With Sports occupying increasingly prime real estate in the world of television, it is worth not just noting but celebrating the fact that women have been instrumental to that spectacular growth story. From Molly Solomon leveraging her London Olympics producing stint to keep Golf Channel climbing, to Melinda Witmer negotiating Time Warner Cable’s game-changing Los Angeles Dodgers TV rights deal, women wield greater influence than ever. For this year’s annual “Women in the Game” special report, we acknowledge Solomon, Witmer and other previous honorees , but we shine the brightest spotlight on an all-new roster of key players helping shape the sports media business. From talent agents to league and team executives, legal eagles to digital gurus, this group of women has already left a distinctive mark. And there is, as sportscasters like to say, plenty of game left to be played. And now, here is your starting lineup.
Executive VP, Business Operations, Los Angeles Lakers
KEY STATS: The daughter of Jerry Buss, the late Lakers owner, Jeanie Buss has been in her post since 1999; prior to that she was president of the Great Western Forum and the owner of the Los Angeles Blades of the onetime Roller Hockey International inline hockey league.
VARSITY STATUS: Buss has been courtside for much of her life. Now, having overseen the Los Angeles Lakers’ business operations for 14 seasons, she is at the forefront of one of the country’s most profitable sports franchises. Two years ago, the Lakers, which had been one of the last teams to offer games over the air, struck an unprecedented 20-year deal, valued at a reported $4 billion, with Time Warner Cable to create a pair of HD regional sports networks (RSNs), including the country’s first Spanish-language RSN. The deal sent shock waves throughout the industry (including some dropped jaws at its reported value), but other sports franchises are following suit to create their own RSNs.
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: Seen as one of the unstoppable forces in the NBA, the Lakers have been at the top of the game for many years. Now, boasting distribution with MSOs DirecTV, Charter, Verizon, and Bright House, among others, the Lakers are bringing TV Everywhere capabilities to the RSNs to compete with the live-streaming efforts of many other professional sports teams. In addition, programming related to the Lakers like Backstage Lakers, Lakers All Access and Making of the Laker Girls expand the possibilities of pre- and postgame programming for the RSNs. Also up in the air last year was whether or not Buss’ longtime fiancé, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, would return to the team, which he did not.
IN HER WORDS: “[The deal with Time Warner Cable] was a difficult decision, but again, we weighed the desires of our fans for a competitive team and more programming. The over-the-air model didn’t allow for the kind of in-depth ancillary programming our fans wanted, and we can provide them with that with Time Warner Cable SportsNet.” —Lindsay Rubino
KIMBERLY A. CARVER
President and CEO, Altitude Sports & Entertainment
KEY STATS: Carver took the reins of Altitude Sports and Entertainment in November 2011. The Denver area native began her career in 1984 as a teenager working for her dad’s company, JPI Productions, a live sports production company that produced high school, college and professional sports programming throughout Colorado’s Front Range area. After graduating from the University of Denver in 1991, Carver embarked on an international career that would take her to Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore before she returned to the U.S. in 2008 to help create and launch The Mtn.—a TV network dedicated to the MountainWest Conference— in a swift six weeks.
VARSITY STATUS: Carver has held management positions with some of the industry’s most prestigious and innovative companies, including Star Television in China, Foxtel and ESPN. Her experience with international sports such as rugby, table tennis and cricket, coupled with her localgirl status and understanding of the Colorado market, made her very valuable to Altitude. She calls her lack of ego one of her strongest attributes. “I didn’t get into this business to become the president of a company,” she says. “I love the minutia of putting TV together. I love the puzzle pieces of TV.”
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: Among all her other responsibilities, Carver has been running the World Fishing Network on an interim basis since president Mark Rubenstein stepped down late last year. Altitude finalized its acquisition of Outdoor Channel on May 17, beating out InterMedia Partners, which had initially tried to buy the company earlier this year. It’s still unclear how World Fishing, Altitude TV and Outdoor Channel will work together but it’s a good bet that Carver will have a major role to play in overseeing all three networks.
