Every year, with its Women in the Game issue, Broadcasting & Cable honors women who are making their mark in the sports world, behind the camera, in front of the camera or in the executive offices. These women share at least one thing in common — an indebtedness to the path blazed by a great athlete who also happened to be a great American and a champion of equal rights: Billie Jean King.
BILLIE JEAN KING
“She has always been fighting for equality in all walks of life,” said Katrina Adams, a former tennis player who is now the president of the United States Tennis Association and one of this year’s Women in the Game. “When it comes to what she has done to empower women and make us believe in ourselves, there is no one else like her.”
King, 73, is most famous for her “Battle of the Sexes” straight sets victory over Bobby Riggs in 1973, which will be immortalized with an Emma Stone-Steve Carell movie of that title later this year, but her battle for equality began well before that.
“I had my epiphany at 12, that I wanted to fight for equal opportunity and equal rights,” she said, adding with a laugh, “though my thoughts weren’t quite that articulate at that age.”
King was passionate about tennis but also knew that if she could become good enough at this global sport, she could use it as a platform for change. She was plenty good enough: King won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, including at least one in each Slam, plus 27 Grand Slam doubles titles. She captured 129 singles titles over the course of her remarkable career.
But King didn’t get the National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., named for her because of her victories on the court. She shaped tennis, and the world, with her push for equal prize money and for equality across the board throughout her playing career and, it seems, every day since.
King had earned less than half what Rod Laver did when both won Wimbledon in 1968 and one-sixth of what Ilie Nastase earned when both won the Italian Open in 1970. She recalled that winning both a singles and doubles tournament in a single week would net her just $2,300.
The goal was to earn fair wages, but not just for money’s sake. “I wanted to be the first woman to earn $100,000 in a year because I knew money talks,” she said of her desire for a platform for change.
She broke the barrier in 1971, the same year she and eight other players created the Virginia Slims series to provide more opportunities for women. “I said to the women, ‘If you are going to do it for the applause, don’t do it. If you’re going to do if for the money, don’t do it.
If you think this is going to be easy, don’t do it.’ ” It wouldn’t be easy — King had to threaten to boycott the U.S. Open in 1973 to force them to provide equity in prize money and Wimbledon didn’t change its ways until 2007, thanks to pressure from Venus Williams, who was inspired by King. (A pay gap remains at many tournaments.)
By 1973, King had led the way to create the formation of modern women’s tour and the tennis players’ union, the Women’s Tennis Association. “We wanted to make it so any girl in the world can have a place to compete if she is good enough and to be appreciated for her accomplishments not just her looks,” King said. With a tone that implies she still remembers the sting of pain, she added, “Howard Cosell did not say one thing about my accomplishments during my match against Riggs that year, all he talked about was my looks.”
But the Riggs match “did change the game overnight,” she said, and coming on the heels of Title IX in 1972, it had a huge impact on women in sports. Playing competitively, even during school, influenced women to go into sports business, King said. “If you’re observant, you see in sports there is media coverage, signage on the court, concessions, transportation. Title IX was one of the most important things.”
King, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, was one of the first openly gay athletes. She remained relentless off the court, promoting the sport and equality for all. In 1974, she founded the Women’s Sports Foundation and she spent decades as commissioner and an owner in World Team Tennis. She helped launch a women’s professional softball league and, as a TV analyst, was the first woman to announce a men’s tennis final.
In 2014, she founded the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative to continue the fight. “Sports helps with leadership and resilience and women are a minority in the sports world,” she said. “Too much of the hiring is done just to check off a box. There needs to be more done. Everyone needs a champion — it can be a guy standing up for a woman or women helping each other. There’s talent everywhere.
“I’m not optimistic but I’m optimistically persistent,” she said. “We’ve got to keep going for it and we’ve got help others along the way.”
Chairman, CEO and President of the United States Tennis Association; contributor to CBS Sports Network’s first all-female sports show, We Need to Talk
KEY STATS: As a pro tennis player, Adams reached No. 67 in the world in singles and No. 8 in doubles, winning 20 career doubles titles. When she took over as USTA president in 2015, she was the first former player to ascend to that title; she was also the first African-American and the group’s youngest-ever president. She is also the first person to serve two terms as chair, CEO and president and is chair of the U.S. Open. In 2015, Adams was also elected VP of the International Tennis Federation; last year, she was appointed chair of the Fed Cup Committee, which governs Fed Cup, the largest annual international team competition in women’s sport. She also serves on the board of directors for the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
VARSITY STATUS: Adams has overseen the massive transformation project at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which is most notable for the retractable roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium, but also includes a new Grandstand Stadium and an expanded and enhanced southern campus. She has also been a Tennis Channel analyst since 2003.
