This is the fifth year that B&C and MultichannelNews have paid tribute to exemplary female sports media professionals with a “Women in the Game” special report. Selecting an entirely new roster each year has gotten steadily tougher. In part, that’s due to the ways sports coverage has grown more complex, stretching across platforms and involving more disciplines than ever, meaning the outstanding candidates may not be doing their work in conventional places. There also, it must be noted, could be more female presence in the traditional TV ranks. All of that said, this year’s class runs an impressive gamut—from digital smarts to promotional savvy to live production chops. Here’s to more honorees this good, and better.
VP of talent services, Turner Sports
KEY STATS: August oversees all aspects of the talent department across the division’s television and digital platforms, with an emphasis on serving as primary liaison to all sport teams, leagues, agents and celebrities to facilitate contract negotiations and special guest bookings. She also manages the production development of features and specials projects for TNT, TBS and NBA TV for Turner Sports’ television properties including the NBA, NASCAR, NCAA, MLB and professional golf, along with digital platforms NBA.com, NCAA.com, BleacherReport. com and PGA.com.
VARSITY STATUS: August served in a variety of production roles at Turner Sports and served as a main contact between teams, leagues and Turner sports talent prior to her current role. Earlier, she was an account director for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, where she managed extensive sports marketing partnerships designed to promote social marketing causes via sports personalities and organizations. She serves on the sports task force of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).
IN HER WORDS: “For everyone who thinks my job is cool and fun, crank that up by 100% in real life. This is bigger than I ever dreamed of or imagined. It’s the kind of job you never really hear about. I’m fortunate to be under 40 so I have a few more decades to work.”
Senior VP of content acquisition, Time Warner Cable
KEY STATS: Chun handles content-related deals for both national and regional sports networks including studio shows and premium programming. Her expertise is not limited to networks, though. Her deals often spill over onto Time Warner’s other platforms, such as smart devices.
VARSITY STATUS: Chun has been a prominent player on the legal side of cable television since 2000, when she joined Fox Cable Networks as a senior VP and director of business and legal affairs. She later held senior VP roles at Fox Interactive Media, Fox Audience Network and, immediately before Time Warner Cable, she was senior VP of business and legal affairs for News Corp. Digital Media.
IN HER WORDS: “This industry is so dynamic, there is so much innovation and change, that I honestly don’t worry whether the job will continue to be challenging, fun, frustrating, exciting and all those things that make this an amazing place to be. What I worry about more is whether I will be with people I respect, people I have fun with and are supportive. I’m more focused on culture.”
Co-senior VP, business and legal affairs, NBC Sports Group; senior VP, strategic partnerships, NBC Sports Regional Networks
KEY STATS: Cohen started her legal career focusing on M&A, securities, finance, licensing and intellectual property matters as a corporate associate at a Philadelphia law fi rm. She quickly dived into the world of sports as an associate general counsel with Comcast Spectacor in 1996, working with its sports properties that included the Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia 76ers, arena management and concessions, and Comcast’s first regional sports network. Cohen was upped to VP and associate general counsel of Comcast Spectacor in 2000. Following that, she served as senior VP and general counsel of Comcast Sports Group (now NBC Sports Regional Networks) and Versus (now NBC Sports Network).
VARSITY STATUS: Cohen’s current responsibilities include oversight of business and legal affairs for NBC Sports Regional Networks, which involves sports rights acquisitions and programming, talent and personnel, ad sales and sponsorships, marketing, operations and coordination with NBCUniversal Distribution group. She also oversees talent and new business ventures for NBC Sports Group.
IN HER WORDS: “I was a practicing lawyer and knew I wanted to move in-house into an interesting business, and so when I started off with Comcast Spectacor and the Flyers and 76ers and their arenas and the new regional sports network that they were launching with Comcast in Philly, that sounded a lot more interesting than the glass manufacturing, M&A deals and securities fi lings I was working on at the time. What’s kept me in this business is, obviously, it’s entertaining and exciting to see your product and sports product up on the screen.”
– Luke McCord
Executive VP, global business strategy and original content, ESPN
KEY STATS: Donoghue is responsible for setting ESPN’s global strategy and negotiating various business and rights deals. She also serves on ESPN’s executive committee. Donoghue played a key role in the renewal of Monday Night Football through 2021. She is in charge of Grantland and oversaw the launch of FiveThirtyEight, which spawned Exit 31.