IN HER WORDS: “I think being a woman has helped me in my career,” Carver says. “Some people have underestimated me, but I’ve never been intimidated by the good old boy network. I would tell someone who is interested in getting into this business to work hard, not be afraid of picking up the phone, surround yourself with smart people and let them do their job. And never limit your options. I reworked a customer guide at one job. I had never done anything like that before. It didn’t come with a promotion and it meant no more money. But I learned a lot and I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I had said, ‘It’s not in my job description.’” —K.C. Neel
Coordinating Producer, NBC Olympics
KEY STATS: Chatman has worked eight previous Olympic Games. In Beijing and Vancouver, Chatman produced the latenight show hosted by Mary Carillo, and in London she coproduced the afternoon show on the network. “I watched the Olympics my whole life,” says Chatman, whose life as an avid sports fan begins with her beloved Washington Redskins. “In the 1984 Olympics, I was 12 years old; watching [gold-medal gymnast] Mary Lou [Retton] get that perfect score was a seminal moment for me,” she says. Chatman started at NBC as an intern and got to attend the 1996 Olympics, a thrill in and of itself. “So when NBC started its Olympic unit in 1998, I immediately applied,” she says.
VARSITY STATUS: Chatman has worked on everything from the Kentucky Derby to the Ryder Cup to Notre Dame football to Wimbledon to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. She was a sideline producer for the inaugural season of NBC’s Sunday Night Football and a sound package producer for the Football Night in America studio show from 2007-12. “I’m a quick study, so I love the diversity of my job,” says Chatman, who is also doing some production work at the French Open over the next two weeks. Part of the fun in the Olympics coverage comes from the dual challenge of not only telling the athletes’ stories, but reintroducing viewers to sports they may only watch every four years. Curling has become a real favorite. “I remember being in the control room cheering during the curling event,” Chatman says. “You get so drawn in.”
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: For the 2014 Sochi Games, Chatman will serve as coordinating producer for NBC’s coverage. She will serve as producer on the primetime show hosted by Bob Costas. “There’s so much that goes into planning for the Olympics,” she says. “Every city is different, and we have to capture the atmosphere of each. We also have to bring a thousand people to a foreign country.”
IN HER WORDS: “My passion for the Olympics is what drives me. There are so many things to do in the Olympic unit, and I am hands-on in all aspects of production.” —Stuart Miller
Executive VP and CFO, ESPN
KEY STATS: Driessen worked for the public accounting firm of Peat, Marwick and Mitchell as a controller before joining ESPN way back in 1985. She became VP, finance and planning in 1990; in 1994, she became senior VP and chief financial officer, rising to her current role in 1998.
VARSITY STATUS: Driessen has an enormous portfolio, with responsibility for all of ESPN’s financial operations worldwide; she also advises on planning for all new business ventures, acquisitions and programming initiatives. And she has worked closely with John Skipper since he ascended to the president’s spot. Name a rights deal, any rights deal—Major League Baseball, Monday Night Football, the new college football playoffs—and Driessen’s input was crucial. You can play the same name game with carriage deals, whether with Time Warner, Comcast or Cox Communications. She was also a major player behind the launch of each new network in the company, including ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU and ESPN Deportes.
“It’s hard to single any one out,” she says of trying to pick the most vital responsibility in her purview, adding that the rights deals in particular “came in such rapid fire in the past year to 18 months, and all are important.” On a personal level, as an avid college football fan, Driessen did enjoy being in on the conversations about the realignments and changes to the playoff and championship system.
