Fifty years ago, America almost inadvertently transformed its future with the passage of Title IX, a piece of civil-rights legislation that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.
The most obvious result was tremendous growth in women’s sports. It encouraged girls to take up athletics in pursuit of college scholarships and eventually even professional opportunities. Less obvious was the impact Title IX had in paving the way for women, via their sports experiences, to succeed in business meetings and board rooms.
To women now in leadership positions in sports and media — including those spotlighted here in B+C Multichannel News’s annual “Women in the Game” feature — Title IX undeniably helped shape their world.
“Title IX is everything; it was absolutely the foundation,” CAA Sports golf executive Megan Nicol said. She started down her career path because her father saw a newspaper ad saying that any girl at their high school who tried out for golf would get free lessons. “He said more college scholarships go unused for this sport than any other, so I started playing golf.”
Dana Jones, the NBA’s senior director, broadcast content management, co-captained and played goalkeeper for Columbia University’s varsity soccer team. She said the impact Title IX had is “hard to even put into words.”
“It was subconscious, but travel soccer built my leadership skills and teamwork,” she said. “As a goalkeeper, communication is key and you also have to develop a tough skin. Plus at tournaments, we’d stay at homes of other players, which taught me to deal with diverse groups of people. So now it’s effortless to deal with anyone, from ushers to team presidents.”
Carol Stiff spent 31 years at ESPN and is now an adviser to the fledgling Women’s Sports Network. Before that, though, she took her Title IX opportunities further than most. At Southern Connecticut State University, she played basketball and field hockey, before going on to coach basketball at Brown University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Western Connecticut State University. (She’s in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.)
“Title IX gave me the opportunity to compete on and off the court and in the boardrooms,” she said. “Sports taught me how to lose and how to be a leader of a team.”
Title IX kept having an impact once Stiff was a parent. When her high-school-age daughter said she couldn’t stay after school for geometry help because her soccer team was being bused to a field across town, Stiff’s first question was, “Where does the boys’ team practice?” They were practicing right in back of the school, so Stiff taught her daughter about Title IX violations and used the law to ensure that every other week the boys would have to ship out while the girls stayed put. “Otherwise, the boys are getting a better education because they’re boys. Title IX demands equal access for my son and my daughter.”
Even with Title IX, change was, of course, a long time coming in the workplace. Nikki Ambrifi, VP of client partnerships at FuboTV, recalled that at the first sporting event she attended as an account executive, all the men went to play golf and, as the only woman on the team, she was tasked with taking the wives to the spa. “Now I play golf all the time with my clients, so there has been a shift,” she said, adding that at the beginning of her career she’d be the only woman at staff lunches for 12, but now there are four.
Stiff said there are more and more women in the production truck, in the rooms where decisions are made and in the top negotiations.
Despite the gains, these leading women sports executives said there is more room for growth. Maria Soares, senior VP, production and content strategy for ESPN, said one thing that has changed is that people are more openly discussing the issue.
“In the last five years there has begun a powerful conversation about the importance of giving women opportunities to make sure they have a voice at the table,” she said. “Years ago if you were the only woman in the room, you didn’t come out of the meeting and say this is a problem. It was just the way it was. Now it’s OK to talk about what we want the change to be and why that’s important.”
Fox Sports general counsel Elizabeth Casey sees the progress but said it’s important to not just measure progress in numbers. “The bigger issue is not how many women there are in the room but whether you’re respected and listened to and whether the men understand you might have a different viewpoint and take that in,” she said, adding that she learned to speak up because she had seven brothers. “We’re getting there.”
VP of Client Partnerships, FuboTV
KEY STATS: Nicole (Nikki) Ambrifi leads sponsorships and partnership sales for all Fubo brands, including FuboTV, Fubo Sports Network, Fubo Movie Network and Fubo Latino Network. Ambrifi works with the programming, content and business development teams executing new client partnerships and specializing in contextual and addressable targeting, creating unique and innovative multiplatform opportunities in the streaming space.
