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Gaining Ground on a Field That’s Still Open

Why This Matters: The 2019 B&C Women in the Game have achieved a great deal in a wide array of TV sports-related disciplines.

When the glass is at that proverbial halfway point, there are some who see the full part and some who see the empty part. For women in the sports and media businesses, though, it seems the key is to see both: to note all the progress that has been made in recent years without losing sight of all the work that remains to be done.

The executives honored as this year’s B&C Women in the Game have achieved a great deal at a wide range of jobs and companies, but many of them share that bifurcated viewpoint — that awareness of both the full and empty parts of the glass — especially since the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have sparked a push for more equality across the board.

“I’m not naive,” Laura Gentile, senior VP of marketing at ESPN, said. “We still have a long way to go, but we’re talking about issues much more openly.”

Added Hannah Brown, chief strategy officer of fuboTV: “It’s a male-dominated world and I’d be lying if I didn’t say there are challenges every day, but I’ve always been treated as an equal.”

“We’ve seen dramatic improvement across both sports business and media business — there are more women at the negotiating table now,” Claudia Teran, executive VP and corporate general counsel at Fox Corp. and general counsel at Fox Sports, said. “There are still rooms where I’m the only woman, but much fewer. Companies, teams, leagues making different decisions, though, still has a way to go.”

There is still a noticeable difference in the number of women in the halls and boardrooms of sports programmers, compared to a news division, said NBC Regional Sports Networks chief financial officer Nicolina O’Rorke. It’s still a “male-dominated ecosystem,” she said, but it seems that executives are aware of the need to diversify and to create a pipeline for the future.

“A lot of good things have happened in the last 12 to 24 months, but overall the momentum for women seeking leadership roles at [the biggest companies] has somewhat stalled,” said Stacey Allaster, chief executive, professional tennis at the United States Tennis Association.

Added Gentile: “The women may not be in the top jobs, but there are more women in senior executive roles, in decision-making jobs. At ESPN, the head of marketing, the head of legal and the head of production are all women. That changes the conversation.”

Stacey Allaster

Chief Executive, Professional Tennis United States Tennis Association

KEY STATS: Stacey Allaster works with the USTA board and pro tennis staff on improving professional tennis in the U.S. She sets the strategic vision for the division, from oversight of the U.S. Open to the U.S. Open Series, the Davis Cup and Fed Cup to smaller tournaments.

VARSITY STATUS: Allaster spent nearly 10 years at the Women’s Tennis Association, first as president and as chairman and CEO. Over her six years in the latter role, she generated about $1 billion in revenue. She built the WTA’s presence around the world, especially in Asia, and oversaw its 10-year, $525 million media agreement with Perform Group to establish WTA Media, the largest live media rights and production venture in women’s sports history. She was part of the push for equal prize money at the French Open and Wimbledon. Before the WTA, Allaster spent nearly 15 years at Tennis Canada, where she was VP of sales and marketing and served as tournament director of the Canadian Open in Toronto (now the Rogers Cup), making her the only woman director in the nine-tournament ATP Masters Series at that time.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “I’m working on how to grow the U.S. Open. Our two pillars are domestic and international. On the domestic side, we have the U.S. Open Fan Week. The event is three weeks, with the qualifying tournament the week before. That whole week is free. … Last year, we moved our Legends event there and got top players to commit to one public practice we could promote, and began marketing it. If we can see attendance in the grandstand get to a million fans that week over the next three years, then we can have a conversation with our commercial partners. Our international strategy is in its infancy, but we are doing work to understand which key markets our partners might want to activate their rights in and how that might translate into broadcast, digital, OTT, as part of a long-term strategy.”

Hannah Brown

Chief Strategy Officer, fuboTV

KEY STATS: Hannah Brown handles all strategic development and execution as fuboTV accelerates its sports-first cable replacement business in the U.S. and enters new territories internationally. She is focused on acquiring high-quality customers, developing fuboTV’s app marketing and branding and getting the virtual multichannel video programming distributor onto more platforms while adding content like FX Plus and AMC Premiere. She recently negotiated a marketing partnership with fantasy sports firm FanDuel.

VARSITY STATUS: Prior to fuboTV, Brown was most recently senior VP, corporate development at Relevent Sports Group, but her main calling card is her decade at satellite-TV provider Sky, where, among other things, she headed business development and led investments and partnerships with startups and emerging sports businesses. (She made Sky an early fuboTV investor and was appointed as a board observer.) She started her career as a chartered accountant at KPMG. She also was long-listed for both the 2012 and 2016 South African Olympic teams in eventing, an equestrian competition.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “I’m a strong team player and I pick things up quickly, and I’m practical and find ways to make things happen. It’s been a career of unplanned development. Every 18 months I find myself in a new role, but I’m always interested in the mechanics of each area. This business moves at pace so there’s not time for anyone to get their feet under them.

