built my confidence. Andrea Ching at Turner became my mentor and executive coach. Kathy Carter at SUM taught me how to challenge myself, think strategically and create and execute a vision.
Mary Ellen Curran: Every person I’ve worked for as well as the people who’ve worked for me have helped shape my career and contributed to my past and current success in the industry.
Kathy Duva: My husband, of course. He taught me everything. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t recall or use something he taught.
Janet Evans: My coach, Mark Schubert, who taught me that there would be challenges and obstacles even at the best of times.
Whitney Haslam Johnson: An appreciation and love for sports has been very much ingrained in my family for as long as I can remember — starting with my grandfather who played on the 1951 national championship team for Tennessee football and now of course my parents and their involvement with the NFL in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Jessica Holtz: My father has had the biggest impact on me. He fostered my passion for sports in general, but mostly the NBA at a young age. Though he works in a different profession, he is the person I talk to in the toughest situations. His leadership style and incredible work ethic have always provided an amazing blueprint for me.
Lynn Holzman: Charlotte West and Christine Grant. In the late ’90s and early 2000s both women held visible NCAA leadership roles as the NCAA membership discussed and debated major issues. Their wisdom, intelligence, poise, professionalism, communication and listening skills, patience, steadfast commitment to gender equity, fairness and, most of all, their commitment to ALL student athletes helped mold and shape my approach.
Ashlee Huffman: There truly are so many — Zak Brown, Kevin Thimjon, Tim Bampton, Lori Crawford, Mikel Hartman, Wes Zirkle. However, if I go way back to my younger days, it has to be my dad. He was a professional motorcycle racer for many years, then moved into hobby racing open-wheel sprint cars later in life.
Michelle Johnson: I’m grateful to Adam Silver and Byron Spruell for bringing me into their leadership team. I was encouraged along the way by fellow USAFA graduate Gregg Popovich. And during my tenure, a real sports business pro, Ann Rodriguez, COO of the WNBA, has helped me translate the vernacular of leadership into the sports business realm.
Diane Karle: Bob Kain, former CEO of IMG. He possessed a quiet, intuitive and impactful leadership style. He was accessible, encouraged collaboration, autonomy and differing opinions.
Michelle Kennedy: I had the great fortune of landing my first job in sports at my alma mater (Vanderbilt University) working with a dream team of talented professionals (assembled by Todd Turner, former AD at Vanderbilt). … I also had great support from [CFO] Lauren Brisky at Vanderbilt. … Working alongside our [Predators] Chairman Tom Cigarran and CEO Sean Henry has been incredible.
Nona Lee: Billie Jean King. Early in my career, I was privileged to serve on the board of her nonprofit organization in New York, the Women’s Sports Foundation. … She helped me understand that my voice is important, and that I have the ability, capacity and responsibility to make a difference. Most importantly, she inspired me to live by the principle that it is important to give back more than I take.
Sandra Lopez: It is a team — the Niners during their dynasty. As a kid, I would watch from afar and learned that you will always have a winning shot to turn a bad run around and the criticality of teamwork. Bill Walsh — I studied his leadership style, and his emphasis on continuous improvement has absolutely had an impact on my life.
Neera Mahajan Shetty: It would have to be my boss, Len Brown. His confidence in me and trust in my instincts, even though I did not have a traditional career path into sports, has been invaluable.
Yvette Martinez-Rea: Without a doubt, Craig Levine, my predecessor and the founder of the original organization in the U.S., which became ESL America. He is an icon and legend (gamer name: Torbull) in this space who has been the most generous, supportive partner to me as I entered the industry.
Liz Moulton: Joe Leccese, chairman of Proskauer, who helped me build a sports practice and most importantly encouraged me to take a seat at the table despite being outnumbered. … Val Ackerman, whom I recruited to be commissioner of the Big East Conference, and every woman in our industry should thank for being a trailblazer in an era that was significantly more gender-biased than what we face today.
