From this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to the World Cup in Russia and beyond, these 30 leading sports innovators are upping their game, employing new marketing data tools and strategies to enhance the fan experience. For Adweek’s third annual list of the Most Powerful Women in Sports, we welcomed top executives from fitness phenom Peloton, Super Bowl darling Michelob Ultra and perennial FIFA, NFL sponsor Visa. And of course, what’s a sports issue without spotlighting an athlete with a huge following? Here, we also speak to skiing wunderkind Mikaela Shiffrin on being the best female racer in the world and how that plays into her brand. —Lisa Granatstein
The U.S. Open turns 50 this August, but its home base is in the springtime of life, thanks to a $600-million, five-year remodel at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Adams, who’s directed the project, says the transformation happened “on time, on budget, with no public funding.” Its vast footprint and tech advancements will mean more fans can watch games played day and night, through any weather conditions. (Estimates: upwards of 720,000 attendees this year.) Adams, a CBS Sports Network contributor, as well as the first pro player, first African American and youngest person to serve as the U.S. Tennis Association’s top exec, also opened the “home of American tennis.” The 64-acre, state-of-the-art complex in Orlando, Fla., funnels players into its pro pipeline and gives court time to amateurs and weekend warriors. She also launched Net Generation, a youth initiative to cultivate tomorrow’s talent. —T.L. Stanley
When Andrews stepped into her role at Michelob Ultra about a year and a half ago, the beer brand had 13 straight quarters of growth and was the fastest-growing beer brand in America. Andrews, who has kept the momentum going, believes the beverage’s growth driver is its positioning as a beer for people who live an active lifestyle, but who still want to have some fun. “Part of how we bring our brand to life is through sports,” she explains. While the brand ran two major Super Bowl spots, Andrews says a major part of her strategy is going outside of the norm when it comes to sports sponsorships. Last year Michelob Ultra kicked off a sponsorship with the TCS New York City Marathon—giving a group of runners the chance to run in the iconic race—and served as a presenting sponsor of the Founders’ Cup of Surfing. —Katie Richards
Archer says she always knew she’d end up working in the sports industry—it was just a question of when and in what capacity. “I was trying to figure out a way over time that I could leverage my skills in strategy, new business development and operations in digital into a career that was sports-facing,” says Archer, who joined NBC Sports in her present role in 2016 after helping launch new digital businesses at the BBC and more recently HBO, where she was vp of international distribution. Archer’s global media background was a perfect fit for running NBC Sports Group’s direct-to-consumer business and livestreaming product, NBC Sports Gold, which delivers live global sports content, including rugby, motocross and Barclays English Premier League programming. Sports Gold delivers live content scarcely available to U.S. audiences, and according to Archer, there’s a lot of interest. “We’re getting more subscribers across almost every vertical, and the revenues are great, operating cash flow is great,” she says. “So, every metric I am measured by has been fantastic, but at the same time, there is really potential to punch even higher.” —A.J. Katz
Visa and its marketing chief Lynne Biggar have been busy making the global payment giant synonymous with the world of sports. In the last 12 months, Biggar and her team have worked tirelessly as a sponsor for three of the world’s largest sporting events—the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and the most recent NFL season—currently, they’re in the midst of prepping for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. While all are major triumphs for the brand, what Visa is most proud of is how it pivoted its messaging for the NFL around the time of a number of devastating hurricanes. “We felt we couldn’t really be talking about Visa at a time when so many people are needing help,” she says. “We turned our energy toward partnering with the Red Cross and using our airtime to talk about what people could do to help, using some of our partner athletes,” including New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals. —K.R.
