Women in sports are changing the communications game. Here’s how

New York Women in Communication hosted comms stars from the world of sports in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Women’s stories have graced the top of the sports page recently. From the United States Women’s Soccer Team winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup to Caitlin Clark’s run at the NCAA basketball scoring record, women’s sports stories increasingly resonate with the public in a big way.

On March 12, professionals from across the world of comms and media gathered at Ruder Finn’s Midtown East offices in New York City to discuss takeaways from how women’s sports occupy the public sphere. Hosted by New York Women in Communications, the event, “A League of Their Own: Lessons from Women in Sports”, highlighted the accomplishments and challenges that lie ahead for women in the sporting world—along with the outsized role that women in communications play in the sports industry

A shifting perception of women in sports

Lana Zak, anchor at CBS News and host of the event, opened up with an anecdote about how both boys and girls in Iowa are wearing Caitlin Clark jerseys amid her stellar run on the basketball court, marking a change in how women’s sports are publicly received.

“Men watch women’s sports too — you just heard about men wearing the jersey of a woman,” she said. “This is not the same conversation we were having 20 years ago.”

“For too long, the world of sports has excluded the accomplishments of women, Zak continued. “We’re in a time when millions of young girls and young boys are seeing a more full picture of what it means to be a champion.”

Moira Forbes, executive vice president at Forbes, hosted the day’s keynote fireside chat with Jen Matthews, vice president of Brand Strategy at FanDuel. Matthews, a former Division I volleyball player, described her background in sports as instrumental to her past and current roles. When she was coming up through the business with past roles at ESPN and Sports Illustrated, sports always remained an integral part of her job, and that connection to the sporting world that many women have has been ignored for too long.

“At FanDuel, I don’t target women — I target people,” she said of her role in the sports betting space earning more female participation. “I target sports fans because I know they love the game.”

She also said that more women are getting in on the sports betting trend, thanks in no small part to the increased interest in women’s sports across the board, even mentioning a 90% spike in wagers on WNBA games.

“Why would you talk down to women who don’t know how to do sports betting?” she said. “Do you know how many men don’t know how to do sports betting?”

A voice in the room

 Communicators always talk about the importance of having a voice at the decision-making table. In today’s sporting world, many women are involved in high-up positions in sports leagues and participating both on and off the field in various sporting professions, but there’s still a lot of progress that needs to be made.

Adrienne Barber, vice president, properties and events for Major League Soccer, said that there’s female representation at many levels of her organization from the front office to the sidelines, but that women’s sports still need support from the general public.

“Go out and support what you love,” she said. “There are a million different ways to get involved — even supporting what you believe in in a smaller way is important.”

A story of perseverance and teamwork

 In the past, the unfortunate reality is that many of the stories in women’s sports didn’t receive the same amplification as men’s sports stories did. But in the case of former Yale swimmer and diver Ali Truwit, her story transcends gender lines.

Truwit, a two-time Academic All-American, lost her foot during a shark attack last year. She credits her survival in part to a teammate who was with her, stopping her blood loss at a critical moment. Less than a year after the attack, she’s already got eyes on the Paralympic Games later this year. That’s a movie-worthy story right there.

Speaking at the event, Truwit said the people she met along her sports journey were instrumental in her recovery and desire to get back to her sporting career.

“The person I was snorkeling with during the attack was the team captain my freshman year and applied the tourniquet to my leg that literally saved my life,” she said. “Another teammate was in med school in Miami and with me during all my surgeries. I can’t even count the other teammates who visited me to help get me through this.”

She also said that the power of teamwork carries beyond the pool or field of play.

“You can lean on your team for academic and athletic support, but the amazing thing is the support can go far beyond that.” 

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports and hosting trivia.


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