Joanne Pasternack: Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics. I had the great blessing of working at Special Olympics’s international headquarters when Mrs. Shriver was still actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. … My hero — my father, Bruce Pasternack — used to say to me regularly, “I can open a door for you, but it’s up to you to walk inside. And once you are inside, you need to show up each and every day. You are the only one who can effect the ultimate impact of that open door on your career and life trajectory.”
Lara Pitaro Wisch: My brother, Jimmy, who very well may have come out of the womb more interested in sports than air. And since I passed most of my early life happily tagging along after him (and he tolerating it), so too came my love of sports.
Hania Poole: Matt Hong, COO of Turner Sports. When he came to the company, he created a “business operations” role at Turner that didn’t really exist before, and I scheduled time to meet with him and discuss it. While it wasn’t the first role I had in the sports division, it was the role I wanted. And that’s what I needed to be able to see a path.
Jennifer Pope: Kathy Behrens. Smart, confident, mom of 2 (twins!) and just gets the job done. One of the best bosses I could have had to start my career.
Lara Price: I have had incredible mentors throughout my career. I will forever remember entrepreneur and activist Margaret Hansson as my true inspiration, and thereafter, former CBA Marketing VP Bob King, former President of Washington Sports & Entertainment Susan O’Malley and executives like Peter Luukko truly made an impact on my professional development.
Marianne Rotole: Octagon’s John Shea. And not just because he is ultimately my boss. I have grown more as a professional under John’s guidance the last several years than the whole of my career before it. John inspires confidence, empowers people, and is always available to offer guidance, perspective and wisdom.
Kristen Salvatore: My college soccer coach, Ray Tharan, taught me the value of integrating both the physical and the mental benefits of sports into the rest of my life. That’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart throughout my career. (Ray passed away a few years ago — I miss his wisdom and humor all the time.)
Constance Schwartz-Morini: Maureen Rosen, who hired me at the NFL as her and Jim Schwebel’s assistant in 1991. She gave me a shot and allowed me the room to grow and learn way beyond the scope of my job with her. I am forever grateful.
Morgan Shaw Parker: Patti Phillips, CEO, Women Leaders in College Sports (formerly NACWAA), for her relentless enthusiasm and drive to empower women and girls in sports; Arthur Blank, owner, AMB Group, for continuously demonstrating the power of listening to the customer and giving back to others; Mark Rhodes, Nike, vice president of communications, for pushing me to think about storytelling differently while also taking the time to teach.
Tracie Speca-Ventura: Jeffrey Vanderbeek and Mike Gilfillan, former owners of the New Jersey Devils. Jeff and Mike trusted my vision from our first introductory meeting and gave me the chance of a lifetime by allowing me to curate my first stadium collection in 2007.
Sara Toussaint: Nick Carey, head of Wells Fargo’s sponsorship and hospitality team. For the past five years, he’s had my back, which gives me the confidence to be creative. I also have to recognize Carlo Castilla (for teaching me to find purpose in my work), David Wright (how to be true to the brands we support), Michael Gandler (mental toughness), Paul Mendes (how to be resourceful) and Jen Gefsky (first role model in sports).
Cyndie Wang: Tom Shepard because he gave me my first glimpse into the Olympic Games, taught me how to drive true value from partnerships and opened my eyes to the emotive power of sports to connect with audiences.
Nichol Whiteman: Rachel Robinson, founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and widow of the incomparable civil rights icon, Jackie Robinson. Her unwavering strength in the face of indescribable adversity will always inspire me to achieve greatness.
Chie Chie Yard: While he may not know it, my father. He raised me to be a strong and confident person. From a very young age, he reinforced the fact that I could do anything I wanted to do as long as I worked hard.
Portia Archer: There is an old adage, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.” If men and women alike, in the sports industry and beyond, just expect and hope for challenges to be met or overcome, it may never happen and we all lose out. We have to hold each other accountable for results and progress, just as we do when we plan for success in achieving business goals and overcoming business challenges. … As a member of NBC Universal’s Stamford Women’s Network, I championed the launch of NBC Sports Group’s circle mentorship program, open to both men and women.