IN HER WORDS: “I’ve been on the board since 2005 but TV is really my career now. And being a TV analyst keeps me current with the players because I’m out at tournaments so they are comfortable with me when I ask questions. It’s hard not to be conscious of being a woman in this position but the beauty of it is I bring a different perspective. Mentoring is vital for our peers and for the next generation — we have to support each other because we are not getting the support from the male-dominated business world. The lack of support in sports is right in front of you if you look to see who the CEOs and commissioners are; as women, we are very capable of doing those jobs.”
Lead NFL sideline reporter, Fox Sports
KEY STATS: Andrews recently persevered through a trial regarding a man who had stalked her and a battle with cervical cancer; her season culminated with her working the sideline for her second Super Bowl. She is also the co-host of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.
VARSITY STATS: Andrews started as a reporter at Fox Sports Florida in 2000, then covered the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning for Sunshine Network before moving to Turner Sports, where she was both a reporter and studio host for everything from college football to the Atlanta Braves, Thrashers and Hawks. After that, Andrews moved on to ESPN for eight years, where she added Major League Baseball to her resume, before joining Fox Sports in 2012.
IN HER WORDS: “Dealing with social media, for people in the spotlight, especially as a woman in sports, never came up in my college curriculum because social media wasn’t around back then. But it should be in the college curriculum now. I never looked at the fact that I was a woman and let it hold me back. I know the challenges are there but I used that to push myself. I’m full of anxiety leading up to a game because I’ve never played football, even as a kid, so that created the work ethic I have. I know the naysayers out there say, ‘What does she know?’ but I also know the players trust me. They know how much I respect them but also know I’m no bullshit and I’m not fluff. I’m not afraid to ask questions. … When dads come up to me to talk about their daughters, I do feel a sense of responsibility in being a good role model and a good mentor. I used to think I had to be a perfect person, now I’m allowed to be me. I want girls to know they can be a tomboy and love sports and still wear nail polish and lip gloss.”
Senior VP, Head of Advertising Sales, Tennis Channel
KEY STATS: Bodenmann joined Tennis Channel in 2014, where she uses her years of media and advertising experience in overseeing executive accounts, managing the New York staff and coordinating between the Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned network’s ad-sales team and its headquarters in Los Angeles.
VARSITY STATUS: Bodenmann started her career at ad agency Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, where she spent 19 years, rising to senior VP, broadcast director. She then worked as VP of business development at Court TV and, in 1998, founded the Syndicated National Television Association (SNTA), serving as president of the trade group for three years. Prior to Tennis Channel, she worked at Placemedia, a startup in the TV programmatic space; at AdLarge Media, a startup digital radio firm; and as national sales manager at digital company IAC.
IN HER WORDS: “When I was on the agency side, I worked on Gatorade for 15 years which was very sports-intensive, buying time on the World Series and other sports events. I also had a client who loved buying sports at the last minute to see what deals we could get, so he’d come in on Friday and we’d call the networks to see what sports events had time at good prices. I never focused on switching over to the network side, but I know [Tennis Channel CEO] Ken Solomon from being on the NATPE board together and he persuaded me, because he’s the greatest salesman of all. … There are a lot of women in media departments now but not as many in upper management — a lot more than in the 1980s, but there is still not parity. It’s not changing as fast as it could. If I have 14 candidates for a sales job here, which naturally seems of more interest to men, I’ll say, ‘Can’t we find a woman for this group to consider?’ ”
Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer, National Basketball Association
KEY STATS: As executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the NBA — a title the league had not had since the 1990s — El, who joined the league in 2014, is responsible for global marketing for the NBA, WNBA and NBA D-League.
VARSITY STATUS: El came to the NBA with more than three decades of brand management, media and marketing experience. She began her career in Richmond, Va., in 1983 and worked for companies in Phoenix and Denver before spending over a decade at State Farm Insurance, where she was marketing VP. She also served on the board of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the LeBron James Family Foundation.
