SBJ All-Access: Energy, Laughter Highlight Game Changers Event
Energy. Laughter. Dancing on stage. Thunderous applause. The seventh iteration of our SBJ Game Changers conference brought all that and more at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square yesterday -- perhaps more so than any conference we've had in the past. It was a day focused on empowerment -- one that began with new WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert walking us through her career arc and how she plans to transform the 23-year-old league. Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall had the record crowd roaring and applauding during her Q&A about transforming the Dallas club, while Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman also delivered a bold speech. A huge thanks to all attendees, speakers and sponsors who made the 2019 event a big success! Check out today's issue of SBD for more on what was discussed at the conference.
- Cathy Engelbert comes to the role of WNBA commissioner without a background as a sports executive -- but not without a personal history rooted in sports. During the conference's opening Q&A session, she talked about growing up with five brothers and a father who spent time playing in the NBA. Engelbert also cut her teeth as a college basketball player at Lehigh Univ. under coach Muffet McGraw (the Hall of Fame coach now at Notre Dame). Engelbert, who comes to the WNBA after running Big 4 accounting firm Deloitte, said of her experience: "As I came into the working world, I saw very disparate systems around women rising in the workforce. So it was really important to me to ultimately use the confidence I learned through sports to lead and bring the next generation behind me."
- Engelbert said she has three “pillars” of running the WNBA: grow revenue, expand the fan base and improve the player experience. She said, “The economics are so important here. In order to do things like player experience and fan experience and broaden the fan base, you've got to get the right economic model. And that's one of the main reasons, with my business experience, I was hired." One of Engelbert’s short term goals revolves around the CBA, which players opted out of earlier this year. "This is a moment where we can really transform the league," she said of the CBA, which expires next month.
- Her biggest advice for young women in sports business is to “raise your hand.” Before she left Deloitte, Engelbert found that nine men had asked to take over her role, compared to zero women. Engelbert: “Come out of that comfort zone and think bigger."
CYNT & SENSIBILITY
- Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall brought a high level of energy to the event this year. She had the crowd laughing and applauding almost every step of the way -- even drumming up enough enthusiasm to get attendees on stage doing the Cupid Shuffle with her. Marshall, a longtime AT&T exec, came out of retirement in early 2018 to turn around a Mavericks organization that had been rocked by widespread workplace misconduct. Addressing this morning’s crowd, Marshall hit on her process for changing the culture in Dallas:
- Upon being hired by Mavs Owner Mark Cuban, Marshall said her No. 1 priority was to execute a 100-day plan. "I literally wrote a plan on an airplane right after I accepted the job that was in four parts," she said. "What it said was that by 2019, the Dallas Mavericks would be the global standard for diversity and inclusion." The four areas Marshall focused on? "I started with a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior. Then I wanted to develop a Mavs women’s agenda; clearly there was no agenda to empower, educate, enhance women. Then I wanted to go into full-blown culture transformation. Diversity and inclusion. ... Then operational effectiveness was another big piece. Just putting some basic things in place that -- in my 36 years at AT&T -- I knew was needed to run a business.”
- Some of Marshall's top lines of the morning:
- On her approach with team personnel: "We’re trying to have a climate of character.”
- On the Mavs' issues that went unchecked for years: “It’s checked now, sister!” (talking to NPR's Shira Springer)
- On the former Mavs senior management team trying to fool her at one point: “I’m pretty smart. I’m not just cute. I’m smart and cute.”
- On inclusion: "Every voice matters. Everybody belongs."
- On what she tells the women on her senior management team at meetings: "Don’t all sit together. Spread around so you can make the fellas nervous.”
- On having diversity of thought within an organization: "Can you imagine 10 of me at the table? Give me a break.”
- On removing people from an organization: "I have never in 37 years fired anybody. They dismissed themselves."
THE COACH WITH THE STILETTOS
- Nancy Lieberman has had a career in basketball most would only dream of, first as a Hall of Fame player and then as a TV analyst and barrier-breaking coach in places like the NBA G League and Big3. She told yesterday's crowd that to be a game changer in the sports industry, women “gotta break the rules.” Lieberman: "You gotta work harder. You have to have more confidence, you have to be prepared for your moment, you have to seek out opportunities."