Kathy Beauregard: The sport industry needs to accept the fact that women should not be held at any other standards than men.
Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu: Research focused around women in sports shows that men’s perceptions about gender and the gender gap differ from women’s. We should foster more discussions between women and men because if men in leadership roles don’t see problems, then they can’t be part of fixing them.
Alba Colon: I’ve seen my industry make great strides, but we must continue to develop opportunities and do more to promote motorsports as a viable career path for talented women.
Jen Cramer: The issues facing women are not limited to the sports industry. The burden of making a choice between career or family still falls primarily on women. This is a much larger societal issue, but there are ways to mitigate the challenge such as hiring leaders with diversity of thought, actively promoting women into senior positions and aiming to implement “women-friendly” policies (such as flexible working hours).
Mary Ellen Curran: Provide more leadership opportunities for women across all sectors of the sports industry.
Kathy Duva: They should listen to our voices when we speak. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with women in business. You’re in a meeting, you say something, and nobody pays any attention. A few minutes later, a guy says the same thing and everybody nods their head. If people would stop tuning us out and recognize the value of those ideas and that work ethic, they’ll want to hire more women, as I have [at Main Events].
Janet Evans: Just because a woman might not have competed in a male-dominated sport, it doesn’t mean that she can’t understand the nuances and specifics of being a successful administrator within that sport.
Whitney Haslam Johnson: The trucking industry is heavily weighted with male leaders, so for many years now that’s the environment I have been operating in. I just try to be myself — always confident in my ability to do the job. My grandmother and mom both set a great example for me. The key is providing equal opportunities and, ideally, qualified, successful woman will continue to take on leadership roles.
Lynn Holzman: As leaders, we all have a responsibility to provide opportunities for women. It can’t stop there. We all have a responsibility to provide a supportive environment for individuals to be successful in all facets of their life — work, home, family, health and well-being.
Ashlee Huffman: That’s a big topic that will only truly be solved with a fundamental change in thinking. The industry needs to do the basics from providing outlets to address discrimination to setting the right tone in their culture; however, women can control their own destinies. Women need to be confident and value the thinking and abilities they bring — just as each person, regardless of gender, brings a unique perspective.
Michelle Johnson: The advantage of sports operations, referee operations in my case, is that performance can be the measure. As with my pilot experience, the bottom line can be measured in outcomes. If all people are measured by that standard, the benefits of talents and creativity from all corners speak for themselves. However, the emotions and passions surrounding sports can sometimes get in the way.
Diane Karle: Create a more unified environment, and the opportunity for women to learn leadership skills earlier in their careers.
Michelle Kennedy: Candidly, this is a tough question for me because I have never felt limited in this industry by being a woman. I see myself as a reliable, competent professional and I want people to see me the same way, regardless of my gender. … In the interest of continuous improvement, the industry should provide fair opportunities to the most talented people; my very simple hope is that women will pursue opportunities they are passionate about, without unfair or incorrect bias about this industry not being welcoming to women.
Nona Lee: Focus on inclusion. I recently came to understand that diversity and inclusion are both tremendously important goals. We can’t stop at diversity, which sometimes means focusing on the numbers. We must move in a meaningful and thoughtful way beyond filling positions with diverse candidates, to being truly inclusive and providing meaningful opportunities for women, and all diverse populations, to advance into significant leadership positions in this industry.
Sandra Lopez: Change the mindset that women do not have a role in sports.
Neera Mahajan Shetty: The industry needs to be open to new perspectives and understand that it must affirmatively reach out to women and create an environment that encourages women’s participation. A particular sport and the industry as a whole will not succeed long term if it can’t get more women to participate as athletes and/or spectators.
Yvette Martinez-Rea: It’s my belief that we need to start with changing the very simple, but very powerful, misconception that women have less to offer than their male counterparts in the business of sports. To start, we need to change the mindsets of those women who hold themselves back.
Laila Mintas: That’s a cultural change that needs to happen in society overall. The sports industry could take the lead by treating men and women equally.