“At Sky, I started in finance but in areas other than sports before I moved into sports rights. They said, ‘You have no experience in sports, but we think you’ll like it.’ I think coming at it from a different perspective stood me in good stead. Now with fubo, I have a huge amount of experience, so while there are nuances to learn I was able to hit the ground running.”

Cathy Engelbert

Commissioner, WNBA

KEY STATS: On July 17, Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA (previous leaders of the NBA-affiliated league were titled president). She plans to meet with “everyone in the WNBA ecosystem, from players to owners to fans” to see what’s working and what isn’t, and then to use that to improve the fan experience and the player experience while growing revenue. She also hopes to boost the brand and improve the league’s visibility.

VARSITY STATUS: Engelbert had been CEO of Deloitte, the first woman ever to lead a Big Four professional-services firm in the U.S., since 2015. Revenue grew more than 30% during her tenure, thanks to her focus on emerging technologies (blockchain, robotics and cloud). She also emphasized Deloitte’s more than 100,000 employees with initiatives like a 16-week family leave policy. Englebert was with Deloitte for 33 years, the last 21 as a partner.

Engelbert was also the first woman to chair the Catalyst Board, a global nonprofit organization that promotes inclusive workplaces for women, and was the first woman chair of the Center for Audit Quality Governing Board.

At Lehigh University, Engelbert played for and was a captain of both the basketball and lacrosse teams. She was coached by basketball hall of famer Muffet McGraw. Her father, Kurt, played basketball at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “I was in the corporate world for 33 years, but there’s no better place to do something different and this offers a leadership platform. My passion for sports makes it a really good fit. The WNBA is an incredible brand and has a social voice on diversity and inclusion. I want to increase the power of brand and raise the visibility of the league. Sports builds confidence in women and girls.

“I am more into leadership than titles, but changing the WNBA job from president to commissioner is an important symbol for women’s sports. It is a statement that this is a major league that has been around for two decades and has earned a seat at the table.”

Laura Gentile

Senior VP of Marketing, ESPN

KEY STATS: Laura Gentile was named senior VP of marketing last September. She oversees development and management of all aspects of ESPN’s brand across all media. She is focusing on strengthening the brand with a new round of “This Is SportsCenter” spots and other marketing plans to get the company to “puff out its chest with a bit more confidence,” while also putting more teeth behind marketing toward younger consumers, women and Hispanics.

VARSITY STATUS: Gentile has been with ESPN since 2003, after serving as a senior partner at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. She started in consumer marketing at ESPN, then became VP and chief of staff, working directly with then-ESPN president George Bodenheimer. In 2010, she helped launch espnW, the company’s first dedicated business built to serve women, and then became senior VP, espnW and Women’s Initiatives. She later served as senior VP, business operations and content strategy.

At Duke University, Gentile was both all-ACC and All-America in field hockey and was a two-time team captain, leading the Blue Devils to their first NCAA Tournament appearance. She was named to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary field hockey team.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “As an athlete, I was goal-oriented and was always about the next mark. It gave me ambition and a work ethic and the desire to be a great teammate. As a captain I always focused on communication. After business school, I made a conscious decision to get away from sports for a bit because I felt defined by being an athlete, but later I came to ESPN.

“Being able to start a business at ESPN, particularly one focused on women, was a dream come true. When I was young and playing sports with boys people sometimes looked at me a little sideways, so shining a spotlight on women athletes with espnW was a big step for the company and the industry.”

Kelli Masters

Founder, CEO and Chief Player Agent KMM Sports

KEY STATS: Kelli Masters has built up a full-service sports management company, which now represents 24 athletes, including a dozen active NFL players. Masters founded her own agency, Kelli Masters Management, in 2005 in Oklahoma City. She has represented more professional athletes than any other woman and has served as an agent and contract adviser to players in every NFL Draft since 2006. She has also represented athletes in the MLB Draft and the Olympics. In 2010, she was the first woman to represent a top-five pick in the NFL Draft (defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, drafted third overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and now with the Carolina Panthers).

VARSITY STATUS: Masters has remained of counsel at the firm of Fellers, Snider, Blankenship, Bailey & Tippens, which she joined in 2000. She was named Miss Oklahoma for 1997 and won awards for talent and community service at the Miss America pageant. Masters is also an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City University and Oklahoma Christian University, teaching sports law.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “This was not my intended career path. I was a lawyer in litigation practice working with nonprofits when an NFL player starting a foundation needed an attorney. It opened my eyes to the world of professional athletes and what they needed in terms of guidance and someone to advocate for them.

