When it comes to delivering a report card on women executives in sports and marketing, the grade is better than before but still in need of improvement.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor, NYSportsJournalism.com
(Posted August 18, 2009)
Women have made great strides to level the playing field when it comes to being in positions of authority in what traditionally have been male-dominated arenas. In August, Jenny Storms, who for 14 years had been at Turner Sports, most recently as svp-marketing and programming, became the new svp-sports marketing for Pepsi-owned Gatorade, where the CMO is Sarah Robb-O'Hagan. Lisa Baird, svp-marketing and consumer products at the NFL from 2005-07, this year became CMO for the U.S. Olympic Committee. In 2008, Jacqueline Parkes was promoted to the newly created position of CMO for Major League Baseball, where she had been svp-advertising and marketing. Donna Orender has been president of the WNBA since 2005, a position that also in effect makes her the league's top marketing executive. Kathy Carter is the evp of Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of Major League Soccer. Katie Lacey has been svp-marketing for ESPN since 2005, the same year that Mary Wittenberg was named CEO and president of New York Road Runners. But, like their male counterparts, the track record for women in sports can be hit and miss. In 2005, Carol Bivens became the first female commissioner in the 55-year history of the LPGA. But she resigned in July 2009 after several of the tour's top players called for her removal, and was replaced on an interim basis by Marsha Evans. Sue Rodin, president at Stars & Strategies marketing and president of the national organization Women In Sports and Events, both in New York, spoke to NYSportsJournalism.com about women, sports and the economy.
NYSportsJournalism.com: Jenny Storms this month started as svp-sports marketing for Gatorade, but she is far from alone when you see the number of women who hold positions of authority in sports and marketing.
Sue Rodin: At one time it was a novelty act. Not any more. Fortunately, there are many women who are very talented who are in positions now of leadership in sports and marketing. Of course we always want there to be more of them and see women have more opportunities. But progress is being made.
NYSJ: Does it seem as if sports has led this change or is it just a fact of business now to put the best person in the right position regardless of gender?
Rodin: I don't know that sports is leading the way. Not that it's a prerequisite, but you would hope that the WNBA or the LPGA would have a woman in the leading position. But again, that's not a requirement. Ty Votaw [LPGA commissioner from 1999-2005] did a good job before he left [and was replaced by Carol Bivens]. There are more wonderful women [in sports] doing great things. But in the greater scheme of things it still harkens back to power lists of where people are ranked by top positions in the field, and women are almost non-existent. Yes, there are more women in positions of responsibility and leadership [but] we have a long way to go more than in sports. Sports has been traditionally a man's world and that is changing with the WNBA and NBA doing better than some other places. But one would hope that the trend is that there is more parity or equality and it becomes less of an issue.
NYSJ: Do you meet people who feel that male sports should have only men in positions of leadership?
Rodin: I do, but I like to think of those people are dinosaurs. I'm seeing that less and less.
NYSJ: Does some of this come from the image of the sport itself? Baseball for example is seen as a family sport so having Jacqueline Parkes as CMO is not considered unusual, but other sports are still regarded as catering predominantly to men so they wouldn't have a woman in a leadership role.
Rodin: Some sports do have that tradition of being mainly for guys, and the thought that it continues is mainly generational. But as there are more breakthroughs in society more gender barriers are being overcome.
NYSJ: Looking at sports marketing, is the big challenge still the economy?
Rodin: Clearly the economy is still the No. 1 issue and obstacle. It is the reality of companies cutting budgets, laying off people, trimming where they can. And very often now that means eliminating sports sponsorships, tournaments, advertising, other areas in which they have used sports connections to reach consumers. There are still very hard decisions that have to be made. Companies are still facing situations where they really have to tighten their belts. We're not out of the woods yet. But I like to be optimistic and hope that the pendulum will swing back and the economy, not just related to sports, will soon improve.
NYSJ: Has there been any upside to the down economy?
Rodin: Marketers who are still spending are looking value for the best ways to spend their marketing dollars. So they are seeking new and different ways to improve ROI. It can no longer be traditional business as usual. There will be more deals in branded entertainment, more deals such as the recent one between P&G and the NFL, where the marketer is trying to connect in a more targeted and personal way with consumers. I work on the Trek Women Triathlon Series, which is an eight-market, all-women sprint distance series with Trek bicycles as the title sponsor. (Other sponsors include MassMutual, BIC Soleil, Jelly Belly Sports Beans and Helzberg Diamonds.) It has done well and will continue to do will because people are still active, the events are ROI effective for sponsors and they continue to yield data, information and touch points that spending in other areas won't generate. Having said that, some companies can effectively argue that they need to cut back on event sponsorships. But I'm optimistic about the future of the Trek Women's Triathlon Series and other event sponsorship opportunities.
NYSJ: Do you see this continuing even when the economy improves?
Rodin: Yes. It has been a wake-up call. People are finding ways to maximize their resources and environment and I see that continuing. At the same time, properties are also looking for ways to build and grow more efficiently. A good example of that is social networking, word-of-mouth and having people communicate virally, which is relatively inexpensive. It is a phenomenon, whether you are using YouTube or FaceBook effectively, or getting e-mail blasts out that are compelling and not just cluttering up people's lives. There are ways that marketers and properties are finding to make good use of limited spending and to be smart in a way that will yield results.
NYSJ: It seems as if the challenges of the economy might have leveled the playing field a bit, so that the Trek Series, for example, can use Twitter and FaceBook as effectively as the NFL to reach marketers and consumers.
Rodin: That is something we always bring to the attention of potential sponsors and people who exhibit at Trek expos at each stop: give away some samples, have conversations with real consumers. Women love to talk to people from various brands, and they are very candid and open about what they like and what they don't like, and it becomes an informal focus group. So there is a lot of valuable information that comes from these interactions.
NYSJ: It seems as if the P&G-NFL deal is breaking through stereotypes in order to best use the power of marketing. The deal included some traditional men's brands such as Gillette and Old Spice, but also brands such as Charmin, Tide, Gain and Febreze, where marketing will come with the tag, "Eliminate NFL-sized odors with Febreze."
Rodin: The truth of the matter is that men do laundry and a lot of women love the NFL. It's no longer just about beer and after-shave. Marketers have to think differently even when they are playing in what has been perceived to be a male-dominated category.
NYSJ: Regarding Women In Sports and Events, the 2009 luncheon in May that honored Jacqueline Parkes, Kathy Carter and Jamie McCourt, CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was well attended and had tremendous response. What do you see moving forward for the organization?
Rodin: We have chapters nationwide and membership is growing. And we already are looking forward to our 2010 luncheon. But aside from growing our organization and generating funds for it, we are really about celebrating success, sharing that success and inspiring other women to aspire to positions of leadership. If WISE can continue to be that conduit to helping one another, we will continue to succeed.