Liz Moulton: Leadership matters. Leagues and teams should not elevate or reward leaders who don’t empower women. The generation that came up with too few women in leadership roles and accepted this? They should either get with the times or move into retirement.
Joanne Pasternack: Take a cue from innovative human resource initatives originating in Silicon Valley and other fast-paced, forward-thinking regions. Trust your employees to work hard and exceed expectations but allow them to flex around how and when they accomplish nonscheduled tasks (exclusive of games, events and similar). Reward them with flexibility and life-enhancing benefits (parental leave, on-site fitness and nutrition programs, flexible work schedules when appropriate) versus hollow praise or unnecessary or excessive items.
Lara Pitaro Wisch: We should continue efforts to increase female participation and interest in our sports; expand outreach and mentoring programs that enable us to hire more women and to support the women we hire; and take steps to empower our talented women to assume more leadership roles.
Hania Poole: The bottom line is, there has to be more women in more powerful positions for there to be change. We are getting there, but slowly. I am lucky to be where I am because I have a very supportive leadership team and company. But I am sometimes in meetings, externally, where I am dismissed, and it’s always the organizations that do not have women in leadership positions that are the worst offenders. It has to change … in the front office, in the boardroom, within the leagues. Across the board.
Jennifer Pope: It’s on the right track. I honestly think sports is becoming a leader in this area. Here at the Kings, I would say half, if not more of our staff, is female, and AEG continues to push our leadership to be at the forefront.
Lara Price: In our organization we strive to create a working environment that is inclusive, encouraging and safe.
Marianne Rotole: When I look at this list of Game Changers and the growing number of women in positions of influence in the industry, I can’t help but feel optimistic. Strides have been taken by many female pioneers and strong leaders to get us to where we are today. As an industry, we need to champion that momentum. As individuals and as leaders, we need to remain vigilant in cultivating environments that allow all professionals a fair opportunity to learn, grow and excel.
Kristen Salvatore: Be human in your dealings with all other humans. Be fair. Be honest. Give credit freely and happily. Amplify others’ good ideas and achievements as regularly as you do your own. Adopt and model Shine Theory: When you shine, I shine. When I shine, you shine. Insist on these things being the rule and not the exception for everyone within your sphere.
Morgan Shaw Parker: We should all be looking for opportunities to ensure there is diversity on all levels, and across all disciplines in the work place. We need more women in leadership positions — both on and off the field of play. We also need to do a better job of understanding what is important to them — flexible work environments, family support, maternity/parental leave/adoption, etc. I’m fortunate to work for an organization that values these things.
Sara Toussaint: Approach this topic similarly to other important causes: Create awareness and then advocate for change. The past two years, Leah LaPlaca of ESPN recruited a strong group of women (and a few men!) to task forces to address these well-known issues. A key takeaway from those meetings: What consistent steps have you taken toward advancing women in leadership positions? If you don’t have answers, it’s time to do some work.
Cyndie Wang: More women in high-profile roles who are visible in the industry, who can champion cultural shifts within their organizations towards a more egalitarian culture and who will pave the way for more women to come after them.
Nichol Whiteman: Talk about it. The sports industry has the chance to create an equal playing field for women that other industries will mirror. By developing creative professional development opportunities for women, teams across all sports can leverage the talent of a demographic that speaks to other women.
Chie Chie Yard: I think there should be more mentoring in sports, not just by women for women, but men should mentor women, too. If we only had women advocating for women, then it will continue to be an uphill battle. Men and women both need to be working together to better advance everyone towards a better work environment.
Portia Archer: Working in the direct-to-consumer world, the growth of cord-free consumers is a story I continue to keep my eye on. Reading opinions, stories and analysis and comparing it to experiences we’ve observed with NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold, is a great way to understand consumer habits.
Kathy Beauregard: The impact of gambling in our collegiate sports world.
Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu: New ways to deliver sports content to fans, especially young fans. I love what “SportsCenter” is doing on Snapchat right now.
Alba Colon: The business of NASCAR and how the sport is changing with TV coverage, audience, sponsorship and the transition to younger drivers. If we continue to adapt, NASCAR will be very exciting and relevant for many, many years.