As a former Coca-Cola executive, Borders joined the WNBA in 2016; it was, she says, not only a smart choice but her “favorite” job in her entire career. Last year, the WNBA had a stunning season, which included launching the game on multiple new platforms. A full roster of WNBA teams and players also appeared in a video game for the first time when NBA Live 18 launched. Last year, the league also produced its highest regular season attendance in six years, with record-breaking merchandise sales and a social media reach increase of 15 percent. “When I was invited to take on this role in 2016, viewership was not positive, merchandise sales were not happening,” says Borders. “Today with the work of not only myself but a team at the league, we have reversed all those negative trends.” —Sara Jerde
Instead of making minor tweaks to the NHL’s social media, Browning spearheaded “a cultural shift, a transformation of our voice” to draw more young fans. She adopted a “humans versus highlights” approach, she says, showing players off the ice, cuddling with rescue puppies during the Honda NHL All-Star Weekend, chatting about strategy for a Hulu-Players Tribune series and locking horns (in a fun way) with On the Bench’s digital influencers. She launched the first-ever Twitter and Instagram accounts for the Stanley Cup, with the iconic trophy delivering 350,000 interactions and 20 million impressions in three months as part of the plan to “let our personality shine through.” That also included original content vignettes, “Hockey 101 With Snoop Dogg,” reaching 75 million fans. Efforts paid off in viewer numbers, with a 47 percent ratings jump for Game 5 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals (10.3 million North American viewers), the most-watched final in three years in the U.S. —T.L.S.
El is pro basketball’s slam dunk. A marketing wiz with more than 30 years of experience, El joined the NBA in 2014, after previously working as svp of financial brand marketing for Nationwide Insurance. Overseeing global marketing and advertising for the NBA, WNBA and NBA G League as well as brand development, El has spearheaded the move toward connecting fans to players with more personalized storytelling, as seen in last year’s “This Is Why We Play” campaign. This year she’s the driving force behind the rebrand of the NBA G League, the association’s official minor league organization. The payoff: In the 2017-18 season, the NBA set an all-time record for total attendance—its fourth consecutive year—while merchandise sales on NBAstore.com were up 25 percent over the 2016-17 season. “It’s been a great time for me for the last four years,” says El. “It’s a really exciting time in sports and, in particular, the NBA.” —S.J.
ESPN’s iconic 30 for 30 documentary series is no longer one-size-fits-all under Geist, who oversees all of ESPN Films’ documentaries, specials, series and features. She has expanded 30 for 30 from one- and two-hour specials to include a 10-hour, Oscar-winning miniseries (O.J.: Made in America), short films and podcasts like May’s five-part deep dive into Bikram yoga and its controversial founder, Bikram Choudhury. Now, “we’re 100 percent story first,” says Geist. “If somebody comes to us with a great story, we’re not thinking about how long it needs to be and what the break structure is. We’re going to figure out how to get millions of people to hear or see it. That’s been really refreshing.” Next up is Enhanced, a six-part docuseries about athletics technology from executive producer and Academy Award winner (2007’s Taxi to the Dark Side) Alex Gibney, which will air July 16 on new direct-to-consumer streaming service ESPN+. Yet, with even with more projects in the pipeline than ever before, Geist still focuses on quality over quantity and “taking your time,” she says. “If you do great work, people will come to it eventually.” —Jason Lynch
C-suite execs may swim with sharks, but Goldschmidt keeps her World Surf League competitors out of infested waters, literally. About a year into her current gig this spring, the NBA and WTA veteran canceled an Australian competition because of “actively aggressive” sharks nearby, saying, “Safety is paramount and cannot be compromised.” As the WSL’s first female CEO, Goldschmidt is boosting the sport’s visibility globally ahead of its 2020 debut at the Tokyo Olympics. She’s expanded the league’s partnership with CBS and made a $30 million exclusive alliance with Facebook, the largest sports rights deal to date with the media platform. She launched the first pro event on man-made waves (with coed teams, another first), and she’ll oversee venues being built in Florida, Brazil and Japan. “Surfing is at a tipping point,” she says, “with the evolution about to become a revolution.” —T.L.S.
