Women leaders ruling the sports business

Marina Granovskaia [L], Indra Nooyi [C] and Stephanie McMahon [R] have shown what it takes to be a woman leader in the sports business.
Marina Granovskaia [L], Indra Nooyi [C] and Stephanie McMahon [R] have shown what it takes to be a woman leader in the sports business.

Ask someone what they think about sport – most would tell you it’s a source of entertainment. It’s easy to see why.

The competition, fandom, emotion and an eventual outcome associated with sport makes it intriguing to watch. The ebbs and flows and the unpredictable nature makes it irresistible. There’s drama, anguish and often a climax – all minus a pre-written script. Sport contains all the ingredients to be a money-spinner.

For the longest time, women had steered clear of sport. Men have led the majority of sports businesses since time immemorial. The general notion is that men are astute when it comes to making decisions in a sport business.

There’s an assumption that men understand sport tactics better than women do. It comes off the back of men traditionally being bigger consumers of sport.  

But it’s a blinding misconception that women and sport businesses cannot correlate. All of us love an underdog character. That’s because they challenge the norm and become role models. Here are 6 women leaders in the sports business who are inspiring many young business associates.

1. Jeanie Buss – Controlling owner at Los Angeles Lakers
2. Stephanie McMahon – Chief Brand Officer at WWE
3. Laura Gentile – Senior Vice President at espnW
4. Indra Nooyi – Independent director at the International Cricket Council
5. Marina Granovskaia – Director and Chief Executive at Chelsea Football Club
6. Kim Ng – Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations, Major League Baseball

Jeanie Buss

Buss is the president and part owner of NBA side Los Angeles Lakers. Her father Jerry was the controlling owner of the franchise and after his death, she succeeded him as President. Buss had been formally associated with the LA Lakers since much before, having served as executive vice president of business operations for 14 years. She forayed into the family business when she was only 19, becoming the general manager of Los Angeles Strings – a tennis team in the erstwhile World Tennis Team.

She’s been there for 40 years now and has taken her father’s legacy forward. Her leadership at the top has drawn widespread acclaim, with the LA Lakers winning multiple championships and attracting world class players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O Neal in recent times. 

Stephanie McMahon

Stephanie McMahon is the Chief Brand Officer of World Wrestling Entertainment [WWE]. The wrestling competition has lured large audiences worldwide off the back of over-the-top wrestling entertainment.

Stephanie is a part time wrestler and fourth generation member of the McMahon family – the founders and promoters of WWE. With a degree in communications, Stephanie rose up the ranks to become Senior Vice President of Creative Writing in 2006.

As Executive Vice President of Creative, she oversaw talent management, branding, live event booking and all social and digital media properties for WWE.

Her current position of the Chief Brand Officer lets her leverage years of experience working as a marketing specialist to enhance the brand reputation with key stakeholders such as advertisers, business partners and investors. That being said, WWE no longer has the same appeal as it once did. But Stephanie McMahon is still doing a fine job with keeping the wrestling company relevant.

Laura Gentile

Laura Gentile is the Senior Vice President of espnW, the branch of the famous sports TV network which is dedicated exclusively to female athletes. She’s held a number of roles since joining ESPN in 2003.

She was on-boarded into the espnW brand since it was conceived in 2010. A decade later, Gentile is being hailed as one of the most influential women in sports media.

Charged with building the espnW brand was quite a challenging proposition, but it’s one that Gentile has totally embraced. She built a tribe for the brand based on her vision of creating a product that wasn’t painted pink or screaming for sympathy. 

Gentile and her marketing team continue to expand ESPN’s impact across platforms in search of new audiences.  

Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi is the first female independent director of the International Cricket Council [ICC]. The former PepsiCo CEO joined the ICC in June 2018, only a couple of months before stepping down from her role at the FMCG giant.

During her time at PepsiCo, she bolstered the partnership with UEFA, which has now extended to the UEFA Women’s Champions League as well. Since 2019, she also serves on the board of Amazon. Nooyi has consistently been considered as one of the most powerful women in business and remains respected to date for not just her business tactics but also social initiatives.

Marina Granovskaia

Marina Granovskaia is the Director of Football and Chief Executive of Chelsea Football Club in the Premier League.

Marina Granovskaia, a Russian-Canadian began working for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich at his oil company Sibneft in their native Russia. 

She moved to London in 2003 to work at another Abramovich company called Millhouse Capital. Sibneft was later sold to Gazprom. Soon, she got involved with the Chelsea project and eventually climbed to the position of a Director. 

Granovskaia has an effective knack for bargaining. Possessing sharp business acumen, the Russian has made money out of unwanted players on more than one occasion.  

She sold Eden Hazard to Real Madrid at a 3x profit and drove down the asking price of many of Chelsea’s summer signings. She was influential in the record signing of Pernille Harder – the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year. Keeping the wage structure in check, discussing player sales and building partnerships are all integral to Granovskaia’s job description.

Kim Ng

Kim Ng is hugely influential in Major League Baseball [MLB] today. She’s climbed her way to becoming the Senior Vice President for Baseball Operations for MLB.

The Chicago Red Sox came calling out to her as soon as she graduated from the University of Chicago. At the age of 26 while working as a special projects analyst, she became the youngest person to present a salary arbitration case in the major leagues of pitcher Alex Fernandez, and won.

She’s been assistant General Manager of two other MLB teams – New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. Kim remained unfazed by the spree of rejections regarding her application to be General Manager at various baseball teams. In 2011, she left her position with the Dodgers to sign up for the role she holds today at Major League Baseball.

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