IN HER WORDS: “Basketball is my favorite sport and my passion is marketing so this couldn’t be a better fit for me. I know it doesn’t seem intuitive but working in insurance was like working in sports — we had sponsorships with the NFL, MLB, the NBA, the WNBA and college basketball. But the NBA stood out for me. Now when partners have questions about the benefits of a deal it’s easier to talk about because I’ve been in their shoes. … I’ve had no issues per se but when I walk into a room people first notice that I’m African-American, then they notice I’m female, and then they realize I know my stuff. As long as they get to that point we’re good. The NBA has very open arms and there are a lot of strong women here. Reaching back is an obligation. Throughout my career, I’ve had really good mentors to help me navigate the marketing and the employment landscape. Last night at 8:30, I was texting with an African-American female mentee who was having some issues. I also sit on the board of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter and do mentoring there, and my husband and I started scholarships for grad students at the school.”
Global Head of Sports Partnerships, Twitter
KEY STATS: Froelich joined Twitter in 2014. She brings content from leagues, teams, broadcasters and athletes to their fans in real time, maximizing the power of social media; she also works with those strategic partners around the globe to drive reach and revenue for them and for Twitter.
VARSITY STATUS: Froelich started in sales and marketing, working for CNET, Ziff Davis and Condé Nast. Before joining Twitter, Froelich worked for five years at CBS Interactive, creating product marketing and monetization strategies for premium sports content, including the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, NFL and college football, The Masters and PGA Tour golf, as well as the suite of fantasy sports games from CBSSports.com. During that time, those properties generated record-setting revenues for the company over multiple years.
IN HER WORDS: “I was an obsessed Twitter user. What made the job easier is that I came from a broadcast partner, so I can easily put myself into the shoes of our partners to help them grow their reach and revenue and to show them how to do innovative things on the Twitter platform. I speak at lots of conferences and there is still a much larger proportion of men speaking and women often just speak about women in sports; whenever I can, I say, ‘here’s a host of fantastic women that can speak on a panel’ — and not just women but minorities, too. That brings visibility and creates ways to change things. They are open and eager; they just need that exposure.”
VP and Executive Producer, ESPN Films and “30 for 30”
KEY STATS: Geist, who has won two Peabody Awards, is tasked with overseeing all aspects of ESPN Films, including development, production, distribution, branding and strategy; this includes the renowned “30 for 30” series but also content partnerships with Disney, FiveThirtyEight and The ESPYs. Geist was one of the key forces behind the seven-and-a-half hour documentary O.J.: Made in America, the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature.
VARSITY STATUS: After working as intern for the Chicago White Sox, Geist moved to New York to work in publicity; she quickly moved in to documentaries and worked on such sports films as Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story (USA Network), Viva Baseball (Spike TV) and Black Magic, which first brought her to ESPN. She began working for ESPN Films in 2008.
IN HER WORDS: “I never went to film school, but working for Dan Klores as his assistant and production assistant on those first documentaries was my film school. I met Connor Schell, who is now my boss, because of Black Magic, and it was a stroke of luck that it was just as ‘30 for 30’ was kicking off. People say, ‘you must be a die-hard sports fan,’ and I am, but I really love storytelling and documentaries. I’ve never experienced any sexism at ESPN or in the sports media — over 50% of my department is female, and it is really important to ESPN that no one is treated differently.”
Producer, Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast
KEY STATS: Gossard-Cook, who has been at Fox Sports South since 2012, produces the network’s Atlanta Hawks games; she’s the only full-time female game producer in the NBA. The Atlanta-based producer played golf at Stetson University and then was an intern for the Orlando Magic before working her way up to producer. Gossard-Cook has produced a range of sports, from college football to minor league hockey, as well as pre- and postgame studio shows and original productions.
VARSITY STATUS: Gossard-Cook has previously worked with Golf Channel and ESPN. She was associate director for the international feed of the 1998 NBA Finals; of boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s first Olympics, where he won a bronze medal; and of 19-year-old Kobe Bryant’s first NBA All-Star Game in 1998 at Madison Square Garden. She was a producer of the 2000 Olympics; of Tracy McGrady’s NBA scoring-title season with the Orlando Magic in 2002-03; of Pat Summitt’s final SEC Women’s Basketball Championship game as head coach; and of Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffett McGraw’s 800th win.
IN HER WORDS: “Through playing golf at college, I got to be an intern for the LPGA and realized I could work in sports for a living. I was an intern with the Orlando Magic during Shaq’s [Shaquille O’Neal] first year and interest in him led to a lot of jobs the next year. I fell into broadcasting as an assistant, saying, ‘I’ll log that tape, I’ll sit in the truck and learn.’ I was a game producer for five years there. I can’t give an instance where I was met with resistance, though maybe I ignored them — I do get men asking me before a game, ‘Oh, are you the stage manager?’ but I don’t think it’s on purpose. That just pushes me to work harder. As women, we have to. You have to keep proving yourself. I thought there’d be more women in roles like this by now. There are a lot more women on crews, but in the NBA there’s very little turnover, so it may not be a gender issue that there aren’t more producers.”