Athleta featured the world’s oldest yoga teacher, a 98-year-old embodiment of the brand’s “Power of She” mantra, on its spring 2017 catalog cover, and recently debuted an “Up for Anything” digital campaign that nudged focus-group volunteers out of their comfort zones and onto trapeze bars, with inspiring results. Those are just a few ways Green tries to empower women and “break down stereotypes to show that there’s no singular view of what health and wellness should look like,” she says, noting the company’s push for age, ethnic and body diversity in its images. During her five years at the retailer, with 21 years overall at parent Gap Inc., Green launched Athleta Girl to stress the importance of sports and activity for girls and earned B Corp certification, saying she “felt very strongly that with our growth came a greater sense of responsibility to lead and make change.” —T.L.S.
Shortly after the Parkland, Fla., high school shootings, Hobart helped to rewrite the retailer’s firearm policy, raising the minimum age to buy guns to 21 and removing assault-style rifles from 750-plus Dick’s and Field & Stream stores. Hobart called it “taking a stance on common sense gun reform,” in line with priorities that date back to Dick’s founding. “We believe it is good business to ensure our core values always lead the way,” she says. The PepsiCo veteran, promoted from CMO about a year ago, helped set Cyber Monday sales records, propelled Carrie Underwood’s Calia apparel brand to hot-selling status and opened 60 locations last year. She oversees Dick’s Contenders program, employing U.S. Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, and serves as head of the brand’s foundation that donated $5.5 million in relief funds and products to communities hit by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. —T.L.S.
After leading consumer marketing at Twitter, Jhaveri joined Twitch, a livestreaming video platform, in July 2017, where she has worked to grow the brand around its creators and viewers. Jhaveri, who previously oversaw mobile marketing at Facebook and was a marketing executive at Microsoft, says Twitch’s heritage is “deeply rooted” in the gaming industry and esports—both of which continue to play a “critical role” at the company. “As CMO of Twitch I get to build campaigns around live, shared experiences and bring to life a brand that is unlike anything else,” she notes. “There’s also a bit of culture ambassador work at play here. It’s an awesome responsibility.” —S.J.
Some endorsement deals may look good today (translation: loads of cash), but Joseph-Metelus scouts for the ones that are “sustainable through the years.” Instead of a quick payday for the four dozen-plus NBA clients she works with, including Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, she finds partnerships “where both sides can build together,” she says. She’s helped Wade generate more than $100 million in off-court revenue over a decade with Gatorade, Chinese apparel company Li-Ning and other longtimers handpicked for their consistency and brand fit. Joseph-Metelus, who co-founded PlayMakeHers to celebrate women in sports and entertainment, coaches her clients to excel as ballers since “the real work comes while they’re playing—leveraging their moment and opportunity while they’re at the top and their highlights are being aired on ESPN.” She’ll handle the post-game hustle. —T.L.S.
Pioneers like Billie Jean King signed contracts for $1 a week in the ’70s just to establish their own tours. Lawler, a student of history and former Octagon exec, vows to do considerably better for female athletes today. She kicked off 2018 with a $1 billion deal with Gemdale Corp., one of China’s largest real estate developers, marking the biggest investment to date in women’s sports. WTA will play its flagship events in Shenzhen through 2029 in a custom-built 12,000-seat arena, with a record-breaking $14 million prize pot. To amp up media exposure, Lawler launched WTA Networks, reimagining the league’s digital and social platforms and racking up more than 1 billion video views last year. Lawler, a certified interpreter fluent in five languages, inked a global sponsorship with Porsche and a digital rights agreement with iQiyi, which has been called China’s Netflix, and aligned with SAP analytics to put WTA on the data-driven cutting edge. —T.L.S.
Any elite athlete would kill for stats like these. As marketing chief at Wasserman, Lindsey renewed deals with 100 percent of the sports, talent and entertainment firm’s brand roster, including American Express, Diageo, Microsoft and Nationwide Insurance. She aced 94 percent of her 2017 business pitches, landing nearly 100 new projects with marketers like Wells Fargo and AT&T, leading to the telecom giant’s first partnership with esports operator ESL for mobile video game competitions. She’s more than quadrupled the revenue of her expanding global division, which handles brands, properties (including the NBA and NFL), consulting, experiential, events, and a just-opened research and insights group. A movie buff and Tarot card reader, Lindsey looks for context and connection, not logo slapping, and asks clients, “Who are you as a brand and how do you want to bring that to life in the sports and entertainment you sponsor?” —T.L.S.
