Real progress doesn’t tend to come quickly. American women had to wait 144 years into the nation’s existence before they were allowed to vote and 240 years until a woman got a shot at the White House.
There clearly is a long way to go to even the playing field in far too many arenas, including sports media. Seemingly objective steps forward, like having female baseball broadcasters or NFL referees, elicit depressing backlash in some quarters. The good news, though, is that the landscape appears to be improving, with female faces showing up in more and more prominent places. We found no shortage of worthy, accomplished pros deserving the spotlight as we assembled our list of honorees for the sixth annual B&C and Multichannel News Women in the Game roster. Our focus was off-camera, on the increasing number of women involved in running and evolving networks, leagues and other corners of the sports media business. We discovered an elite set of marketers, programmers, negotiators and innovators. To meet and find out all about our 2016 class, read on.
Senior VP, marketing and promotion, MLB Network
KEY STATS: The 15-year Major League Baseball veteran oversees all marketing, advertising, social media and on-air promotions for the MLB Network. Beck also is in charge of marketing and promotion for the NHL Network as part of the National Hockey League’s digital media rights deal with MLB Advanced Media.
VARSITY STATUS: Beck made it to the big leagues when she went to work for Major League Baseball in 2001 as VP of brand advertising and marketing. She presided over promotion for the most successful launch in cable television history, the debut of the MLB Network, in January 2009. Before her baseball career, Beck cofounded the East Coast office of Move.com and held sales positions with Turner Broadcasting at CNN and TBS/TNT.
IN HER WORDS: “I’m extremely happy with where I am. I’ve been fortunate to have new challenges every year, new goals, several different bosses and new projects throughout the time I’ve been here. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated from college. I often talk to students who say they want to work in sports, and I tell them that they’re in a much better position than I was at their age because there are job opportunities.”
MELISSA ROSENTHAL BRENNER
Senior VP, digital media, NBA
KEY STATS: Brenner has led the NBA’s charge into the digital universe in a big way, helping create one of the largest social media communities in the world. Brenner has led the development, oversight and implementation of the league’s global digital strategy and social media portfolio.
VARSITY STATUS: With Brenner at the point, the NBA’s social media audience has grown to include more than 1 billion “likes” and followers combined across all league, team and player pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Sina and Tencent. Brenner was instrumental in the NBA becoming the first professional sports league to partner with YouTube (2005) and Facebook (2007). Brenner also has managed the NBA’s marketing relationships with ESPN/ABC and TNT and developed and maintained the league’s relationship with Cartoon Network.
IN HER WORDS: “I’ve been with the league 18½ years, I couldn’t ask for a better gig. Digital social media presents new challenges every day, it keeps me and my team on our toes. On a personal note, it’s been a great experience to share with my family. To be able to take my husband and children to games or to be able to share the products and experiences my group creates every day, that part of it’s been very fulfilling.”
Senior VP, college networks, ESPN
KEY STATS: Durant has turned a foot in the door as a summer sales and marketing intern 18 years ago into a long, successful career at the self-billed “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” She has steadily risen through the ranks to her current role overseeing ESPNU, the SEC Network and Longhorn Network.
VARSITY STATUS: Durant worked in sales and marketing before moving into programming 10 years ago. She has managed ESPN’s relationships with the NBA, Major League Lacrosse, Major League Soccer, FIFA, the U.S. Soccer Federation, the Union of European Football Associations and Olympics sports leagues. Durant also has been in charge of college sports programming and rights acquisitions, including the inaugural College Football Playoff, NCAA Championships, football, men’s and women’s basketbal and high school sports. On her watch, ESPNU has grown since its birth 11 years ago to reach approximately 75 million homes and have long-term carriage agreements with the top 10 distributors.
IN HER WORDS: “I started as an intern at ESPN many moons ago and knew midway through the experience that I wanted to build a career in this industry and with this company. It’s a company of passionate sports fans who have the privilege of serving sports fans. What’s better than that? I wanted to get in on the action. Women like [ESPN executives] Christine Driessen and Rosa Gatti inspired me. I want to be that inspiration for my nieces and nephew and others. I’ve taken different turns along my journey—moved across the country, changed departments and worked on different sport categories—and it’s been dynamic, stimulating and rewarding. I’m having a blast and look forward to what tomorrow brings.”
Executive VP, FIFA World Cup programming, NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises
KEY STATS: Telemundo and parent company NBCUniversal clearly have a lot of faith in Falcon, recently entrusting her with responsibility for one of the Spanish-language network’s most prized possessions, World Cup soccer. Falcon plans all FIFA World Cup programming, with an immediate focus on the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, both set to take place in Russia. Falcon also manages programming strategy for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil for Telemundo and NBC Universo.
VARSITY STATUS: Falcon was named to her new position last January after overseeing Telemundo’s sports properties and research department. She also has been in charge of the net’s news division, alternative non-scripted programming and network specials. Before joining Telemundo, Falcon held various executive roles at Univision Communications, including president of the news division and executive VP and operating manager of both the Univision and Telefutura networks.
