What really excites me about the sports industry is not only the continual evolution we see through emerging industries like eSports and the integration of augmented reality and virtual reality into the consumer experience, but the continued development and investment of equity in women. As an educator, I find myself consistently communicating to my students that “sports are a reflection of society.” This could not be truer today.
Let’s take a look at the current state of the industry:
The recent championship run by the United States Women’s National Team in the 2019 World Cup shed further light on an important social issue—the gender pay gap. The historic data tells us men traditionally make more money than women do, a systemic problem that is not just related to professional sports. However, we now have reason for optimism as a recent Nielsen Sports report indicated 84% of general sports fans have an interest in women’s sports. Along with this increased interest comes more money that can create a bright future for lucrative sponsorship and media rights deals for female athletes. Furthermore, companies like Nike are featuring female athletes such as Serena Williams, the world’s highest paid female athlete, in commercials and ad campaigns that emphasize empowerment and inclusion.
In addition, women are making their way up the ranks of previously male-dominated franchises. The Boston Celtics, arguably the most historic in the NBA, recently hired former WNBA and Olympic champion Kara Lawson as an assistant coach. She joins a growing group of female coaches on NBA benches, including Dallas’ Jenny Boucek, Cleveland’s Lindsay Gottleib, and San Antonio’s Becky Hammon. And let’s not forget about Jennifer Welter (Arizona Cardinals), Kathryn Smith (Buffalo Bills), Katie Sowers (San Fransisco 49ers), and Kelsey Martinez (Oakland Raiders) from the NFL who were hired as assistant coaches in a sport that is historically led by men. These women are trailblazers who demonstrate the reality that professional sports organizations are now hiring the best possible candidates for job openings, regardless of gender.
Women are not only leading on the field as players and coaches, they are also leading in the front office. Now more than ever before we are experiencing the rise of the powerful female executive. For example, in 2018 Forbes named Michele Robert, executive director of the NBA Players Association, as the most powerful women in U.S. sports. Roberts is the first women to lead a major sports union in North America. This appointment, along with all of the other strides women in sports have made recently, provides evidence that the proverbial glass ceiling has all but shattered and women in sports—both on the field and in leadership—have more forward momentum now than ever before.
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