As Wimbledon fans are glued to ESPN this week, aficionados of The Open Championship will find their favorite pros on NBC and the Golf Channel late this month, and New York Marathon followers can watch the race on ABC, WABC and ESPN in November. And that’s just linear TV, which is one of many platforms that Mandel considers when looking for distribution deals for IMG’s 35,000 hours of sports content a year from 200 rights holders like the NHL, the U.S. Open and IndyCar. Though media has gone through “tectonic shifts,” she says, “the monarchy continues: Content remains king and the research on consumption proves the point.” Consumers want their sports on digital, mobile and elsewhere, and it’s “no easy task” to serve up the right combination of outlets. But that’s the goal, with Mandel landing CrossFit Games on CBS, CBS Sports Network and Facebook, and UFC’s pay-per-view fights on Amazon. — T.L.S
If there had ever been any doubt that WWE’s brand chief McMahon treats her job like a full-contact sport, it was removed at WrestleMania 34, when she climbed into the ring with Triple H to tag team against Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle. Body slams, clotheslines and other physical punishments followed. The April event, Rousey’s first-ever WWE match, broke records for the highest-grossing entertainment show ($14.1 million; 78,000-plus fans) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. WWE had signed former UFC champ Rousey early this year, continuing to grow the ranks of women at the global media and entertainment company. It also nearly doubled the female superstar roster in three years, hired three female coaches and the first female referee and, via a Mattel deal, launched the first superstars fashion doll line. Results have been dramatic: The female fan base has increased to 40 percent. —T.L.S.
Ng began her career at MLB in 1991, straight out of school, hired to work with the Chicago White Sox in its baseball operations department. Today, she is the highest-ranking woman in professional baseball. Her current mission is to make America’s pastime a global one too, introducing the sport to a new generation of consumers, particularly in Asia and Latin America. To that end, she cites a number of initiatives including the MLB At Bat app to appeal to millennials who prefer watching highlights to full games. Then there’s MLB’s Play Ball, a program that aims to get young people engaged in baseball by highlighting its many forms, whether it’s just having a catch, running bases or even playing Wiffle Ball. “We’re seeing great increases in our participation numbers over the last several years,” says Ng. “We have made quite a push knowing full well some of the battles that we’re facing, and I think we are making great headway.” —A.J.K.
Sneaker heads can’t wait to get their hands on the latest kicks, but feasting their eyes on Adidas Originals’ newest product in augmented reality took the art of unboxing to a new level. Deerupt’s launch in March with a first-of-its-kind AR experience further buffed the brand’s tech-forward, fan-connected image, with Brand Genius winner O’Hare as the driving force and global marketing team leader. The VF Corp. and Sara Lee veteran, who heads the Adidas women’s mentoring group, oversees creative campaigns and consumer engagement, with a recent gold Lion for brand communications and design for the Tennis Collection by Pharrell Williams and a gold Effie for “Original Is Never Finished” (part of a decorated three-year effort) that stars A$AP Ferg, Dua Lipa and Playboi Carti, among others. Cuts of the mini-movie for social media snagged Webby Awards this spring, as did the brand’s tap-to-reveal Instagram Story with 120-plus images of influencers wearing the Superstar shoe. Next up: a project with Stan Smith. —T.L.S.
A longtime force in the flourishing sports streaming world, Poole oversees the teams at NCAA Digital (including Turner’s NCAA Madness Live, which just won a Sports Emmy for outstanding transmedia sports coverage of last year’s men’s basketball tournament), where she was just promoted to svp. She also leads Turner’s new direct-to-consumer product, Bleacher Report Live (B/R Live). Since its April launch, B/R Live has distinguished itself from other new OTT sports offerings like ESPN+ and CBS Sports HQ by helping users find the game they’re looking for on any outlet, regardless of whether it’s a Turner property. “One of the lessons I learned when I joined Turner was about not just having technology that’s cool, but trying to solve a consumer problem, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s driven in me,” says Poole, who thinks that will keep people coming back even after B/R Live’s paywall goes up later this summer. “And if we actually get them to use our product daily, we can solve the other problem of engagement, and getting people to stay in your product longer, as time goes on.” — J.L.