Jen Cramer: I’m interested to see where the sports industry nets out with gambling. What happens in the next 12 months can impact everything from ratings, fan engagement, revenue, compliance and even data and technology.
Mary Ellen Curran: The launch of the XFL.
Kathy Duva: The rise of the digital platforms like DAZN and ESPN+. All the over-the-tops. There will be this upheaval and then one or two organizations will emerge and roll everything up. It’s just the way it works.
Janet Evans: The progress of future Olympic/Paralympic cities, including Tokyo and Paris.
Whitney Haslam Johnson: I have such a passion for guest experience. I’m paying close attention to how fans experience games at home and how we continue to enhance the in-stadium experience.
Jessica Holtz: I’ll continue to watch the growth of the NBA. The league has such an incredible commissioner in Adam Silver and powerful female leader in Michele Roberts at the NBPA that our players are in an incredible position both on and off the court.
Lynn Holzman: How individual states address legalized sports wagering and how the different sports organizations manage maintaining the integrity of the games.
Ashlee Huffman: I’m interested to watch the growth and change of the Verizon IndyCar Series in the U.S. and internationally. Across the sports landscape I think it’s an overlooked platform for brands.
Michelle Johnson: With the expanding enthusiasm for the game of basketball in the U.S. and around the world accompanied by the attendant increase in scrutiny via television and social media, the importance of maintaining the passion while sustaining respect for the game and all its actors is absolutely paramount.
Michelle Kennedy: The impact on a state-by-state and industrywide basis of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down federal law prohibiting sports gambling.
Diane Karle: Legalized sports gambling.
Nona Lee: Esports, AI and the evolving world of media rights.
Sandra Lopez: Sports betting.
Neera Mahajan Shetty: Laws and regulations with respect to gambling and daily fantasy.
Yvette Martinez-Rea: Other than Ronaldo going to Juventus so I have something to talk to my 14-year-old about? It’s definitely how the changes in online betting laws will be rolled out here in the U.S.
Laila Mintas: Everything around betting.
Liz Moulton: The much-needed evolution of the USOC — including long overdue transparency. I am thrilled they chose Sarah Hirshland to lead the charge. She is a good model for ethical and compassionate leadership.
Joanne Pasternack: How professional and amateur athletes will continue to share messages around social justice through their highly visible platform and how that will impact the world outside of sports — politics, schools, business development.
Lara Pitaro Wisch: Where will digital disruption and technological innovation take the distribution, consumption and monetization of sports content? Will any of FAANG’s [Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google] potential acquisition of sports rights, rising mobile and social media consumption, and/or more mainstream proliferation of AR/VR/other interactivity dramatically alter the production and distribution of sports media as we currently know it?
Hania Poole: The trends we are seeing with a decline in youth interest and viewership of live sports.
Jennifer Pope: TV cable vs. streaming. My husband and I were just talking about how we don’t watch TV really anymore (just Netflix, etc.) but need to be able to watch live sports.
Lara Price: Sports betting.
Marianne Rotole: How the NCAA and NBA address the matters pertaining to basketball player eligibility, particularly the one-and-done rule and the ability for college players to profit from their own image/likeness.
Kristen Salvatore: The growth of interest in esports sponsorships among companies nonendemic to the space. There’s such massive opportunity for organizations with the vision (and stomach) willing to become a part of that ecosystem right now … even though it’s changing daily.
Morgan Shaw Parker: Two stories I’m looking forward to watching: 1. Arthur Blank has truly changed the game through his food and beverage program at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (street pricing for every event). The NFL, MLS, NHL, NBA and AMC Theatres have all taken note and started to follow suit. 2. Seeing reports of more women in leadership roles across all levels of sports business.
Sara Toussaint: Two are top of mind for me: 1) How does U.S. Soccer rebuild after missing the 2018 FIFA World Cup; and 2) how do athletes, teams, leagues and the industry respond to societal issues because inequality and discrimination will not be eradicated any time soon.