IN HER WORDS: “Since day one, throughout the different roles I’ve had, it’s always been important to me that we emphasized that what we do has a big impact on our viewers’ lives. Hispanics are very passionate about sports, especially soccer, and it’s rewarding to be part of a great team that delivers not only the best action and information but also all the drama and human interest. It’s been challenging and rewarding, and I’m very glad I pursued my passion for broadcasting. I can’t think of another career where you can entertain, inform and serve so many people at the same time. While opportunities have increased in the area of sports media management for women over the years, there’s still a lot of room for growth and advancement.”
Senior VP, marketing and promotion, MSG Networks
KEY STATS: Hellman was promoted to her newly created role in February amid big changes in the workplace, with MSG Networks spinning off from the Madison Square Garden Co. in October and becoming a standalone public company. Hellman is in charge of both on- and off-air marketing for regional sports and entertainment nets MSG Network and MSG Plus, as well as the live streaming and video-on-demand platform, MSG Go.
VARSITY STATUS: Hellman began her career at Rainbow Media (now AMC Networks) in 2004 as a marketing coordinator and has held several other executive roles, including VP of marketing for MSG Networks.
IN HER WORDS: “I’ve always loved connecting people and ideas. My new role as head of marketing has allowed me to do both. As media companies become increasingly specialized and focused, the role of marketing has become increasingly blurred. In rethinking the department’s approach and role within the organization, we’ve focused on connecting the dots. Every day we try to emphasize a shared interest across the organization—the fan journey, and, more specifically, connecting the fan with the teams and network they love.”
VP, coordinating director, NFL Media Group
KEY STATS: A member of the team that launched the NFL Network 13 years ago, Love is in charge of the look and design of all studio shows and remote programming. She also oversees the network’s directing teams and production crews.
VARSITY STATUS: Love’s first role when the NFL Network debuted in January 2003 was directing the channel’s signature show, NFL Total Access, along with handling the technical side of the live nightly show and other shows in production. Love’s football career came after a stint at Fox Sports, where she won five Emmys for her work with Fox NFL Sunday and Fox Saturday Baseball.
IN HER WORDS: “It’s been very special and fulfilling to have been part of the team that helped build up NFL Network from its humble beginnings to a network that is now distributed in more than 72 million homes and has carriage agreements with each of the country’s largest television providers. I’ve seen our group evolve from one focused on one linear TV channel to one juggling the demands of producing content for all of NFL Media’s assets, including a myriad of digital platforms using the latest technology. Along the way, the NFL has been very supportive of seeing that women have every opportunity to succeed as their male counterparts. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Senior VP, head of Media North America, IMG Media
KEY STATS: Mandel oversees sports property rights and programming deals for IMG’s portfolio, which includes more than 27,000 hours of content per year.
VARSITY STATUS: Mandel, who has been with IMG since 1998, has negotiated some of the most lucrative and innovative sports television contracts, including Wimbledon’s one-network-model deal with ESPN; the British Open deal on NBC and the Golf Channel; the New York City Marathon’s move from NBC to ABC, WABC and ESPN; and the IRB Rugby World Cup debut on network television with NBC. Her clients include the ACC, BCS, IndyCar, USGA, FIFA, NFL, NASCAR, MLS and a new partnership with the NHL to license their games internationally. She began her career at HBO in the ’80s as director of programming acquisition and was at independent production and distribution company GGP when it was acquired by IMG in the late ’90s.
IN HER WORDS: “Standing today, I love the way my life career unfolded, but I don’t think it is what I would have imagined. I had other careers in mind as a kid—actress, lawyer, entrepreneur. From my perspective, I don’t think the situation for woman sports media executives has changed an incredible amount. I still don’t see many women in leadership positions in sports.”
VP, business operations, NCAA Digital, Turner Sports
KEY STATS: Poole oversees the content, operations and product development for Turner Sports’ NCAA digital operation, which includes NCAA.com, NCAA Sports App, NCAA March Madness Live and live coverage of all 90 NCAA championships.
VARSITY STATUS: Poole has guided the team behind March Madness Live’s digital offerings to three straight years of unprecedented growth. The 2016 men’s college basketball national championship game between Villanova and North Carolina grossed 2.5 billion minutes of consumption across television and digital platforms. NCAA March Madness Live drew 3.4 million live video streams and 1.1 million live hours of video consumption, a 16% increase over last year. Before moving to the sports side, Poole was a Turner Broadcasting senior product manager and launched PlayON! Sports, a live-streaming platform for high school and college sports, and TVinContext, a premium advertising offering.
IN HER WORDS: “I grew up as a 5-year-old listening to college basketball on Tobacco Road in North Carolina. I would be tuning in to [University of North Carolina announcer] Woody Durham on the radio driving to my indoor soccer game with my dad. I always have been passionate about college basketball. I’m very lucky to be here. Turner’s made it possible for me to be an active mom and an active leader. The one challenge you sometimes run into, as a woman, there’s not a lot of direct mentorship. I sometimes have to look in other places for that. The makeup of my own team is probably 50-50 though, which is great, so I do believe things will change as the years go on.”