She is especially proud of two other projects. ESPN was an inaugural partner with the State Department on the Global Sports Mentoring Program started by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. ESPN hosted two women from Africa who came to learn about the business and bring their skills and information back home. “It’s an important initiative and very fulfilling,” says Driessen, who delivered the keynote speech at the project’s wrap-up celebration. (ESPN has signed up for another year with the program.) “I’m also proud of our continued investment in [online streaming service] espnW,” she says. Driessen says she’s “passionate” about giving back and paving the way for other women and is especially excited about this year’s Nine for IX project, which features woman producers and directors creating films about female athletes and journalists.
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: Driessen says she and the network will continue looking for more rights deals, but the focus for the next year will be about revamping SportsCenter and building a new studio to take advantage of the latest technology for the program that is at the heart of ESPN.
IN HER WORDS: “In 28 years, I have never had a week or a day where I felt I was unable to have an impact here. That gives me the satisfaction that keeps me motivated.” —SM
VP and General Manager of CBS Interactive Advanced Media
KEY STATS: Before coming to CBS in 2007, Hirsch was VP, digital media services at Muze (now Rovi) for a year; VP, client services at Synacor; and before that she was director, broadband products at Charter Communications.
VARSITY STATUS: Overseeing the production, management and monetization of websites, streaming products, mobile services and ecommerce, Hirsch has been at the top of her game at CBS. Last year, when CBS was the home to the most social sporting event of the year—the Super Bowl—the network set a record for the most live-streaming viewers at about 3 million, though it wasn’t even the first time the NFL championship game had been available online. Not only did CBS make the Super Bowl viewable on the go, its second-screen features, including alternative camera angles and access to the popular commercials as they were broadcast, boosted social media activity as well as the time spent on CBS’ online properties. Even with so high-profile an event, the Super Bowl is still only a slice of CBSiAM’s sports pie, which boasts a 75% market share in college athletics across the now-eight conferences, producing more than 150 official sites.
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: As the digital experience constantly evolves and users become hungrier for better, faster and more interactive content, CBSiAM has responded with revamping existing features to keep up with sports fans’ needs. It is currently overhauling a product that tracks scores interactively, with a planned rollout for the new version in the fall. Most importantly, Hirsch says, is expanding CBSiAM users’ video experience and finding second-screen features that they actually want to spend more time with beyond the big-name events like the Super Bowl. And now, with new clients such as the PGA Tour and internal units CBSSports.com and CBS.com, there are even more portals through which CBSiAM can connect with viewers—and which Hirsch can help mold and evolve.
IN HER WORDS: “The great thing about sports is that, especially when it comes to live streaming, it has really led the way. I think sports changed the face of what we see out there. It’s expanding so rapidly in the digital world.” —LR
Game Producer, MLB on Fox
KEY STATS: Before coming to Fox, Langley produced college basketball games on ESPN from 1996-2002 and Cleveland Indians games and Cleveland Cavaliers pregame shows while serving from 1990-96 as an associate director at ESPN on an array of different sports productions. Langley entered the field while still at Bowling Green State University, working as a production assistant at Cox Cable during summer, winter and spring breaks and as a runner—an entry-level general assistant job—on the Cleveland Grand Prix and the World Championship of Women’s Golf coverage.
VARSITY STATUS: In 1996, Langley became the first woman to produce a network baseball game. She has not only produced regularseason games—she also oversees Fox’s “Sounds of the Game” for the All-Star Game and the postseason, finding the audio nuggets of players, coaches and umpires who wear mics. It’s a delicate task, finding something revealing for the fans without violating the trust of the mic-wearers. Langely describes herself as “really conservative” in what she chooses to air, relying on her work ethic to dig deep enough to find something worthwhile. She brings that same approach to producing the games. “I work as hard as any producer out there. You always have to prove yourself worthy, especially on a network,” she says, adding that she delves into her research and watches extra games to prepare. (“MLB.TV is the best thing that ever happened,” she adds.)
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: With two children, Langley—whose husband is a freelance cameraman—has, for years, headed home during baseball’s off-season, enabling her to volunteer inside the classroom and help coach local baseball and softball teams. Now her kids are teenagers, and last winter she started itching for more work. “I’m hoping, especially with [the start of new network] Fox Sports 1, there will be more personal opportunities for me when baseball is not in season.”