Executive VP, Chief Marketing Officer, National Football League
KEY STATS: Dawn Hudson’s role as executive VP, chief marketing officer for the NFL gives her responsibility for ensuring the growth of the league’s fan base and its brand. Hudson, who joined the NFL in 2014, oversees strategy, advertising, promotions, entertainment marketing, cause-related marketing, customer relationship marketing, and supporting NFL Clubs, plus marketing for NFL Network and all NFL events, including the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft.
VARSITY STATUS: Before joining the NFL, she was briefly vice chairman of the Parthenon Group, a global boutique consulting firm. She made her name, though, during her 10-plus year tenure at PepsiCo, as global CMO of Frito-Lay, then as CMO of Pepsi-Cola North America, and eventually as president and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America. She also spent nine years on the board of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, including a stint as chair.
IN HER WORDS: “Like most careers, mine was not very linear. I started out in the advertising business, which turned out to be a very good experience because I was dealing with the media, which helped when I joined Frito-Lay in 1997 as the head of marketing and sales. When I was at Pepsi, we had relationships with the NCAA, MLB and the NHL, but not the NFL. Coca-Cola was the incumbent there, but I made a deal with Roger Goodell to get Pepsi in and, years later, Roger became commissioner and asked if I would be interested in coming to the NFL. I get to take what I love and what I learned in running and marketing businesses. … Sports and media are both behind the curve in terms of opportunities for women; when I joined the NFL, there were a lot more women then I thought there would be, but it is still behind other industries. I’d like part of my legacy to be the advancement of women and the increase in diversity of all kinds.”
Global Head of Brand Partnerships, Whistle Sports Network
KEY STATS: Lester came to Whistle Sports Network in 2014 as VP of sales. Later that year, she was promoted to executive VP for sponsorships and advertising sales. This year Lester was elevated yet again, to her current position.
VARSITY STATUS: Lester has worked in sports since 2003, when she left CNET to become a senior account executive at ESPN/ ABC Sports Multimedia Sales. She moved on to Rivals.com, Yahoo Sports and Major League Baseball Advanced Media, where she was VP of sponsorship sales.
IN HER WORDS: “On the media side, women have gained a lot of ground over the years, but in sports you look around and still see fewer women at the top of organizations. Women need to help women more; I feel an obligation to the next generation of women. I informally mentor women at work and if I sense potential I’ll try to give them opportunities. I also bring them to groups I belong to like WISE, Women in Sports and Events. … I think it’s great for my sons, who are 9 and 5, to see an empowered, working mom, and it will benefit them in the long term. But if you’re going to maintain a high-level career, you better have a partner who is very supportive of that and shares the responsibilities.”
Senior VP for Baseball Operations, Major League Baseball
KEY STATS: Ng has held her current position since 2011, overseeing international operations for baseball, dealing with sensitive topics like the drafting or signing of international players.
VARSITY STATUS: Ng started out as an intern with the Chicago White Sox in 1991 but proved her baseball savvy at numerous stops, working for Major League Baseball in 1997 and then as the New York Yankees assistant general manger in 1998, handling the team’s arbitration cases. She left for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002 and was the assistant general manager there until she left for her current role.
IN HER WORDS: “In general, baseball owners have become more open-minded about who they hire, going for people who are a bit younger and more from an analytical mindset than they did 20 years ago, which means people who have not played professional baseball have more opportunity. There are more women across sports, but in front offices and executive operations there are still only a few of us — there are more women in business development, marketing, sponsorships and sales, but operations is the frontier that needs the most work. A lot needs to be done at the ground level with entry-level positions, getting more women educated about opportunities that do exist. Baseball has definitely done more work on career development, with a more energized effort in the last couple of years, creating a Front Office & Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program and hiring Renee Trout, who as vice president of recruitment is very focused on hiring women. We’re in the initial phase of setting up scholarships to send women to leadership conferences and other programs. … I am hopeful, but change is really slow, as I can attest.”