“Becoming an NFL agent is tough, especially as an independent and not just for women, but there was definitely pushback. The most was from agents, but I was told to my face by parents and coaches: ‘We think you’re qualified but we’re not comfortable with it. It’s not normal.’

“The NFL was the last frontier of a testosterone-filled good ol’ boy network. I feel like great progress has been made. Women now are getting opportunities in coaching and scouting, too. There’s still unfairness, but there’s more respect. I didn’t think about being a pioneer then, but I do feel responsibility now for others and I have an open door and open phone call policy for women looking to get into the field.”

Alison Meyer

VP of Marketing, Whistle

KEY STATS: Alison Meyer joined Whistle Sports in February as the company seeks to expand into original entertainment, rebranding itself from Whistle Sports to Whistle and adding original scripted and unscripted content. Meyer leads partnership marketing for the company’s slate of originals and branded content and reports to Whistle president and chief operating officer Michael Cohen.

VARSITY STATUS: Meyer joined Refinery29 in 2012 as a brand manager and rose to director of brand experiences and then VP, marketing solutions and client services before leaving for Whistle. At Refinery29, Meyer built the company’s global branded content business, with projects like “Power Faces,” an award-winning original branded video series created with CoverGirl.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “I’m so excited to be at a fast-growing and innovative company again. It’s a great opportunity to learn and grow. They have refined research and insights and my skill is figuring out how to leverage that to create value for advertisers. As much time as is spent on traditional sports being consumed live, young men are spending that same time on social media, so it’s essential to have diversified social media content. We are moving from just being an influencer network to becoming a media brand in our own right, with original media series. We want to get more advertisers interested in these series and in our Snapchat channel, which has had 300% growth in 10 months.”

Nicolina O’Rorke
Chief Financial Officer, NBC Sports Regional Networks

KEY STATS: Nicolina O’Rorke has been CFO for the NBC regional sports networks since 2015, overseeing strategy and financial operations for the nine regional sports networks in top markets nationwide. She is a board member at five of those RSNs, which are joint ventures with professional sports teams spanning the NBA, MLB and NHL.

VARSITY STATUS: O’Rorke had been chief financial officer for NBC News, in charge of finance for all NBC News broadcasts and platforms. That came after a stint as CFO for MSNBC and Newsgathering. She earlier worked in various finance positions within the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group, including on the acquisition and integration of Oxygen Media. She had begun her career in investment banking at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. O’Rorke co-leads the NBC Sports Group Women’s Network@ NBCUniversal, an employee resource group dedicated to fostering women’s professional and personal development within the company.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “Working at NBC Sports is a culmination of all my experiences back to my days in investment banking. I’ve done acquisitions and deal work at NBC, spending a lot of time on evaluation and analytics of purchases, and then, at NBC News, I got a crash course in production. Sports is a combination of all that, with the rights deals and the production, but with added layers. This is more externally facing because I’m also working with the teams and leagues. Every skill I’ve picked up over time is used in this role.

“I got involved in the Women’s Network because I’ve been at NBC for 14 years and I have two children so I thought I could give back by talking to women about the balance between family and career, providing a level of experience and knowledge about creating your own path.”

Jennifer Sabatelle

Senior VP, Communications, CBS Sports

KEY STATS: Jennifer Sabatelle supervises media relations efforts and strategy for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network, including corporate communications, social media and the promotion of all personalities and programming. This year, she oversaw a yearlong promotion for Super Bowl LIII that included broadcast, cable, premium TV and digital platforms across CBS. She previously oversaw promotion of the landmark Super Bowl 50, featuring shows from nine CBS divisions with week-long, around-the-clock coverage from the San Francisco Bay Area. She also led the promotion of a comprehensive redesign of the CBS Sports logo, implementing a new on-air look for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network. Sabatelle also executed the media plan for CBS’s NFL Thursday Night Football package from 2014 through 2017.

VARSITY STATUS: After a stint at Grey Advertising, Sabatelle joined the NFL as a broadcast assistant, working as a liaison between the league and the teams. She joined CBS Sports in 2000 as coordinator of programming and marketing, coordinating more than 600 hours of content per year. She moved into communications in 2002 and, after rising to manager, advanced to director, communications by 2007. She was responsible for all college-related properties, including the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, as well as publicity for the CBS College Sports Network. She also worked with Showtime Sports on promotion for Inside the NFL. Sabatelle planned and coordinated media strategy for the rebranding of CSTV to CBS College Sports in 2008 and of CBS College to CBS Sports Network in 2011. In 2010, Sabatelle became VP and the following year helped guide the media strategy for the new NCAA men’s basketball tournament partnership between CBS and Turner Sports.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “My father was a high school athletic director on Long Island and sports was a big part of our lives. When I was 10 I watched Georgetown against North Carolina with Michael Jordan in the NCAA Finals on CBS and said to my parents, ‘I want to work at CBS Sports.’ … I wanted to be on-air then, but that changed in college.