Last year, when FuboTV acquired the exclusive live streaming rights to the Qatar World Cup 2022 Qualifying matches of South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), Ambrifi led efforts to secure multiple sponsors for English and Spanish content, including Michelob Ultra, Procter & Gamble’s Gillette, Patrón and Boost Mobile. Recently, she snagged Miller Lite as a presenting sponsor for the first match day of the UEFA Nations league for games that exclusively streamed on FuboTV.
VARSITY STATUS: A native of Brooklyn, New York, Ambrifi started out working on the launch of Sports Illustrated for Kids. One favorite memory is of an ad integration with Pepsi, creating a mobile trailer that traveled around the country. “We had Shaq’s sneaker, size 22,” she said. “All anybody wanted was to put their foot in it.”
From there she moved to NBC Sports, working on events like the PGA Tour and U.S. Open tennis. Before coming to Fubo in 2019 she also worked for MTV Networks and spent a decade at Discovery Networks.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “When I came here in 2019, people were cutting cords and I felt fortunate to have this opportunity to bridge the gap into the world of streaming. We can sell a banner sponsorship on our homepage saying, ‘Watch football on Sundays, brought to you by…’ ” she explained. ”We provide valuable inventory not available elsewhere. Now others are launching streaming and big players are moving events behind streaming paywalls and selling their own sponsorships, which was part of our pitch.
“But right now we are one of only four players in the live TV streaming space and we’re the only one with a unique sports-focused audience. In addition to that we have first-party data. We are also moving into sportsbook and gaming and free-to-play interactive areas that no one else is doing and we can integrate our clients into all those areas.”
Executive VP & Deputy General Counsel of Fox Corp. and General Counsel of Fox Sports
KEY STATS: Elizabeth Casey came up at Fox as a litigator and had previously interacted with sports regularly. Since she was promoted to her new role in 2021, though, she spends 90% of her time on Fox Sports, getting involved in all aspects of business and strategies, from rights deals and renewals to international law for overseas events to legal issues with patents for the company’s internal developments. “We’re always innovating and I have to see what we can and can’t do and how we do things and make them work legally,” she said.
VARSITY STATUS: A graduate of George Washington University Law School, Casey initially worked at Troop, Meisinger, Steuber & Pasich, involved in civil litigation for financial institutions and entertainment studios. She rose through the ranks to become a partner at the firm before joining Fox in 1999 as VP of litigation. In 2021, she was promoted to her current position.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “It’s the best job I’ve ever had, but to say it was drinking out of a fire hose when I started last fall is an understatement. When I came in, we were launching a brand new football league in less than six months with the new USFL. That was something new for me but also for Fox, which has never launched or owned a football league. Everybody just pitched in to get all the legal work done. But also everybody involved in USFL pitched in to do anything they could and it felt great to help in other areas although my expertise is obviously in the legal arena.
“It’s been a great experience and now we’re doing a wind-down, but then we’re heading into next season and the USFL is still new enough that there’s a lot of growing we’re going to do. And then there was the NFL and the MLB All-Star Game and postseason and doing the FIFA World Cup at a different time of year [than usual] halfway around the world in Qatar.”
VP, Broadcast Operations & Network Origination,
KEY STATS: Ganjamie is one of the few women vice presidents in the sports industry who concentrates on managing technical areas. She successfully runs game-day operations for MLB Network’s partners such as YouTube and Apple TV Plus, which continue to innovate and showcase baseball to new and different fan bases. She is also part of the Emmy-winning team behind MLB Tonight.
VARSITY STATUS: Ganjamie spent four years at Oxygen Media, rising to director of broadcast and digital media operations. From there, she went to work in post-production at NBC before joining MLB Network in 2011 as manager of network origination. She was promoted to senior director in 2014 and then to her current position last year.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “When you go into this industry, you don’t realize how many different roles there are, and operations wasn’t something I was aware of at all when I was in college or doing internships. I thought I was going to end up in advertising and only accidentally found myself in television. I had gone to Villanova for communications and I minored in psychology. The communications degree was only marginally helpful but the psychology minor is tremendously helpful in my day to day. My instincts were really good when it came to operations but it was also that the way I interact with people lent itself well to this role. I’m curious and want to have an understanding about what everybody does, and putting that puzzle together is what we do in operations. We make sure all the parties have what they need, giving people what they need in that moment to be successful.