The 76ers spent about 15 years practicing in a rented college gym, with the storied franchise’s business operations scattered around the region. “We were tenants in other buildings,” says Price, who devoted nearly three years to overseeing an $86 million, high-tech, 125,000-square-foot training complex, which opened in late 2016 as the largest such facility in the NBA. Along with unifying and energizing the basketball and corporate sides of the organization, “The transformation for Camden [N.J.] has been incredible,” says Price, a 25-year veteran of the NBA and one of its first female vice presidents. A former high school player and college walk-on, Price took her “biggest passion and turned it into a career,” sticking close to legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s relentless work ethic and relying on male and female mentors, adapting through front-office changes and frequent ownership switches by “learning how to become a leader, but also being a good teammate.” — T.L.S
When two snacks sell together more often than peanut butter and jelly, it makes sense to co-market them, says Saenz, who chose the highest-profile advertising day of the year to marry Doritos Blaze and Mountain Dew Ice in PepsiCo’s first dual-brand Super Bowl spot. The epic, hip-hop-fueled commercial, featuring a Morgan Freeman-Peter Dinklage rap battle, ranked as one of Adweek’s Top 5 Best Super Bowl Ads. In another game day victory, Saenz led the Tostitos “Super Bowl Ads for All” program that let consumers create customized digital party invites using ad tropes like puppies, babies and celebrities. Saenz, mastermind of the Cheetos Museum and the Spotted Cheetah pop-up restaurant, has grown her $14 billion brand portfolio’s alliances to 60 sports teams and four leagues, including a revitalized relationship with MLB for Cracker Jack and new deals between Ruffles and the NBA and Rold Gold and the NHL. —T.L.S.
It’s been quite a run for alpine racing superstar Shiffrin. At just 23, she counts two Olympic gold medals, the last earned in a kamikaze-like giant slalom race at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. In March, Shiffrin became the current two-time reigning World Cup overall champion. In other words, she’s the No. 1 female ski racer in the world. Shiffrin has also been cultivating her own brand off the slope, which could be characterized as confident, graceful and grounded. That special blend of approachability and athleticism helped land Shiffrin blue-chip sponsorship deals with the likes of Longines, Oakley, Red Bull, Visa and others. And stay tuned. More surely will be coming her way. —L.G.
Tennis legend Serena Williams has been fighting her way back to peak form after the birth of her daughter last fall, with the journey captured in the five-part HBO docuseries, Being Serena. An ad campaign early this year for Lincoln followed a similar storyline with an anthemic spot called “Build Your Legacy” starring the Wimbledon-bound Williams and kicking off a multiyear deal with the automaker she’s loved for decades. (Her first ride was a Navigator she nicknamed Ginger.) Both projects came via Smoller, who pairs sports standouts with marketers and media. In just the last year, Smoller also negotiated a multiyear partnership between Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban and Adidas, and cemented former NBA star Kevin Garnett’s relationship with And1, where he now serves as creative director, helping to expand it from a hoops-centric company to a lifestyle brand. —T.L.S.