VARSITY STATUS: Donoghue joined ESPN in 1998 from Starwave Ventures, the company that produced ESPN’s early Internet products. Her business-development rise has made her a key player in identifying and executing on new business opportunities, including program-rights agreements with the likes of the NFL, NBA and MLB, and developing long-term growth strategies. Earlier, she was an associate for the Wall Street law firm Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, in New York and Hong Kong, and was senior director of legal affairs for PolyGram Holdings.
IN HER WORDS: “After school, I had hoped to work in entertainment law. I had no idea that my career would be so much fun, first focusing on technology and sports and ultimately combining corporate strategy and creative. I’d like to continue to expand creatively beyond documentaries at ESPN Films and our online offerings at FiveThirtyEight and Grantland. We have built an amazing team and I look forward to that team continuing to develop and produce excellent differentiated content.”—KC
President, CEO and founder, MSG Promotions
KEY STATS: Founded in 1983, the Allentown, Pa.-based MSG has racked up more than $200 million in revenue and nearly 300 clients, but its calling card is golf’s U.S. Open. The U.S. Golf Association picked MSG exclusively to do marketing and management for corporate hospitality sales, operations and client services. That means the company is currently in peak tournament mode (this year’s Open kicks off June 18), not just for 2015, but for the following two years as well.
VARSITY STATUS: Woven through the development of MSG has been several other extraordinary professional strands for Griffin. After early-career marketing stints in banking (Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust) and footwear (Converse), Griffin focused on her basketball roots. Having played at Pitt, she became ESPN’s primary women’s basketball analyst from 1983- 99 and with CBS Sports from 1985-91. In 1990, she became the first woman to serve as a color analyst for a men’s NCAA tournament game on ESPN. In 1991, she was the first woman to broadcast the first two rounds of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. Alongside Robin Roberts, she served as studio analyst for ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament from 1996-99.
IN HER WORDS: Before her induction into the women’s basketball Hall of Fame last summer, Griffin told the Allentown Morning Call that the honor belonged to “the people inmy life, especially my husband and kids, who gave me the freedom to pursue my passion, which is women’s basketball. They didn’t just understand, but participated. That has meant so much to me.” –Dade Hayes
Senior coordinating producer, studio production, NFL Network
KEY STATS: A six-time Emmy winner, Larone oversees the production of thousands of hours of live studio programming for NFL Network and the staff that produces the network’s signature shows NFL Total Access, GameDay Morning and Around The NFL.
VARSITY STATUS: Larone’s career began with ABC Sports as a production assistant for Monday Night Football, college football games and Wide World of Sports. She was part of the team that helped launch Fox Sports in 1994, serving as a feature producer for Fox NFL Sunday and eventually producing hundreds of live sports events and studio shows including the NFL, NHL, MLB, Super Bowls and the World Series. Larone also served as the coordinating producer for Fox Sports’ Best Damn Sports Show Period. Prior to joining NFL Network in 2012, Larone was VP and executive producer of DirecTV Entertainment.
IN HER WORDS: “I’ve been fortunate to be part of this business for my entire career and have seen it evolve from one where talented, creative women with a love for sports had limited growth opportunities to today where more and more women are having a tremendous impact on our industry with many in key leadership roles. I credit hard work, passion and perseverance for much of this transformation and I recognize and appreciate the commitment from organizations like WISE (Women in Sports and Events) and employers such as the NFL who push for and provide these opportunities.” —Tim Baysinger
Director of league partnerships, Whistle Sports
KEY STATS: Lodge is responsible for integrated digital strategy across Whistle Sports’ league partners including the NFL, NASCAR, MLBAM, The PGA Tour, USSA and Major League Lacrosse. She focuses on business development, content production and distribution via complex social strategies. One of the first employees hired at Whistle Sports in 2011, Lodge’s work has been integral to the company, which has grown to encompass 17 million viewers across platforms such as Dude Perfect on YouTube.