“I build relationships with partners like YouTube and Apple, working side by side with them in creating an experience for the viewer, coordinating with their team to make sure we have things like dynamic ad insertion and polls and figuring out the messaging and how we serve them so they can run the ads and the fans are getting pristine video and audio. We want a viewer experience that is technically beautiful.
“We can serve multiple partners with the same content, making sure we are able to give them the formats that work best in their specific environment. In this new era, one size does not fit all.”
VP of Creative and Post Production, Team Whistle
KEY STATS: Jaimes, a native of Colombia, joined Team Whistle three years ago. In her current role she manages and oversees all creative and post production for this digital entertainment and sports media company. An important part of her role is featuring female athletes from different backgrounds and from different places around the world. She just worked on “The Future Is Her,” an NFT collection aimed at empowering and elevating women in the sports world by creating 10 pieces of non-fungible token imagery that embody women in a variety of sports. Proceeds help purchase shoes for Bronx Storm, a nonprofit AAU youth basketball program for the academic and athletic growth of student-athletes.
VARSITY STATUS: Jaimes began her career as a graphic designer for Vanderbyl Design. She then worked as a designer for Design Theorem and as creative director for Medium.com and then Vertical Networks, which was acquired by Team Whistle.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “As my role has changed, I am taking on more responsibilities, working with a wider group of people. I still work with my creatives, which is my background, but I’m also working with other parts of the organization. For our ‘Future is Her’ project, I collaborated during Women’s History Month with Natalie White, whose Moolah Kicks are the first shoes made exclusively for women basketball players. We featured her in one of our shows called My Hustle to share her story, and then we worked out that if anyone buys one of those NFTs they will get a pair of Moolah Kicks.”
Senior Director, Broadcast Content
KEY STATS: Jones is primary on-site liaison for NBA teams, arena contacts and national broadcast partners for all nationally televised games. She also oversees the production of ESPN and Turner Sports studio shows when they are on site at NBA arenas and manages and schedules the team that travels to coordinate nationally televised NBA games — a role she also performs for WNBA, NBA G League and international games.
VARSITY STATUS: While in pre-med studies at Columbia University — “my dream job was to be a team physician in the NBA or NFL” — Jones interned in production at HBO. That led to work at API Productions, which produced Major League Soccer games, before Jones joined the NBA as a logger and production assistant in 1997. “I thought I’d learn some things about production and the NBA and move on,” she said. Instead, she has stayed for a quarter of a century working her way up the ladder to coordinator and manager en route to her current job; along the way she has managed NBA game broadcasts on six continents and coordinated all broadcasts for 22 NBA Finals.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Not only has our game expanded globally, but when I started doing this we only had to worry about radio and the national television partner at a game. Now, we’re managing ancillary programming and digital media and making sure everyone who has a stake in the game is getting what they need to display our game to the world in the best possible light. That’s a lot more people who I have to make sure are all playing nice in the sandbox. I’m a facilitator by nature so I really enjoy making sure everyone else can be at their best so our product is at its best.
“We want to reach more fans, and the way fans consume our game is changing, but we don’t want to disrupt the purity and beauty of the game. Fans weren’t walking around watching games on their phones five years ago so now we have to find a camera angle that will make it look better for the guy who is watching on the phone on the train, not in front of his 70-inch TV on his couch.
Analyst, Tennis Channel, and tennis legend
KEY STATS: “I leave my place in history to others,” Martina Navratilova said. “It’s difficult to talk about my achievements, though at the same time it’s funny how people forget.”If you have forgotten, here’s a history lesson: She won 59 Grand Slam titles, more than anyone in tennis’ Open era, which dates to 1969. That includes 18 singles crowns (including a record nine at Wimbledon), tying her for third-most with Chris Evert. She took home 31 women’s doubles titles and 10 mixed doubles titles. In 1984, she won 74 consecutive matches, a record no one has broken.