Cyndie Wang: The sports story most top of mind is about Tiger Woods and whether he will be a captain’s pick for the 2018 USA Ryder Cup team. When Ryder Cup fever subsides, I will be closely watching the progress on the Chase Center construction project.
Nichol Whiteman: The NFL players’ protest will shape not just the industry but the entire world. We have a chance for an honest dialogue.
Chie Chie Yard: I am eager to see how the Vegas Golden Knights follow up their inaugural Cinderella season.
Portia Archer: In track and field, coaches often tell athletes to “run your race.” The person sprinting the first 100 meters may be out front and it may appear that you’re losing. However, that person may expend all of their energy and talent in the first 100 meters and may not have the stamina or strength for the last 100 meters. Run your race, not someone else’s.
Kathy Beauregard: I’m a strong believer that nothing just ever happens. My future is not just a place I am going but a place I am creating. Learning how to lose/grow and to compete with passion, respect building relationships.
Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu: Don’t get caught up in everyone else’s narrative for you — write your own.
Alba Colon: Be determined to never give up and always keep an open mind to new ideas and opportunities.
Jen Cramer: Let it go. You can’t control how other people think, feel and act. However, you can control how you react and what you do in every situation.
Mary Ellen Curran: Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Janet Evans: Follow your gut.
Whitney Haslam Johnson: Be open to receiving feedback on my own performance, and then deliver real-time transparent feedback to others. I have learned so much from listening to my peers, managers and my team over the years.
Jessica Holtz: Honesty is always the best policy.
Lynn Holzman: Find time to invest in your own ongoing professional development and learning.
Ashlee Huffman: Find people you trust, at all levels and stages in their careers, to teach you, guide you and give you honest feedback.
Michelle Johnson: Match my heart and mind to maximize the intrinsic value of my work.
Diane Karle: Pause.
Michelle Kennedy: Do what you love and contribute in a meaningful way; never limit yourself or stop asking questions.
Nona Lee: Always stay in your integrity, treat everyone with courtesy and respect, maintain a strong work ethic and always do your best.
Sandra Lopez: Never stop striving to become a better version of you.
Neera Mahajan Shetty: You need to have direction but also need to be open-minded to new opportunities when they come your way, even if you had never considered that path before.
Yvette Martinez-Rea: Just say yes. I would not be where I am if I had let every moment of doubt about what I was capable of or what I could accomplish stop me. I would have turned down incredible projects and roles that challenged and forced me to grow.
Laila Mintas: I always received a lot of advice, but I learned to follow the feeling I have in my stomach.
Liz Moulton: To not be afraid to make changes. I am a loyalist at heart and so at times have hesitated to change firms or shift paths. But ultimately growth comes with change and discomfort.
Joanne Pasternack: To be a “helium hand” — when there is something that needs to be done, raise your hand. Step up and enthusiastically take on high-priority projects even if you perceive them as being outside the scope of your job description. Some of the best opportunities and learnings have resulted from the least-expected tasks. I have also been encouraged to be open and transparent in communications. Seek opinions, listen to those with different perspectives (really listen!) and solicit advance buy-in from stakeholders early and often.
Lara Pitaro Wisch: Do not let perfect be the enemy of the good. We will make mistakes. Own the mistake, try to minimize its impact, take the time to reflect on and learn from it, endeavor not to repeat it and move on.
Hania Poole: Pay attention to who you work for. It makes a huge difference in your happiness level.
Jennifer Pope: Good things happen to good, hardworking people. Things just take time.
Lara Price: Maintain a “personal board of directors.” I’ve long believed that every executive, from student to C-level, should maintain what I call a “personal board of directors” that you trust with your most important career decisions.
Marianne Rotole: Work up. Get to understand the business of the business and always apply your role toward meeting organizational objectives rather than merely focusing on tasks.
Kristen Salvatore: Think about how you want to spend your time and look for jobs based on that, not on a title.
Constance Schwartz-Morini: When you f--- up, own it and work with your boss to fix it.
Morgan Shaw Parker: Accept criticism with grace (lesson learned from playing sports); always do good things for the right reasons (from my dad); and for heaven’s sake … SPEAK UP! (a wise female mentor).