In the era of cold data and information overload, Tillman gives SAP’s tech the human touch, seeing it as a way to “build personal connections and innovate the fan experience,” she says. Overseeing the software giant’s expanding sports roster, which includes the Women’s Tennis Association and Formula One, Tillman worked with the NHL last fall to unlock 100 years’ worth of statistics, increasing visitors to the league’s site by 25 percent and boosting time spent and engagement by 45 percent. One of the biggest fan perks: the ability to customize all those numbers, with voice recognition on the way. The goal is to bring fans “closer to the action and make them feel like they’re part of the game,” says Tillman, an American Express alum, who thinks marketers should use data to re-create “the same genuine experiences that consumers expect from in-person interactions, but across a variety of touch points.” — T.L.S
Carolyn Tisch Blodgett
Tisch Blodgett says she’s “always loved building brands.” Having worked at Pepsi and the New York Giants, she joined Peloton in 2016 to craft and direct the fitness startup’s inaugural marketing strategy. “We went from zero to 60 in two years,” she says, “aggressively growing the business as fast as we can.” That has meant, among other things, producing gripping and inspirational TV spots; offering livestreamed classes from the Olympics in South Korea; and, improbably, sending out the marketing equivalent of a dinosaur: direct mail. When well produced, it stands out and apart from the spam deluge over email, she explains. Her efforts have paid off. After an integrated advertising campaign last Christmas, Peloton saw more than 200 percent growth. Tisch Blodgett says until now she never saw herself at a startup, where “you pivot all the time.” As she builds her marketing team, she’s interested in finding people who are “incredibly hardworking but also flexible because everything changes every day,” she says, adding, “That’s not my nature, but I’ve learned to adapt.” —Sara Ivry
The highest-ranking woman in the NFL, Turcke oversees marketing, communications and tech. Upon her arrival last year from Canada’s Bell Media, she made some happy discoveries—roughly 30 percent of her executive colleagues at the league were women, and many current and former coaches and players are actively engaged in under-the-radar community work. Given the brand’s enormity, “the passion and the emotion that’s attached to football in America,” she notes, and an estimated fan base of 180 million, football occupies a lot of media attention. “The demographics reflect the fact that it’s a diverse organization, with a diverse fan base, and we keep an eye on what is going to engage those fans,” she says. “We improve the game around rule changes to make the game safer, more fun to watch. We engage our fans in ways we haven’t done before, whether it’s livestreaming on Amazon or other partnerships.” Under her watch as president of NFL Media, her first position with the league, NFL Network reached a new milestone: It became the second-most-watched cable sports network during regular season play. Turcke’s own fandom started early thanks to her father, who loved football and taught her an appreciation for process-driven, hard-working players. As an example, she cites Peyton Manning, and graciously offers that she has no favorite team, saying instead, “I cheer for good matchups.” —S.I.
When it comes to sports strategy, Wool has it locked down. “I’ve been at this game for a very long time,” says Wool, who became a partner at the communications consultancy in 2009. “It’s a space that’s been consistently growing and it’s a great space to try new things.” Remembering back to a decade ago when Twitter and Facebook were first being explored as channels to distribute content, she says it’s been incredible to watch social media grow into the powerful force it is today. To wit: During the 2018 Winter Olympics, Ketchum Sports leaned on influencer and LGBTQ activist Tyler Oakley and his massive social media following to promote P&G’s “Love Over Bias” campaign while he interviewed athletes in PyeongChang, South Korea. Ketchum Sports’ work runs the gamut from talent buying to influencer strategy to co-created content, and it’s Eurosports’ lead partner on its exclusive rights to the Olympic Games 2018-24 across Europe. —Lindsay Rittenhouse
Across categories, especially in video games, it’s common to sell hardware by talking about fancy bells and whistles. Yee took a markedly different approach for PlayStation 4’s latest iteration, tapping into the exhilaration and joy people get when they “play free,” as this summer’s “Play Fearlessly” campaign says. The emotion-based tactic has already paid off with the brand’s best Black Friday ever and a 2017 tally of nearly 6 million units and 60 million games sold. Yee, whose CV includes Clorox, Johnson & Johnson, and digital media and ecommerce startups, launched the original PS4 five years ago, growing it to a nearly 80-million-sold global powerhouse, predicted to top 100 million units next year, ahead of rivals Microsoft and Nintendo. Partnerships with the Fiesta Bowl and ESPN, including an industry-first projection-mapped takeover of the Oracle Arena for God of War, further embedded PS4 with its adrenaline-charged live-sports brethren. —T.L.S.