Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 19

Opinion

Kathy Carter’s move to the Olympic world (see story) is among the many noteworthy personnel moves of the past few months. I wanted to go back and review the most interesting hirings and departures during the third quarter. All of these below were announced or reported from July 1 to Sept. 30 — and while not ranked by importance, each stands out to me.

Amazon hiring Marie Donoghue to oversee global sports programming is significant. Everyone wants to know how Amazon will invest in sports and Donoghue may have the answer. She has a wealth of media experience, having spent nearly 20 years at ESPN. She understands the business, from programming to rights negotiations. Most importantly, she knows the executives on the other side of the table.

The Carolina Panthers hiring Tom Glick has been one of the most positively received moves of the year. New team owner David Tepper found someone with a broad and diverse skill set — from ticket sales to facility development — both in the U.S. and in England. This should be a good fit for the well-liked Glick.

The changes at the U.S. Olympic Committee were the most significant personnel moves of the quarter. Sarah Hirshland joining as CEO brings a strategic and experienced business mind to the organization. No, she’s not from the insular Olympic world, she’s an outsider with very close ties to Casey Wasserman. In addition, the USOC named former acting CEO Susanne Lyons to replace outgoing USOC Chairman Larry Probst. Lyons is well-regarded inside the Olympic movement, and she and Hirshland are the USOC’s first all-woman chair/CEO duo. Keep an eye on them as they focus on changing the culture there.

The most surprising move was Pete Bevacqua leaving his job as CEO of the PGA of America to join NBC Sports Group as president, a new position. He left the golf world, where he had worked for years, to join a deep bench that has been assembled by Mark Lazarus. Bevacqua is a newcomer when it comes to traditional media, but he is a quick read and has great relationships throughout sports.

The PGA of America then turned around and hired Seth Waugh as CEO, replacing Bevacqua. Waugh knows golf and is a confidant of PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. The former CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, Waugh can navigate the politics of the boardroom and has deep ties to the financial world.

Few leaders have more people rooting for them than Steve Phelps, who was promoted to NASCAR president, and can now put his stamp on a sport that will be facing a number of critical and difficult decisions.

VenueNext lured Orlando Magic CMO Anthony Perez as its new CEO. The Magic was an early adopter of VenueNext technology, and now Perez becomes CEO in a space he understands well, and he can explore other areas of business for the mobile-driven consumer tech.

Lee Jenkins was one of the best storytellers in his former role as a writer at Sports Illustrated. Athletes offered him rare access. With SI for sale, it wasn’t surprising that he left. But what was eye-opening was taking the unique role of executive director of research and identity for the L.A. Clippers — the first of its kind. The new position speaks to an emphasis on evaluating people, and using those skills to help organizations win on the court.

Chris Overholt left as CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee to become president of Toronto’s Overwatch franchise. Overholt has been in “traditional” sports his entire career — MLSE, Dolphins, Olympics — but he was convinced of the growth potential of the Overwatch League, and joins a number of executives tempted by the revenue in esports.

Bruce Meyer leaving the NHLPA to become senior director of collective bargaining and legal for the MLBPA is notable, as he becomes the lead strategist and negotiator when collective-bargaining talks start up. MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark has been under fire by players and agents over the current CBA, and labor relations with the league are strained. Meyer adds a new face and new firepower in what could be contentious talks.

Stan Wilcox leaving as athletic director at Florida State to become executive vice president of regulatory affairs at the NCAA puts him in an influential role in Indianapolis and on campuses throughout the country. Succeeding Oliver Luck, Wilcox will work to make college athletics more equitable and efficient while trying to focus on athletes — a complicated task with multiple constituencies.

The WNBA has lost some substantial institutional knowledge after Lisa Borders resigned as president and Ann Rodriguez departed as COO in September. Borders was a strong public spokeswoman for the league, while Rodriguez brought sound operational skills. The quality of play, appeal and activism of WNBA players has never been higher, but the challenge is to increase revenue to grow the business.

Which move did I not list has your attention?

Abraham Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

No one does a monetary mea culpa quite like Mark Cuban.

In the wake of the Dallas Mavericks’ sexual harassment scandal, he’s donating $10 million to different women’s groups. Some beneficiaries will be groups that develop female sports leaders. Some will be groups that combat domestic violence. The $10 million is four times what the NBA could have fined Cuban. So, it’s no surprise the sum grabbed a lot of attention. Deservedly so.