IN HER WORDS: Langley has always approached her job as a producer, not as a woman producer. “I think if more women just approach the job as a job, it will lead to more success,” she says. That said, she acknowledges that being a woman provides her with a different skill set. “I might be a little more sensitive to other people’s issues,” she says, emphasizing that she doesn’t believe all male producers are ogres. “If [someone on her team] makes a mistake that shows up on-screen, I give them the benefit of the doubt,” she says. “There is no one feeling worse than that person so I don’t berate them, which some people have the tendency to do. I’ll speak to them quietly afterward.” —SM
VP, West Coast Broadcast, IMG
KEY STATS: Perry’s professional journey began when she graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in communications. She served as an assistant to the VP of news at the William Morris Agency. Moving on from WMA, Perry started up new agency Ken Lindner and Associates, where she was president of programming. She then moved to head up the broadasting division at ICM.
VARSITY STATUS: Last year, Perry helped negotiate Erin Andrews’ big move from ESPN to Fox Sports, where Andrews now hosts the network’s college football studio program, Fox College Football, and is expected to have a presence on new cable network Fox Sports 1. In addition, Perry helped Andrews nab a guest-hosting stint on Live! With Kelly and Michael. She has also often helped former athletes and coaches find their footing in broadcasting. Among that list: former NFL cornerback Eric Davis, who calls games for the San Francisco 49ers on San Francisco’s KNBR radio, got the gig as one of the cohosts of NFL Network’s NFL AM morning program with Perry’s help. She also helped former WNBA great Lisa Leslie and onetime college football coach Rich Neuheisel transition into life behind the mic.
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: Perry is currently developing a movie about John Wooden, working with the estate of the late UCLA coaching legend. Perry’s favorite client, her husband Ron Pitts (they met in college where he was playing football before his five-season pro career), works as a play-by-play broadcaster for Fox’s NFL coverage, and he’s set to host a syndicated show for OK! Magazine. Perry also recently added former NFL safety Rod Woodson to her growing roster.
IN HER WORDS: “My passion for people and wanting to help people in their career is what motivates me. I really enjoy the trust factor….I have really enjoyed taking someone from the beginning of their career and working through the process of helping them continue with [it] and keeping them employed. I enjoy that process. Most of my clients who came to me were unemployed when I got them.” —Tim Baysinger
KEY STATS: Richie was senior VP and CMO for Girl Scouts of the USA; account executive at Oglivy & Mather, working on campaigns for American Express, Pepperidge Farm, Pond’s, Huggies and Kotex as well as for pro bono clients such as the Museum for African Art, the Hospital for Special Surgery and the New York City Commission on Human Rights. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College.
VARSITY STATUS: Richie is relatively new to sports. But since she took over the WNBA’s leadership in 2011, she has undertaken ambitious goals, including a rebranding of the league. “We needed a brand refresh,” she says. “And given my background in marketing and that this is where my passion is, it seemed like the right project.” That started with a new logo. The original WNBA logo, based on computer-generated images, was an echo of the NBA’s famed Jerry West silhouette and seemed static and old-fashioned. “We wanted something that would reflect the athleticism and diversity of the game today,” says Richie, who played the role of project leader. The new “logowoman” was taken from photos of real WNBA players and the player is leaping skyward, making it a more dynamic symbol.
The league also reached a TV deal extension with ESPN, one that added more coverage including the WNBA draft, which this year was loaded with high-profile talent such as Brittney Griner. While Richie left the actual negotiations to others, she worked diligently to enhance the league’s relationship with the all-powerful sports brand by implementing regular sit-downs to discuss possible editorial content and to help provide access to the games and the players across all the platforms. After all, that is her signature on every official Spalding WNBA game ball.