VARSITY STATUS: The Czech-born star became a U.S. citizen in 1981; that year she lost millions of dollars in endorsements by coming out and has been outspoken for gay and LGBTQ+ rights ever since. She also speaks out on issues from abortion rights to gun violence to mass incarceration to freedom of speech. Navratilova announced for HBO, TNT and CBS after retiring in 1994. She rejoined the tour in 2000 but after stepping away for good in 2006, she signed on with Tennis Channel. “When I started I talked too much about technique and not enough about tactics and the emotional and mental stuff. I evolved from working with Bill Macatee, Brett Haber and Mary Carillo, who really helped me out.”
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Overall, the women playing today have more clout. There are more press conferences and more press coverage and they have a bigger voice just from social media. You have access to the world, which we didn’t have in my time. However, there have been instances at the tournaments, particularly the majors, where players have been told not to talk about certain topics or the press has been told that certain questions won’t be accepted, even though they are not about people’s personal lives and they directly affect the game. I don’t like that. These are global issues and sports and politics have always mixed. I don’t like anybody to be shut up. At least with social media, the players can be unfiltered and uncensored. And I envy that.
“It has always been important to speak my mind. I left a country where you couldn’t do that, so when people tell me basically to ‘shut up and dribble,’ I say I didn’t leave one country to be told what to do in another. Being silent doesn’t change anything and silence is complicity.
I wish people would speak out more on issues that don’t affect them personally, whether it’s a women’s right to choose or racism or denying people equal protection under the law. And still, men’s voices are more easily validated and women get attacked for saying the same thing that a man does. Yes, women have bigger voices today and there are many more women in positions of power, but we are still being attacked just because of our sex. And that pisses me off.”
Executive, CAA Golf
KEY STATS: Nicol was promoted in 2020 to her current role overseeing all business development for CAA Golf. She helps oversee management of more than $75M in golf sponsorships annually and has worked with clients like Farmers Insurance, KPMG, Aon, UnitedHealth Group and T-Mobile. To boost women in sports, her team brought KPMG the opportunity to sponsor the first-ever women’s Major Championship in the PGA’s 100-year history. Her team also created the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit, and she served on the board of We Are Golf, a coalition of organizations focused on increasing everyone’s access to be able to play golf.
VARSITY STATUS: Nicol started at MG Sports Marketing immediately after college, working on representing major brands in golf. The company was acquired by CAA Sports in 2011. She has been at CAA Golf ever since, working first in New York as primary liaison with CAA Golf’s Jacksonville office and other parts of the agency, such as CAA Brand Consulting and Sports Property Sales. In 2017, she was appointed to CAA’s Global Fellows program, a leadership development program. She has since been part of CAA’s Women in Sports initiative, which strives to empower the next generation of women internally. She also took part in CAA’s assistant mentorship program.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Once I was in a meeting for the Olympics with [Golf Channel executive producer] Molly Solomon and I didn’t say anything the whole time, I just sat there and took notes. Afterward, she took me aside and said, if you want to be invited back to these meetings you have to speak up and speak with a purpose and contribute. She said it much nicer than that but I took it to heart. Our group is 90% women but there are still certainly a ton of meetings where I’m the only woman. Now I take it as a challenge to make sure my voice is heard.”
Executive VP, Operations & Engineering, CBS Sports
KEY STATS: Overseeing management of operations and engineering involves Power in production management, technical management, network operations, commercial operations, post-production and media services for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network’s broadcast and cable properties. Her responsibilities include technical production of remote, studio and original programming, as well as the distribution and quality control of CBS Sports Network’s signal, including affiliate authorization, compliance, network operations center and commercial operations. She also managed the buildout of a 20,000-square-foot production facility
at Chelsea Piers in New York City that included studio and post-production facilities and the CBS Sports Network’s upgrade to high-definition production programming and distribution.
VARSITY STATUS: Power has a long career in sports and television, working on the Summer Olympics for NBC Sports before building the operations and engineering department that launched Classic Sports Network and working for Major League Baseball Productions as vice president of operations. In that MLB job, she managed day-to-day operations of the production unit and managed the footage and licensing department and oversaw the buildout of MLB Productions’ 25,000 square-foot studio.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “In recent years I’m most proud of navigating through the pandemic and all the COVID protocols while continuing to put on The Masters and our NFL games and a Super Bowl. We had to adjust, keeping everybody safe but also getting back out there. COVID forced us to innovate a lot more quickly than we would have. We had to figure out how to produce things like graphics and replays remotely. These days, we’re collaborating more with Paramount Plus for streaming and CBS Interactive for digital, which gives me opportunities to get involved beyond traditional cable and broadcast, which is where I’ve been most of my career.”