But the donation shouldn’t overshadow the most significant number to emerge from the scandal: 47. That’s the percentage of women now in leadership positions in the Mavericks’ business offices. That’s also a 47 percent increase. There were zero women in vice president positions or higher when new Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall came on board in February. Of the 17 executive roles on the business side, eight are now filled by women.

Marshall knows the difference between diversity and inclusion. “Diversity is being invited to the party,” she says. “Inclusion is being asked to dance. True inclusion is when people are invited in on the conversation and they’re invited in on the strategy.” 

The more women, the greater the odds of true inclusion. But too often the call for more women in sports leadership positions translates into a checklist mentality. Too often that mentality results in the addition of one or maybe two women. That’s progress, but it stops well short of the kind of inclusion that prompts culture-changing progress. And culture-changing progress is what’s needed with most pro franchises, league offices and international sports federations. 

Why isn’t the addition of one or two women enough to change workplace culture? That should be a rhetorical question. But it’s not for many sports organizations. The simple explanation: One or two high-ranking women doesn’t create an environment where female executives feel comfortable calling out bad behavior or voicing valuable, sometimes contrary, viewpoints about different projects. 

Sports organizations — really any business serious about diversity and inclusion — need female leaders in large numbers, certainly numbers that go beyond one or two. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver understands that. In a recent memo, he asked the league’s 30 teams to hire more women for leadership and supervisory positions.

Marshall sees the tipping point as 30 percent. From her experience with AT&T and as founder of a consulting firm, she learned that inclusive conversations happen when women and people of color fill 30 percent of the available leadership positions. Then, change follows.

That’s why Marshall added female executives in bulk when she took the Mavericks CEO job. Some women were promoted from within, while others were hired from outside. “You make better decisions when you have a diverse group of people around the table,” she says. “When you don’t have a diverse group of people, you’re risking your success.”

The Mavericks learned that the hard way. 

Other sports organizations that are disrespectful to women, whether it’s female employees or female athletes, almost always lack executive diversity. Take FIFA.

While FIFA may have its first female secretary general, its president and eight vice presidents are male. You don’t play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf and you don’t schedule the 2019 Women’s World Cup final on the same day as two major men’s tournament finals if the number of women around the table meets Marshall’s 30 percent threshold. Or, at least at 30 percent, you’ve got a group talking seriously about how to do better by women’s soccer in the future. Guaranteed.

Of course, FIFA is far from alone among sports organizations dominated by male executives. Most are top-heavy with men.

That’s the “why” part of the equation, why there needs to be more female sports leaders. But what about the “how” part? How do you get more women in leadership positions? And how do you make sure they stay? 

For starters, it takes more than simply hiring more women. The workplace culture needs to welcome and support women. As Marshall increased the number of female executives at the Mavericks, she instituted a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. She also created the “Mavs Women’s Playbook” to ensure women had mentoring and development opportunities within the organization. 

None of these problem-solving steps are for the sports world only. But so many sports organizations have been so male for so long, there’s a lot of catching up to do.

The other critical piece: finding and recruiting female talent. Again, there can’t be a checklist mentality. There needs to be big-picture, long-term thinking. Marshall talks about having a “deep bench,” two or three people in mind who could replace any given executive if needed. Not just women, but people of color, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community and white men.

“You look at it and ask, ‘If my entire leadership team was wiped out tomorrow and I have to backfill all of them, would I still have a diverse group of people?’” Marshall says. “If the answer is ‘No,’ you work on it before it happens.”

Before the Mavericks scandal broke, there was a group at NBA headquarters focused on “inclusive recruiting.” The group’s approach is the opposite of a checklist mentality and it’s one that should be replicated far and wide. “You can’t just recruit when you have needs,” says Oris Stuart, the league’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “You’ve got to be recruiting all the time. Even if you don’t have a role for a particular individual, you build a relationship and nurture that relationship.”

Maybe someday the number of women working for men’s teams or men’s pro leagues won’t draw attention. Instead, ideally, there will be so many women that it’s unremarkable in the best possible sense.

Shira Springer covers stories at the intersection of sports and society for programs on NPR and WBUR, writes a column on women’s sports for the Boston Globe and teaches journalism at Boston University. She can be reached at sbj.springer@gmail.com.