Tracie Speca-Ventura: Make sure and love what you are doing each day. Working in the sports world guarantees you will have to put in more hours than anyone will ever imagine.
Sara Toussaint: Take the unconventional path because it builds knowledge and strengthens your ability to connect with others.
Cyndie Wang: Be your own champion and seek opportunities to grow.
Nichol Whiteman: Work hard and they will have to notice you.
Chie Chie Yard: Treat everyone along the way with respect. You never know who will be giving you opportunities in the future.
Portia Archer: Seeing my 12-year-old daughter, Kendall, become a USA Track & Field national champion. That was awesome. Beyond that, I’ve been to a few NBA Finals games when the Bulls were killing it, back in their heyday, and those were very cool, too.
Kathy Beauregard: Western Michigan played football against the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as the first college football game after Sept. 11, 2001. We were with 100,000-plus fans and both bands. When the bands took the field together for the national anthem, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. We were the first major event in America to demonstrate unity and the passion to begin healing and to demonstrate that terrorism wasn’t going to stop us from living.
Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu: It’s a tie between my last college football game as a student, the 2000 Orange Bowl where Michigan beat Alabama in OT, and my first Super Bowl, in 2004, when the Patriots prevailed over the Panthers after an intense fourth quarter.
Alba Colon: The 1995 Brickyard 400, which was my first time in Indianapolis for a race. It was won by Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Jen Cramer: The most memorable was Game 6 of the 1996 World Series when the Yankees won it all. I remember celebrating on the streets with thousands of fans holding my “Yankees Win, Theeeeeee Yankees win” banner!
Mary Ellen Curran: The Ryder Cup at Brookline Country Club with my dad.
Kathy Duva: Gatti-Ward II, but I’m lucky to have been at so many that it’s hard to choose.
Janet Evans: 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games opening ceremony.
Whitney Haslam Johnson: It would be tough to top the Battle at Bristol. It was such a special night for Pilot Flying J team members and our guests who were either watching at home or part of the record-breaking 156,000 fans in the stands. I had to remind myself to stop and soak it in, in the midst of the tangible energy and excitement.
Jessica Holtz: The Champions League Final in Cardiff in 2017 with Joel Embiid. I had never been an international soccer fan until that event. It was incredibly well-run and I was able to understand the passion for the game by the fans in attendance.
Lynn Holzman: My first Cleveland Browns football game as a kid.
Ashlee Huffman: I cringe at this question. Everyone has these amazing moments they share that elicit such passion — iconic sports moments. I, on the other hand, simply remember the fun and camaraderie with friends at high school football games, IU tailgating, Pacers games with my family and lots and lots of races shared with my family and my work family.
Michelle Johnson: As a member of the Academic All-America Hall of Fame, I attended the 2008 NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball tournament in Tampa. I spoke with the Final Four teams and met Pat Summitt, Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer and other remarkable coaches. The semifinal game in which Tennessee with Candace Parker defeated LSU with Sylvia Fowles, was a heartbreaker for LSU in the closing seconds, but a beautiful game to watch in that setting with incredible college sports leaders.
Diane Karle: Super Bowl XXXIV (Atlanta 2000).
Michelle Kennedy: 2016 playoffs Preds vs. San Jose. Mike Fisher scored a goal in the third OT for the Preds win! The game began on May 5th and ended on May 6th … there aren’t many of us who can say they have seen a hockey game that spanned two days in the same time zone!
Nona Lee: Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, D-backs vs. Yankees. Nothing like it!
Sandra Lopez: There are so many experiences that I will always remember and appreciate them equally for different reasons. One of the experiences was when I was living in Italy and Italy made it to the FIFA World Cup final (1994). I was able to witness the fans experience an awesome moment in sports. The energy and excitement was amazing as fans celebrated and exited their homes and enveloped the city.
Neera Mahajan Shetty: The 1999 NCAA championship game in Tampa was memorable for all the wrong reasons — my alma mater, Duke, was the clear favorite but lost to UConn in the last minute of the game. It was devastating to be in the stadium, completely stunned.