Senior VP, Production and Content Strategy, ESPN
KEY STATS: Soares was promoted to her current role in April, adding responsibility for the morning and afternoon editions of SportsCenter and ESPN’s universal news
group, which drives editorial decision-making, strategy and logistics across platforms. She also oversees content creation and distribution strategy for studio production, focusing on maximizing ESPN’s audience through strategic efforts, via SportsCenter, ESPN Plus, event production, digital, sport-specific studio shows and more.
VARSITY STATUS: Soares joined ESPN 30 years ago. She was graduating from Emerson College and the network was looking for someone interested in broadcasting, and fluent in Portuguese, to help launch a network in Brazil. (She was raised in the Azores and also speaks Spanish and English.) She spent the next 25 years working in the ESPN International and ESPN Deportes arenas, overseeing event production teams, studio programs, the digital video team, the global assignment desk, the talent office and some of the group’s biggest projects. She went on to help launch more than 10 ESPN networks, and provide video support to more than a dozen global ESPN.com editions.
Soares is a member of ESPN’s D&I Executive Council and the Executive Women’s Forum. She is a graduate of the WICT Betsy Magness Leadership Institute and the WISE Women’s Executive Leadership Institute.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Launching international networks was like working
for a startup, you get to do a little of everything while still being part of the mother ship. That was an amazing advantage for me. Now I’m in a very different role. I’d never been in a control room producing SportsCenter, but content is storytelling and a lot of this role is about bringing teams together and collaborating to make sure we’re aligned in how we’re presenting things. So there are a lot
of similarities to what I was doing.”
Adviser, Women’s Sports Network
KEY STATS: After 31 years at ESPN, Carol Stiff retired last year. She is now president of Stiff Sports Media Consulting and serves as an adviser for FAST Studios’ Women’s Sports Network. She pushed the fledgling streamer to make Game On, its proposed weekly studio show, into a daily news, talk and highlights show (a la SportsCenter).
VARSITY STATUS: At ESPN, Stiff was responsible for acquisition and programming across multiple sports, from NCAA women’s basketball to the Women’s College World Series to the WNBA to lacrosse and soccer. From 2013 to 2016 she served as VP of content integration for the espnW business. In that role, she led the company’s efforts to integrate espnW content across ESPN platforms. She is a Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Naismith Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and an Edward R. Murrow award winner.
Stiff serves on the Women’s Sports Foundation Board of Governors and is president of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Trustees and the Collegiate Women’s Sports Awards Board of Directors.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “I still want to crack the code about why women’s sports isn’t front and center and why it’s not being supported by corporate America. These women athletes are great role models, they stay in college and graduate, they’re future CFOs, COOs and CEOs. They deserve the ability to be seen by their fans.
“I was never in tune with having a women’s sports network, I always wanted for women to be on the main menu and be at ESPN. I was proud of filling the cupboard with women’s sports. When I left, ESPN showed 16,000 hours of women’s sports annually.
“We have said to ESPN and others, we’re here to complement what you’re doing. We’re going to promote the ‘enemy’ because we want to raise all boats in women’s sports. What was lacking at ESPN was the great windows for women’s sports. When you put women’s sports in highly visible windows they do really well. The time is now.
“When this network said they’d have a studio news show I said, ‘Finally. Because I used to go to SportsCenter and say, ‘Here’s a triple overtime WNBA game, can you squeeze it in?’ And then it wouldn’t make air and I’d be the one getting the call from the commissioner. But when the network said it would be weekly I said, ‘No. It has to be daily or I’m out.’ And they said OK.
“When I found out about the studio show I was with Billie Jean King and I whispered the news to her. She pumped her arms up and threw her head back. It was what she had done way back when she beat Bobby Riggs. That made me think, ‘We’re onto something here.’ ” ▪️
Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.
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