SBJOn Tuesday, September 10th, SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily executed its inaugural “Game Changers Conference”. Held to recognize SBJ/SBD’s 2013 “Game Changers” and, moreso, focus on the subject of women and sports, the event attracted more than 300 enthusiastic attendees (many of whom were female).

Of the day’s many highlights, perhaps the most popular session was Indra Nooyi’s keynote address. The Chair & CEO of PepsiCo, Nooyi focused her talk on moving past simply “pinking and shrinking” the traditional male sports experience to appeal to women. Using a blend of stats and personal anecdotes (including her receipt of an unwelcome pink jersey from a fellow sports executive), she noted that companies should spend more time and energy trying to understand the needs of women.

Citing women’s sports apparel and merchandising as a space in which companies have gained a good sense of their target market’s needs and where women are “at the forefront, not an afterthought”, Nooyi suggested that other segments of sports business draw on learnings and insights from that space’s success.

Nooyi also touched on what she perceives as companies’ general under-reliance on their female employees when it comes to creating products for women. “While I respect my male colleagues,” she remarked, “I think the group that can best provide women with the holistic and meaningful experiences they want, is women.” She beseeched companies to make the women they already employ a bigger part of the female product creation/marketing process.

Her speech was engaging, and her bottom line focused on the importance of authenticity. She urged today’s marketers to understand female sports consumers as individuals, not just people who are engaged in sports because their husbands watch or their children compete.

Following Nooyi, attendees were treated to a quick presentation from analyst Rich Luker (Founder, Luker on Trends), who likened female consumption of spectator sports today to the “cocoon” state of butterfly development. A lot has changed in the past ten years to move women up the consumption ladder (from caterpillar to cocoon); however, Luker thinks another big shift (to butterfly) will occur if/when marketers figure out how to unlock the demographic by compelling female sports fans to engage more in the form of behavior (playing fantasy, watching games on TV, engaging in other ways yet to be determined).

Another of the day’s top speakers was Richard Lapchick, who spoke on hiring trends in sports. His personal narrative about what motivated him to become a passionate crusader for minority opportunities and ethics in sport, and thoughtful comments on topics ranging from human trafficking to the idea of a “Rooney Rule” for the media, earned him a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd.

The conference concluded with a media panel featuring representatives from USA Today Sports (Mary Byrne, Managing Editor), Roopstigo Sports Network (Selena Roberts, Founder), ESPN.com (Pat Stiegman, Editor-In-Chief) and NBC Sports Group (Dan Steir, Sr. VP & Sr. Coordinating Producer). The panel engaged in lively debate about espnW’s relationship with ESPN.com, the media’s coverage of women’s sports, and SI’s swimsuit issue (said Roberts, “They

[SI] owe their lives to the women they refuse to cover the other 365 days a year!”).

However, the recurring theme of the session seemed to be the diversity of media members themselves. General consensus was that the more diverse the media is, the more coverage of different sports, stories and niches will expand. Byrne noted that she occasionally gleans story ideas from the website CupcakesAndCashmere.com, and thinks everyone on her staff should have their own “Cupcakes and Cashmere”, i.e., a unique area of interest that could be the spark for an interesting story. The more diverse the staff, she surmised, the more unique each niche area of focus may be.

From this attendee’s point of view, the conference was a total success, from its consistently engaging speakers to its well-received mid-afternoon snack offerings (hummus and dried fruit; the crowd loved it). If attendee engagement is any indication of the event’s future path, it’s a safe bet that SBJ/SBD will bring the event back next year, and likely aim higher and go bigger.

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