“Before I got a job at the NFL, I didn’t know the leagues had broadcast departments. I thought that was a pretty good job, but then going to CBS was even better. I worked in programming and then took a chance in moving to communications. I never anticipated I’d be running the department. It was a welcoming environment and I was given room to grow. [CBS Sports chairman] Sean McManus was a great mentor and half his management staff is women.”

Claudia Teran

Executive VP, Corporate General Counsel, Fox Corp., and General Counsel, Fox Sports

KEY STATS: Claudia Teran oversees the business and legal affairs team responsible for Fox Sports, among other duties. This includes the Fox network’s sports division; national cable networks FS1 and FS2; Fox Soccer Plus; Fox Deportes; Big Ten Network; and Fox Sports Digital. Her team is responsible for the rights acquisitions of national professional sports (including NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL), as well as international sports properties including the FIFA World Cup. She was lead legal adviser in Fox’s winning 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids and was crucial in the negotiations that extended the rights to the Women’s World Cup through 2026. Teran has advised on the expansion within Fox Sports’ international investments in Latin America, Brazil and Asia. On June 27, she added entertainment unit responsibilities as executive VP and corporate general counsel for parent Fox Corp., succeeding the departed Rita Tuzon.

VARSITY STATUS: Prior to her current role, Teran was executive VP, business and legal affairs, for Fox Networks Group. Her responsibilities included licensing, distribution, production, marketing, affiliate relations and transactional guidance for several divisions, including corporate and digital media as well as several cable networks and the Fox Hispanic Media businesses. Before joining Fox, she was a transactional attorney at Sidley Austin.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “I don’t have to be in on everything, so I go deep in places where I’m most needed. But also, I don’t sleep a lot. I’m known for sending emails at 3 in the morning.

“At my law firm, I became the point person for problems: even if I was not the right person I was a starting point for finding the answers. That is true at Fox, too. A lot of my job now is sitting in with different teams here and strategizing about the future of the business. Every two or three years, this universe has changed but I can always roll with the punches.

“Negotiating sports deals is the most fun you can have while practicing law. The FIFA deal was a total game-changer.

“In 2014, I got promoted when I was about to have my first kid. That was a huge vote of confidence for me, but also for women here. I’ve had women who are lawyers here and other executives bring it up. It sent a message.”

Lori York

TV and Sports Crossover Agent Creative Artists Agency (CAA)

KEY STATS: Lori York’s client roster includes Aaron Rodgers, Paul George, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, J.J. Watt, Cristiano Ronaldo and Daniel Ricciardo, among others. She helped Paul create his Oh Dipp Entertainment production company and set up a deal for it to develop and produce series and other content. She devised the chance for Paul, Wade and another client, Carmelo Anthony, to executive produce and host Sports and Society, a roundtable discussion examining cultural issues outside of basketball. She negotiated the deal for Wade’s production company with Imagine Documentaries on a documentary about his life and career.

She also sold a three-part documentary series to ESPN that followed Paul George in NBA free agency in the 2018 offseason. York brokered a deal for J.J. Watt to co-host Ultimate Tag for Fox alongside his brothers T.J. Watt and Derek Watt.

VARSITY STATUS: York joined CAA in 2016 after five years at ICM Partners, where she was a partner in the Alternative Television department. Before ICM she was a television packaging agent at N.S. Bienstock for six years; she was also a development executive at Spike TV.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “I was looking for new opportunities and thought it was intriguing to come to work in sports. We had incredible clients, but packaging with production companies was not much of a priority in the day-to-day business. I help athletes figure out their overall strategies. I wasn’t intimidated by the athletes — I know this field and love to explain it to them. They are super-excited to have someone helping them. You dig into their interests outside of sports and they get really engaged. And my 8-year-old son can’t believe that J.J. Watt and Chris Paul are texting his mom to ask advice.

“I know what they want and I bring opportunities to them but it’s always a dialogue. Even if it’s a ‘no,’ I learn more about them. I learned that Aaron Rodgers was interested in the environment and nature and that he had just visited the Dalai Lama and gone to Africa, so knowing that is insightful and gives great guidance about what to bring to him in the next six months.”