WISE Women Do Sports

Gatorade Market Development Associate Vanessa Saavedra and ESPN Account Executive Cicely K. Camahan attend the Women in Sports and Events (WISE) panel discussion with Los Angeles Clippers executives.
Gatorade Market Development Associate Vanessa Saavedra and ESPN Account Executive Cicely K. Camahan attend a panel discussion at Staples Center that involved Women in Sports and Events (WISE) and Los Angeles Clippers executives.

LOS ANGELES-Women in sports have always had an uphill climb to match their male peers in acceptability and being taken as equal in the workforce. Whether it’s fighting for equal pay as coaches or sports administrators, having the same type of media access of male reporters in sports locker rooms or brushing back sexual advances in the workplace, women are still marching up the ladder towards a more level playing field.

Women like Billie Jean King, Wilma Rudolph, Babe Didrikson and Alice Coachman have helped pave the way for other women to achieve and strive higher in sports. Women in sports today have taken their cue from the likes of a FloJo (Florence Griffith Joyner), tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, Olympian Mary Decker, ice skater Peggy Fleming and swimming legend Pat McCormick and are finding their way to success in the sports industry.

Women have taken their roles in sport higher than the playing field. Women are not just playing sports; they are also help shaping the way sports are viewed.  They are power brokers and movers and shakers in an industry previous ran exclusively by men.  In many ways, it is still.

However, women are making big strides today to balance things out.

Their voices are being heard as executives, public relations gurus, reporters and analysts, game day operators and as owners of professional sports teams. It is not unusual to see women in charge of collegiate athletics departments or running high school sports programs as athletic director. In some ways, change has come.

Today, you just can’t just think about Candace Parker bouncing a basketball as a player for the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA without acknowledging that the team is ran by Penny Toler, executive vice president and general manger of team.

And when you think about the WNBA, kudos has to be given to Sheila Johnson, the first African American woman to buy a piece of a league franchise when she took over the Washington Mystics.

You can’t just think about sports journalists like Jemelle Hill, Suzy Kolber, Erin Andrews and Andrea Kremer without paying homage to Phyllis George and Jayne Kennedy, two women considered to be leading pioneers for females in sports broadcasting. George made her debut with the NFL Today crew in 1974.

Kennedy followed George’s footsteps, becoming the first African American women to hold down a sports broadcasting gig when she joined The NFL Today team in 1978.Women in Sports and Events (WISE) won’t let that happen. With over 10 branches nationwide, WISE is a network group of professionals in the sports industry that encourages and promotes growth for women in the arena.

Recently, at a recent function in Los Angeles, WISE held a panel discussion among its some of its members with Los Angeles Clippers executives to discuss industry trends, how to engage fans and learning the ropes of business operations for a professional sports team, particularly an NBA franchise.

Representing Clippers management were Joe Safety, vice president of communications, Ashley Hall, director of group sales and ticket analytics, Joe Kelly, director of fan relations and services, Urel Martinez, director of ticket sales, Amy Girgis-Abadir, corporate sponsorship sales and executive and Alexandra Novak, account executive.

WISE members in attendance were pretty excited about taking part in the discussion and learning more about the sports industry from parts of the Clippers management team. Calling working with the Clippers “an amazing experience,” Novak provides great insight on some of the challenges she constantly faces.

Despite a background heavily-laden in and around sports, Novak said she still finds herself having to prove she is as good as her male colleagues.

WISE member Brittney Hayes an Los Angeles Clippers Account Executive Alexandra Novak.
WISE member Brittney Hayes and Los Angeles Clippers Account Executive Alexandra Novak.

Novak was an athlete in college. She worked at San Diego State’s media relations department as an intern, eventually moving up to sports management in graduate school. However, she still deals with her share of hurdles as a woman, she said.

“It’s been difficult to the extent that you’re competing with men, Novak said. “I’m in a sales-driven environment. I have to talk sports with men-not only basketball, but football and baseball on the phone. I have to prove myself daily to be number one.

“Being part of the WISE event, I believe it is very beneficial to the women because they a chance to see what we do on a day-to-day basis. They can ask questions and kind of get more of an understanding of the difficulties and, of course, all of the benefits of working for a professional sports team.”

Another obstacle Novak says she has had to overcome to become as successful as she has become is getting in front of overly exertive peers and potential customers.

“Number one, you have to compete with men,” Novak said. “Their more aggressive, so you need to be ten times more aggressive than them. Additionally, it’s the ballplayers. You have people trying to pick up on you. You have the clients trying to pick up on you. You have to try to keep it as a very professional relationship, because if you don’t you’re going to fail. Men don’t understand that, but you as a woman you have understand to keep it professional.”

Brittney Hayes is a Clippers season-ticket holder. She is also a WISE member. Hayes, who has a membership with WISE for several years, said the organization is a terrific resource tree for women involved in sports. From employment referrals to networking opportunities such as one the Clippers brass conducted at Staples Center, Hayes said WISE is a great tool for business camaraderie and career connections.

“I really, really love and appreciate what WISE does,” Hayes said. “It connects women in sports who and those aspiring to be in sports and puts us all on an even playing field. It gives us access to one another at the event and outside of the event.

“There’s a great website and a great network  that we all can also reach out to and communicate that way…it’s really, really great. This event, in conjunction with the Clippers is great because the Clippers also do that; the great opportunity to do a lot of events.”

Cicely K. Camahan, an account executive for ESPN Hispanic Digital Sales West, said the WISE event was a chance for women in sports to bond together.

“To see women is sports…I work for ESPN, and being a bit of a boys club, it’s kind of nice to find organizations that really empower women to meet each other. I just made a great connection here today. This is about networking and really sharing ideas of what it is to be in an industry we all love.”



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