VP of Client Services, Aquarius Sports and Entertainment
KEY STATS: Smith joined Aquarius Sports and Entertainment in 2013 as director of client services and, two years later, was promoted to VP of client services, working with client accounts and financial services and overseeing the entire team.
VARSITY STATUS: Smith started as an intern at Velocity Sports Entertainment in 2005 and returned there in 2008 as client services manager; one of her clients was FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. In 2009, she went to work for the Redskins as a project manager before leaving sports to work in client services for the Pagnato-Karp Group, a wealth management and financial planning firm.
IN HER WORDS: “I grew up playing sports and was interested in business, so I decided to marry the two. Title IX definitely played a role that carries into the corporate world. A friend left the sports world for wealth management and I thought he was crazy, but he explained about learning to deal with CEOs and having bigger responsibilities, so I went and worked with him. Without that experience I wouldn’t be comfortable here, communicating with the decision-makers. … I’m always looking for young talent and coaching and mentoring the young women in our office.”
Chief Marketing Officer, NBC Sports Group
KEY STATS: As chief marketing officer for NBC Sports Group, Storms is responsible for all marketing efforts and consumer engagement strategies for NBC Sports Group assets, which include NBC Sports, NBC Olympics, NBCSN, Golf Channel, NBC Sports Regional Networks, NBC Sports Radio and NBC Sports Digital, and two transactional sports businesses, GolfNow and SportsEngine.
VARSITY STATUS: Prior to arriving at NBC Sports Group in 2015, Storms was senior VP of Global Sports Marketing at PepsiCo, where she managed the relationships for PepsiCo’s sports initiatives, including the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, as well as many team and player partnerships. Before that, she had led sports strategy and property management for PepsiCo’s Gatorade, including league, team, influencer and athlete partnerships. She also worked at Turner and Turner Sports for 14 years, finishing as senior VP of Turner Sports marketing and programming.
IN HER WORDS: “There’s a story I tell young people about persistence and not being fearful: I had been a ski racer and in college I hounded the [U.S. Olympic Committee], calling [executive director] Harvey Schiller’s office 16 times. His assistant blocked me every time, but then put me through. Harvey sent me to HR for an internship and I ended up working there. Later, he went to Turner and then he called me and said, ‘I have your next career.’ … Leaving the media side was the toughest decision because I was comfortable and happy but I wasn’t challenging myself. I needed to generate consumer brand experience to fully understand marketing strategies but I always did know I wanted to come back to media dedicated to sports. I love the pace in sports media and that every day you do something different. There are more opportunities in front of and behind the cameras and in c-suites for women now, because really strong women created opportunities for themselves and broke down barriers and changed perceptions.”
CEO of BIG3 and NFL analyst for CBS Sports Network
KEY STATS: Trask oversees all business operations for BIG3, the new three-on-three basketball league that begins this June, working alongside Ice Cube and others to fulfill this hoop dream. Trask will simultaneously continue her role as an NFL analyst for CBS Sports Network and as a panelist for We Need to Talk, the first-ever nationally televised all-female sports show.
VARSITY STATUS: Trask spent nearly 30 years in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, rising to team CEO from 1997 through 2013; she was the NFL’s first female front-office executive and one of the highest-ranking women in U.S. professional sports. She was involved in all non-football operations for the team and represented the organization at league meetings.
IN HER WORDS: “I never walked into a meeting, with the Raiders’ partners or the NFL owners or any business meeting, thinking about my gender. That always struck me, to be polite, as counterintuitive, or to be more blunt, as crazy. I assume others did, but if someone else wanted to waste time and effort thinking about gender, that’s to my advantage. And times have changed: I was only woman in the room in NFL but now there are sensational women throughout the league. Thinking of myself as a ‘role model’ strikes me as self-aggrandizing and presumptuous. And saying women need to support other women is the height of intellectual dishonesty — women should support other people, regardless of their gender, race or religion.”
STILL GOT GAME
Some past Women in the Game honorees have been on the move, including these two sports veterans, one of whom left the games behind as the other seized control of her team.
REAGAN FEENEY (2014) was at DirecTV for 19 years and was VP of content, which meant she dealt with sports a great deal, before leaving for Hulu, where she will be VP of network partnerships, managing Hulu’s strategic relationships and carriage agreements.
JEANIE BUSS (2013) was the executive VP of business operations for the Los Angeles Lakers while her father, Dr. Jerry Buss, ran the team. After his death, a family feud broke out between Jeanie and her brothers, Jim and Johnny. Jeanie boxed out her siblings, and she is now the team’s controlling owner and president.