Executive VP, operations and engineering, CBS Sports
KEY STATS: As the only woman currently heading up an operations and engineering department at any of the Big Four networks, Power oversees all CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network production management, technical management, network operations, commercial operations, post-production and media services.
VARSITY STATUS: Power helped launch the first 24-hour college sports network, CSTV, in 2003 and joined CBS in 2006 when it acquired the net, which now reaches more than 95 million households. Power also has been an operations executive for Major League Base- ball Productions and helped launch Classic Sports Network (now ESPN Classic). She also has worked for Showtime Networks and NBC and served as production manager for major events including the Three Tenors in Concert in Los Angeles and Pavarotti in the Park in New York’s Central Park, as well as the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
IN HER WORDS: “It’s been a journey, but it’s been a wonderful one. If someone had asked me 25 years ago where I wanted to be in 25 years, I could not have imagined that I would’ve landed where I have. As women become promoted in more and more roles, I’ve seen a lot of positive changes. When I started out, there were just the three big networks, so now there are a lot more options, more opportunity. I would tell young women, think about what you want to be doing 10, 20 years from now. This is a challenging business. You can have it all, but there are sacrifices.”
Senior VP, broadcasting and coaching, Wasserman
KEY STATS: Spander represents a growing roster of on-air talent, including former athletes, female sportscasters and multimedia journalists, as well as NBA coaches. Her clients include new Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who, like Spander, is a child of an all-time great. Walton’s father is basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton, and Spander’s dad is sportswriting legend Art Spander, a Bay Area newspaperman and columnist since 1965.
VARSITY STATUS: Spander inherited her love of sports from her father, who began taking her to events when she was in kindergarten. She was sports editor of the school newspaper, The Stanford Daily, while studying poli-sci as an undergrad, and she pursued her law degree at UCLA so she could get into the sports business. Spander began her career working for sports lawyer Maidie Oliveau before becoming an executive with Fox Sports Net and MTV Entertainment. Since taking over Wasserman’s broadcasting and coaching division in November 2012, the roster has grown from five clients to several dozen. Spander reps or co-reps more than 50 clients, including athletes-turned-sportscasters Frank Thomas, Aaron Boone, Brent Barry, Brian Scalabrine, Antawn Jamison and Ric Bucher; pro basketball star Candace Parker’s broadcasting and other off-court interests; Los Angeles Dodgers executive Ned Colletti; and Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Holberg.
IN HER WORDS: “After 14 years as a television executive and lawyer, I decided to switch sides and help people grow their careers. It’s been completely different from what I thought, but I love it. There are very few women who are sports agents—I can count them on one or maybe two hands—so it’s still a bit of a challenge. But once you prove that you know what you’re doing and you can get your clients jobs, I think the playing field becomes more even. It’s a challenging profession, but I also find it really rewarding and I just like helping people grow their careers.”
VP, marketing, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia
KEY STATS: Weiss has been in charge of spreading the word about Philly’s sports net since its 1997 debut. Her forte is partnership marketing, sponsorships and brand integration. Weiss also leads the creative services team in developing campaigns to drive eyeballs and sponsor dollars to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, Comcast Network and CSNPhilly.com.
VARSITY STATUS: Weiss has spent more than 23 years in sports media in the city of brotherly and sisterly love, starting her career as an ad sales assistant at PRISM/SportsChannel Philadelphia, the onetime Philly premium cable sports net. She rose rapidly through the ranks to marketing manager before leaving in 1997 to help launch Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, the NBCUniversal-managed unit that now reaches nearly 3 million cable households in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware. Weiss has helped bring in roughly $1 million in sponsorship sales over the years by developing integrated programs for a wide variety of clients around the network’s original news programming and game broadcasts.
IN HER WORDS: “Sports has always been a part of my life, mainly as a fan. When I attended a sports career symposium at Ithaca College, it opened my eyes to the opportunities available in the sports industry. I walked out of that event and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I have been fortunate to be surrounded by significant female leadership and mentors throughout my entire career in sports media. There are smart, dynamic, accomplished women leading media and digital sports properties across the NBC Sports family, and I’m humbled to be part of this group.”
STILL GOT GAME
Some past Women in the Game honorees have been on the move this past year, including these three alumni who are still in sports, although one left the high-profit world for the nonprofit side.
PATTY HIRSCH (2013)—The former CBS digital media GM joined Time Inc. last year as VP and GM, digital, to oversee strategy and operations for Sports Illustrated’s digital sports platforms, including Fansided.
BECKY SENDROW (2013)—After repping sports broadcasters and other talent for 10 years at WME and CAA, Sendrow changed venues last November to become director of celebrity and entertainment engagement for the American Red Cross national office in New York City. Her new job allows Sendrow to continue working with athletes and celebrities by being in charge of the Red Cross’ talent and entertainment property partnerships.
JENNIFER CHUN (2015)—The former senior VP of content acquisition for Time Warner Cable has taken her game to the National Basketball Association as senior VP, global media distribution. Chun is charged with helping drive the growth of the NBA’s television and digital assets, including NBA TV and NBA League Pass.