VARSITY STATUS: Lodge is focused on creating a holistic content distribution and engagement strategy that resonates with young millennial fans, who view and interact with sports content in a way unique to the sports media landscape. She has been able to successfully translate those insights to Whistle Sports’ industry partners.
IN HER WORDS: “I met with John West [Whistle Sports founder and CEO] in his office at the Prudential Center [in Boston] overlooking Fenway Park. I am a lifelong Boston fan, and that is an incredible view. Hearing John’s passion, the setting of my favorite team and park, it was pretty picturesque, pretty inspiring. I knew I had to be a part of it.”
Coordinating producer, features division, Fox Sports
KEY STATS: The 38-year-old Pransky leads Fox Sports’ features division, the production unit that creates all of the network’s feature segments. A four-time Emmy winner—each in a different category—she has worked on coverage for the BCS Championship, the World Series, Daytona 500s and Super Bowl, including producing the readings of the Declaration of Independence prior to Fox’s last three Super Bowl telecasts. Pransky, who was elevated to her current position in March 2011, has served as a production assistant, broadcast associate, associate producer and feature producer since joining Fox Sports in 2000. Prior to that, the Los Angeles native worked as a sports reporter and producer at KACT Channel 8 in Aurora, Colo.
VARSITY STATUS: Pransky is spearheading Fox Sports’ features coverage of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She and her team have spent the last year producing stories of athletes from all 24 World Cup teams. More than 60 features are airing throughout the tournament across Fox’s channels and are available on-demand and online.
IN HER WORDS: “The nature of sports just fits me. It’s not the same thing every day, not the same people, not the same places.…We’re not saving lives here [covering sports]. We realize the entertainment value and release we do for people. I enjoy finding those moments that make me feel we are—not to be Miss America—trying to make the world a better place. That drives me. That’s the thing I enjoy and try to hunt down, that keeps me in the game.”
Founder, creative director, Undefined Creative
KEY STATS: Since founding the agency Undefined Creative in 2010, Maria Rapetskaya has spearheaded the delivery of promos of various shapes and sizes for the NHL. The spots follow the agency’s stated mission to “blend uncommon ideas with sophisticated design and polished execution to establish and cultivate brand awareness through motion graphics and animation.”
VARSITY STATUS: With hockey gaining new audiences (this year’s Stanley Cup Final has enjoyed record ratings) and expanding into new platforms and territories, the opportunity has only increased as the sport’s needs grow. The GameCenter Live mobile app, All-Star Fan Vote, ShopNHL.com and international Web content all presented unique challenges to the Undefined Creative team. Along with hockey, the company has also done promo work for the United States Tennis Association, as well as non-sports projects for Discovery, NBC Universal, MTV and Meredith Corp.
IN HER WORDS: A native of the former Soviet Union, Rapetskaya sees her frequent travel as an important stimulus. As she put it in a blog post for Motion. tv, when she travels, “I’ll check in with the office at times. I’ll even attempt to keep my email inbox tidy so I won’t feel so overwhelmed when I return. But I don’t allow myself to get absorbed with these details. In fact, I deleted Facebook from my phone precisely for this reason. When I’m traveling I make it a point to take a ‘news vacation’ too! The idea is to minimize anything that is not part of the journey—a skill I’ve also learned to apply in the studio. Because when I’m able to do so—when I can completely let go—I open the door to possibility.”
Still Got Game
Past “Women in the Game” honorees have continued to make strides, some within the sports segment, others beyond it. Here are some of the alumni highlights in the past year.
CHRISTINA MILLER (2012)—Turner’s overseer of NBA Digital as part of her mandate at Turner Sports, Miller last July was named president and GM for Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang amid a major Turner reorg.
BABETTE PERRY (2013)—A longtime exec at IMG, which was acquired in 2014 by William Morris Endeavor, Perry segued to Innovative Artists last spring to launch and run a broadcast/alternative TV division. She has continued to rep sports personalities while broadening further across entertainment, news and social media.
CLAUDIA TERAN (2013)—Last fall, Teran expanded her sports purview, being named general counsel of Fox Sports as Fox Networks Group continued the consolidation of its business and legal operations. She had been executive VP and deputy general counsel, looking after the net’s international sports, but now leads acquisitions of domestic and international sports rights, among other new duties.
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