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: WNBA game attendance dipped last year, something Richie attributes to myriad factors including the Olympics airing during a chunk of the season. But she now points to growth in group sales and renewals as positive signs—not to mention the addition of potential superstar Griner. “This is a significant year in our history and evolution,” Richie says. “The ESPN deal was a critical validation.” A new partnership with State Farm and the possible return of Procter & Gamble (“we’re in early discussions”) are also proof that “the interest and energy are back,” Richie says.
IN HER WORDS: “When I started, there were very few women and especially women of color in my field. So while I’m always humbled and flattered by recognition, this is particularly exciting for me. Because for a lot of my career, my passion has been about creating opportunities for women and young girls. Being a role model is really important.” And regarding the WNBA, “We will look back at this season 20 years from now and say it was a good year.” —SM
TV agent, CAA
KEY STATS: Sendrow began her career as an intern at IMG in the company’s speakers division. She passed the bar exam, but entered William Morris Agency’s agent trainee program, opting to turn down an opportunity to join a law firm by sticking with agent life. She then joined WMA’s TV-Alternative department, working with a range of on-air broadcasting talent such as newscasters, hosts, and sportscasters. Sendrow made the move to CAA in 2010.
VARSITY STATUS: Sendrow reps some of the top players in sports broadcasting including Michelle Beadle, Rich Eisen, Joe Buck, Kenny Smith and Linda Cohn. She helped negotiate Beadle’s move from ESPN to NBCUniversal, which expanded her role to entertainment. Sendrow also was able to secure SNY’s Kevin Burkhardt, who is seen as a rising star in the broadcasting industry, an additional season of play-by- play work as the national radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys for Compass Media. Sendrow has also been instrumental in creating opportunities for her clients, many of whom are former athletes, in avenues beyond the playing field. To name just a few, she made the deal for NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp to serve as a judge on TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters; got former pitcher Rob Dibble his hosting duties on the Hulu original Web series Raising the Bar (for CAA’s client Diageo); and helped Eisen, an NFL Network anchor, secure the hosting job on the TNT competition show The Great Escape.
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: Sendrow prefers to remain mum on specifics regarding current work with her clients. But a big part of the charter remains expanding her clients’ reach that includes looking for ways to expand a TV broadcaster’s role to radio or digital, and vice-versa. She is also active in helping clients set up and philanthropic efforts.
IN HER WORDS: “I was [always] going to be working very hard. But did I want to be doing something that I loved and was passionate about personally and that I always dreamed of doing, or did I want to take the easy [way], make a lot of money up front [and] pay off my law school debts? For me, it was a lot more important to be interested in what I was going to be doing.” —TB
Assistant General Counsel, Turner Sports
KEY STATS: Before joining Turner Sports as assistant general counsel, Shah interned at the company while studying for her J.D. at Emory School of Law. After working as an associate at large firm Alston & Bird, she returned to Turner, where she has now worked for 12 years. The longtime sports fan has surprised even herself with her career destination. “There’s nothing more exciting than getting to practice something that you’re naturally a fan of,” Shah says. “To be a fan and to work in the industry—what a great marriage.”
VARSITY STATUS: Shah has been a major player in the expansion of Turner’s sports footprint. She’s had a hand in extending the company’s contract with Major League Baseball through 2021; securing the digital and television rights to the NCAA; and getting digital and television rights for golf’s PGA Championship under a 10-year agreement. She also earned a big win for Turner when she helped land Shaquille O’Neal as an analyst for TNT’s Inside the NBA. Most recently, Shah played a pivotal role in the acquisition of prominent blog Bleacher Report in August 2012. When she’s not making big plays in the sports arena, Shah dedicates time and energy to helping underrepresented groups in the legal field, helping steer Turner Women Today (which cultivates a support network for female executives) and Turner’s diversity committee. Teaming with Street Law’s Pipeline Program, the committee exposes high school students to different areas of the law and stages mock negotiations at the Turner offices.