- Lieberman said of how she is perceived while currently coaching in the Big3: "I’ve told some of my players -- don’t confuse my stilettos for weakness. ... I'm a 61-year-old white woman, coaching predominantly African-American young guys. You might think it's an obstacle for me. I think it's an opportunity and a privilege." She also said of the impact the NBA has: "We are the industry leader in what we’re doing because it’s a belief, it’s a culture. It’s setting a tone and that’s really important.”
- Longtime NFL GM Scott Pioli moderated a panel at this year's conference on mentors and mentees. Joining him on stage were GumGum Sports Sales Director Katie Carew with her mentor, NHL Exec VP/Club & Business Affairs Susan Cohig, as well as Hawks Senior VP/Community and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Nzinga Shaw with her mentor, NFL Jets Senior Advisor Neil Glat. The panel discussed how these relationships have shaped their careers and how different mentor/mentee relationships can work for different people.
- Shaw and Glat are a pairing of opposites -- her a black woman, him a white man. But she said, “When you are around someone that is completely opposite of yourself, you start to think about problems very differently than you naturally would. And so that pushes you out of your comfort zone.” Cohig said something that has stuck with her is that “when you're advancing in your career and you're having success, it's really important to send the elevator down and bring others up with you.” Glat: “I'm happy to have plenty of relationships where I'm the mentee, plenty of relationships where I'm the mentor, so I don't view it as a zero sum game."
- The day ended with our Game Changers being honored in front of colleagues, friends and family. A big honor like this needed a big voice, so we brought in longtime NFL correspondent Andrea Kremer was our first-ever emcee for the ceremony. The selection of walkup music is always interesting for our honorees at events, and there was some diverse selection this year. Some of the songs with multiple selections:
- "All I Do Is Win" by DJ Khaled
- "Run The World" by Beyonce
- "Confident" by Demi Lovato
- "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen
- The event this year had plenty of folks tweeting. Some of the better engagement:
- NLL Deputy Commissioner Jessica Berman: "Can someone pinch me? I just interviewed my former boss, colleague, friend, mentor, hero, and GAMECHANGER, @nhl’s Kim Davis @sbjsbd #sbjgc"
- PR consultant Joe Favorito: "Two big & very positive takeaways from #sbjgc. The talk of senior leadership, men & women, about #empathy & the value of trying to balance work and life correctly. Rarely hear men at conferences talk about those topics. Need more #storytelling #sportsbiz #SheIsEqual #samehere"
- Big Ten Assistant Director of Communications Shannon Malone: "Thrilled to be in NYC at the 2019 @sbjsbd Game Changers Conference via the
@CSM_Worldwide Mentorship Challenge! Listening to and learning from so many #GameChangers like @dallasmavs CEO Cynthia Marshall this morning #SBJGC"
- Sharks VP/Business Analytics & Technoogy Neda Tabatabaie: "A room full of women that have proven the stereotypes wrong! I had family, friends and colleagues who showed up to support me, and MANY who messaged me. Thanks @Vafata @wtnyhllck @rscibetti @JillianSvensson (we did forget a picture! )and JT. #SBJGC"
- Columbus Sports Commission Director of Marketing Jenn Cartmille: "A lot of discussion at #sbjgc about what else we can do to support women in sports. So as I sat down to dinner, I asked the bartender to change the channel to @WNBA playoffs. #WNBAPlayoffs"
- Genesco Sports Enterprises Senior VP/Corporate Consulting & GSE Live Hospitality Meghan Hughes Allison: "Never under estimate the value of being a Mentor or Mentee. Pay it forward. Great conversation with Mentors @nhl Susan Cohig and @nyjets Neil Glat and Mentees @gumgum Katie Carew (@ktcarew) and @AtlantaHawks Nzinga Shaw. #sbjgc #mentor"
- Thunder Director of Community Relations Erin Oldfield: "I’m surrounded by so many extremely talented women right now! I’m feeling pretty pumped to be a female working in sports. #sbjgc"
- LiveSafe VP/Marketing Jody Bennett: "So grateful for all of the opportunities that SBJ has provided and continues to provide to women. Thank you #SBJGC"
- Univ. of Mount Union Associate Professor of Sport Business Jim Kadlecek: "Great presentation from @SeatGeek CMO Jennifer Ogden-Reese about research results from women: “Market to us not as moms or wives, but as fans.” Created successful WE FAN campaign. #sbjgc"