Yvette Martinez-Rea: The first ESL Intel Extreme Masters stadium event during my interview process. It was mind-blowing. I was still unsure of this thing called esports and not sure I could truly relate since I had never even seen "Counter-Strike" in my life. I remember entering the packed stadium and hearing the roar of the fans, seeing the team jerseys dotting the seats, watching people jump and moan with the various actions of the players — it was visceral. And then when I learned there were hundreds of thousands of fans watching online around the world, I was sold then and there.
Laila Mintas: My first live Super Bowl (Super Bowl LI), when the Patriots were so far behind and came back to win.
Liz Moulton: As someone who recently married a lifelong New Englander, I would be remiss to not say Super Bowl LI in Houston, perhaps the greatest comeback story in my lifetime. (It helps to root for a team whose owners empower women leaders.)
Joanne Pasternack: Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles in 2015. The absolute joy, pride and emotions were on display from the sold-out opening ceremony to the last day of competition. With 6,500 Special Olympics athletes from 165 nations competing in 25 Olympic-type sports, it was a world stage for athletes with intellectual disabilities to demonstrate their courage, determination and spirit of sportsmanship on the playing field.
Lara Pitaro Wisch: This is admittedly a series of events, but hands down the 2004 ALCS, which occurred during my first year working in baseball. I was raised in a rabid Yankee household, so that series of games was my first [hard] lesson in love of the game above love of the individual team.
Hania Poole: 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s College Basketball final. A close second was the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.
Jennifer Pope: Winning the Cup at home in 2012 and 2014 (in overtime) was unbelievable. I was also at the Larry Johnson 4-point play when the Knicks played the Pacers in the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals.
Lara Price: NBA at 50 — 49 of the greatest players convened at the same time.
Marianne Rotole: The 1997 NBA Finals while I was with the Chicago Bulls was an unbelievable event to witness up close, especially as a young professional. It set an exceptionally high bar. A close second is the 2009 IAAF World Championships at the historic Olympiastadion in Berlin where Usain Bolt set a world record in the men’s 100m final.
Kristen Salvatore: It’s a toss-up between watching Team Liquid win last year’s TI, and attending the Oakland A’s then-record-breaking 20th consecutive win in 2002, when Scott Hatteberg hit a walk-off homer.
Constance Schwartz-Morini: Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis. It was my first Super Bowl and I continue to be in awe of how the game and experience has evolved and grown since then.
Morgan Shaw Parker: I have too many to count but nothing tops the energy and emotion of being on the field when the Falcons won the AFC Championship. To then have the opportunity to represent our team at the Super Bowl was nothing short of incredible ( … and we will be back!).
Sara Toussaint: 2017 NCAA Men’s Championship. Florida Gators beat the Wisconsin Badgers with a buzzer-beater in overtime advancing them to the Elite 8. It was extra special because the assistant coach and his wife are friends and the broadcast caught us celebrating. Someone made a video clip of the moment set to the “Titanic” theme song.
Cyndie Wang: The men’s basketball gold medal between USA and Spain at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Nichol Whiteman: Game 1 of 2017 World Series (Dodgers vs. Astros). To open the World Series at home on our field with a special pregame ceremony featuring Rachel Robinson with her children Sharon and David throwing the first pitch, was amazing. As a former JRF scholarship recipient, it was a breathtaking and full-circle moment. Clayton Kershaw on the mound, celebrities everywhere, home runs, and super-hot 103-degree weather made for one unforgettable day. We won that game against the Astros. Hope and energy overflowed as L.A. came together.
Chie Chie Yard: Professionally, the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium is my most memorable event that I have worked on. The roar of more than 105,000 fans on New Year’s Day in a snowy atmosphere is something that I will never forget. On a personal note, the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games will forever be my most memorable event simply because I was a participant (as a member of the Japan women’s national hockey team).
We asked the Game Changers to send us a photo that shows some of the people, places and events that are important to them. Here are some glimpses into their lives.