Women’s History Month: 10 Questions with ESPNW Vice President, Laura Gentile
Added by Shannon Hovan on March 16, 2013.
Everyday this month, Double G Sports will be featuring interviews from prominent women in the sports industry as our way of celebrating Women’s History Month. This project is in its 2nd year. Today we feature Vice President of ESPNW, Laura Gentile.
Laura Gentile speaking at an ESPNW Summit.
1. Growing up, who or what influenced you the most as a young female athlete?
You know it’s interesting, I would say I was always very much into sports and I was very much a fan growing up. My Dad had season tickets to the New York Giants, and we would watch the Rangers and the Yankees on TV. So, I growing up it was always something that I was exposed to. I was always inspired by sports. I looked up to Don Mattingly and it wasn’t until the Olympics that I was exposed to female athletes and where I discovered I wanted to be like them. But, it was the overall environment, like playing street hockey against my brothers and my sister ultimately telling me to get into field hockey that really influenced me.
2. What is it that drew you to the business side of sports?
Ultimately, I recognized that all through my life I had a connection to sports. After college, I intentionally went into an area that wasn’t sports related to try my hand at business and marketing overall. So, for six years I worked on the UPS and Goldman Sachs accounts to get an advertising and marketing perspective. I felt like I was so defined by being an athlete, having played field hockey at Duke, that I needed to step outside of my comfort zone. But, after some soul searching it was time for me to think about sports again. It is what I thoroughly enjoyed and if I thought about where I wanted to work and what I wanted to do, ESPN was at the top of the list. Coming back to sports put me in a wonderful place.
3. Can you talk a bit about the birth of espnW? How it got its start and what influenced its launch?
Its start was a really long process. At that time I was working with the president of ESPN on the business planning side, looking towards the future. We discussed that it was time to cultivate an audience of women that we had been exposed to or been reaching for years. We felt like there was an opportunity to change that. We felt that women love sports and at ESPN we wanted to reach those women and a new generation of women. I think also having a sense of the culture we live in and how more and more sports are acceptable for women and more and more women are involved in sports. Women like to get dirty, and they like to sweat, and they like to compete, and we felt that we could reach that culture of women.
4. I spend a lot of time on the site, personally, and I notice that there are constantly new athlete bloggers contributing to the site. It seems that giving people a direct connection to the athletes is a valued part of the website. What kind of feedback have you gotten regarding it and are there plans to keep doing it?
Yes, it has been really good. We definitely feel like it is a different theater for us to have women who are willing to blog for us and write for us and we’ve had some major success stories as a result. For example, with Gabby Douglas blogging for us during her Olympic run and Sloane Stevens blogging just after she defeated Serena Williams in the Australian Open. But, more importantly, we are introducing new female athletes and giving them the chance to share what makes them tick, how they train, what they eat. We have a theory that if you fall in love with the athlete, you fall in love with their sport. So, we want to get their voices out there and that builds into our long-term strategy for building interest.
Laura Gentile (Photo by Donna Svennevik / ESPN Images)
5. How important is marketing in the continued growth and interest of Women’s Sports?
It is extremely important. It’s one of our next biggest priorities. We have an extensive strategy at this point and marketing is one of those key ways to reach women. Since it’s launch in 2010, we’ve been focusing on developing the site and what it may become and now that we feel confident about that evolution, marketing would be that next level for us.
6. Talk about the impact of the annual espnW Summit. How did that get started and what would you say is its ultimate goal?
Our ultimate goal is somewhat happening as we speak, and that is in getting together people who care about women’s sports, women who are involved and want to talk about the future of women’s sports on a global level, and get inspired by each other. We aim to bring exposure to female athletes who don’t normally get the spotlight. On a lot of levels it is achieving its goals, but we want to get it exposed to more people.
7. Are there any talks of potentially having an ESPN television channel dedicated to Women’s Sports events? Specifically, any plans to get coverage of the newly launched Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPSL)?
It’s one of those things where you never know what the future holds. We’re looking at bringing more live events to our site and through espn3.com, so that we can have more live coverage. There have been talks about the possibly of a television channel, but right now we’re focusing on the site.
8. Can you speak a bit about how important of media coverage in Women’s Sports and espnW’s outlook on that?
We feel like the future for “W” is looking good. We have nine documentary films coming up this summer in collaboration with ESPN Films. Those films will launch in July with additional content to be available on the espnW website.
9. What is one thing we can all do to continue the growth of Women’s Sports?
I think you hit on it when you talked about marketing. But, I think as fans, we need to show up and we need to participate. We need to go to games and watch games. Feedback as well is always a great mechanism. Being a fan is always a huge tool and letting your voice be heard as well.
10. What advice would you give to young women looking to embark on a career in business? What are the most important values and strategies needed to succeed? Business relationships, work ethic, etc…
I think you can never replace work ethic. Relationships are always vital to get anything done. You go as far as the strength of your relationships, as far as how much people can trust and depend on you. Communication, both verbally and the written word ultimately determines how clear you are and how persuasive you are. And, then not to sound cliché, but being a leader is important; having conviction and stepping up when you need to, and having the power to trust in those convictions.