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: Shah continues to work with the executive team to grow Turner’s sports properties. One ongoing project is the evolution of TV Everywhere, via an expanded app (announced this month during Turner’s upfront presentation) to allow live streaming of Turner content on tablets and smartphones. In 2014, MLB broadcasts will be a key element in that offering.
IN HER WORDS: “I’m sure everyone would agree that [sports business] is more dominated by men. But the primary focus for me and for the people that I work with is: What value are you bringing to the table? Are you intelligent? Are you a team player? Are you creative? I think I’m in an environment where people just care about being surrounded by the best people.” —Alicia Barber
Executive VP, Business & Legal Affairs, Fox Networks Group
KEY STATS: Becoming a sports fan is something that Claudia Teran had to grow into, but now she’s having a ball. “I work in a business that I love,” she says. “And I never would have known as a [first-year law student] that you could have this kind of career.” After earning her J.D. from New York University, Teran worked at the law firm Sidley and Austin before stepping into the role of senior VP, business and legal affairs, for Fox Cable Networks.
VARSITY STATUS: The second-highest-ranking legal executive in the business and legal affairs branch of Fox Networks Group, Teran led the charge to secure Fox’s rights to broadcast the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and 2022, in addition to all FIFA events between 2015 and 2022. She has also been instrumental in getting the rights to other major league sports events. With Fox International Channels, Teran was at the helm of Fox’s expansion into Latin America, overseeing the acquisition of ESPN/STAR sports and the launch of Fox Sports Brazil.
NEAR-TERM OUTLOOK: Next for Teran is the debut of Fox Sports 1, a national sports network featuring live coverage of college sports, NASCAR, soccer and UFC, which is set to premiere Aug. 17. The channel will also develop original programming, including the talk show Rush Hour, hosted by Regis Philbin. Beginning in 2014, Fox Sports 1 will also host regular and postseason MLB games. Now, Teran and her team will take on sports TV’s kingpin ESPN by continuing to work toward launching other sports networks around the globe.
IN HER WORDS: “I have noticed a dramatic increase in women who are coming up the ranks. A lot more women who are not just interested in sports, but who are really wellprepared. Women who are trying to get into this universe who are really knowledgeable. And I think they have a huge future ahead of them.” Teran identifies digital media as an area where lawyers who are new to the industry can set themselves apart. “An up-and-coming woman trying to get into this business would benefit from learning everything they can about new media.” —AB
WOMEN IN THE GAME: ALUMNI UPDATE
This year’s edition of our annual special report features something of an all-star Women in the Game rookie team, with no names you might recognize from lists of past honorees. There are plenty of highly qualified new candidates out there, with the numbers growing every year. This, however, offers a perfect excuse to check back in with some of the amazing folks from our past lists. Here are a number of recent standouts from our Women in the Game alumni rolls, along with what they’ve been up to lately.
April Carty-Sipp (2011): The former Comcast executive learned the company’s Philadelphia HQ environs well enough to take a position in October 2012 as VP and director of programming for WPVI, the ABC affiliate in Philly.
Christina Miller (2012): It’s always playoff time for Miller in her dual exec role at Turner Broadcasting as senior VP and general manager of NBA Digital. Miller made headlines earlier this month for a partnership between Twitter and the league that will see video replays of key game moments come to the social network.
Molly Solomon (2012): The Golf Channel’s executive producer, the first woman to hold that title for any network, continues to leverage her links know-how, signing long-ago colleague Ahmad Rashad as host of the network’s Morning Drive show and steering a 10th anniversary documentary looking back at when Annika Sorenstam played on the men’s tour.
Melinda Witmer (2011, 2012): The executive VP and chief video and content officer for Time Warner Cable is playing an increasingly central role in the future of sports broadcasting. Her latest feat— or risky bet, depending on one’s point of view—was handling the negotiations that resulted in an $8 billion deal for Los Angeles Dodgers games.