Women of Influence: Leadership in sports

The Tampa Bay area is booming with women in sports leadership roles, which was the topic of discussion for this installment of Women of Influence, held at the Adventhealth Training Center at One Buc Place.

The panel was moderated by Bridgette Bello in front of a live audience. The below transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

The panelists

• Claire Lessinger, Director of Special Events, Tampa Bay Sports Commission

• Julia Wyman, Director of Business Operations, Tampa Bay Vipers

• Amy Taylor, Vice President Group Sales, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

• Lizzie Seedhouse, Senior Vice President, Digital & Content, United Soccer League

 

When I read that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the only NFL team to have two women coaches, it made me really proud. Can you talk about the dynamics of that as far as how that plays out through the rest of the office and everything that you guys do?

Amy Taylor: It is something that we’re all very proud of. I think we always are trying to be the first and the forerunner in different aspects, whether it be on the field or off the field.

A lot of people also don’t know that in addition to the two coaches on the field, we also have a female who’s a scouting coordinator. We also have a female who is our director of team nutrition on the football side, which typically is very male dominated.

I think it just shows how far we’ve advanced. In just the 15 years since I’ve worked in sports where there used to be very few females in leadership roles.

We really take pride in our diversity and inclusion and hiring the best person for the job. On the business side, there are currently four of our eight vice presidents that are female. Of the nine direct reports that I have, seven are currently female and I have great pride in being able to say that all of those were selected because they were deserving.

I’m going to stay with you for a minute. Fifteen years in sports, that’s a long time for a woman in a male dominated industry. Can you be our expert on what the changes are that you have seen over the last 15 years, particularly as it relates to women getting into the sports industry and then maybe some words of advice if there’s ladies in the audience that are interested?

Taylor: It has definitely changed. My very first job in sports over 15 years ago was with the Orlando Magic and I was a small town girl from Tahlequah, Oklahoma who had zero background in sports. I had no clue what I was doing. And at the time, I think we had one female who was in a leadership position and very few, especially in group sales, throughout the league at that time.

It’s a true testament to the will and the power of a woman. And if you put your mind to it, and you really want to go for something, there’s nothing that can stop you.

The key is to get out there and network and know what you want to go for. It’s very rare that you’re just going to get picked out of a resume on a stack. Now it’s all about who you know and what you’re doing.

Figure out what that position is, whether it’s in sales or marketing or broadcast journalism, and do your research. Figure out what it takes to get into one of those positions. Who is somebody in a position to help you? Not necessarily the hiring manager. Again, we get a thousand resumes potentially. Find out who’s in a position that is in that actual position that you’re looking for and ask them to coffee, ask about what are they doing and how they got into it and what’s been really important to them along the way. And I think that’s one of the best things that you can do is really just network your way into the position that you want to be in.

Good advice. Claire, you were the first of what is now six women on the sports commission. I’m sure that was interesting. A room full of boys. Can you talk about that and how it’s changed over the years?

Claire Lessinger: I don’t think we lacked diversity intentionally. I think the team was small but mighty, but it was all white males. They were doing an incredible job driving sports events to this community. I was given the opportunity to onboard at the Sports Commission because Rob Higgins [executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission] and I worked together at the University of South Florida during my former life as a volleyball coach. He truly took a risk on me. I had no real experience with the Sports Commission but what he knew, and what I think is  important for people to understand, is that a sports background translates to success in a lot of ways. He saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. And that was a transferrable skill set that came from coaching, playing ,and allowed me to truly grow as a professional in a unique space.

Let’s talk about men as mentors and sponsors of women. And you kind of touched on that talking about Rob and your relationship with him, but can you talk about how that changed your trajectory and why that can be so important?

Lessinger: Mentoring is a passion of mine. I think it’s important that you be a mentor, and a mentee, and you learn equally as much from both of those roles. I would probably call a lot of coaches in my life mentors. I had the opportunity to be an assistant coach and I would call the coaches that I worked for mentors. But having the opportunity to work for Rob has truly been a godsend. Some great advice I received was, to go out and get a mentor, make sure they look different than you, act different than you and that their skill set is different than yours.

Lizzie, a lot of people don’t even know that the United Soccer League is headquartered here. I think it’s very cool that you are leading their content and digital strategy. That’s not normally a woman’s job either, right?

Lizzie Seedhouse: No, I’m pretty much on my own in the data content space.

I’m probably the newbie in sports here. I’ve only worked in sports for three and a half years and before that I spent five years at a startup technology content marketing company where it was 90 percent women. Looking back, I realize it was probably 90 percent women because I hired the whole staff there. When I went to interview at the United Soccer League, I walked into the 30 person company and I was like, where are all the women? Are they on vacation?

Since then we’ve grown and now, we’re at 65 people and about 17 or 18 of those are females.

One of the things that’s so amazing about this community is we have Major League Baseball, we have the United Soccer League, we have the NFL and we have the NHL. We have the Women’s Tennis association and we now have XFL. So, congratulations Julia. Today tickets went on sale to the public and the schedule was released I believe…

Julia Wyman: The schedule was released on Tuesday and tickets went on sale to the public today, which was really exciting because we’re going to have a game in February.

Are you expecting women to be a big part of the audience for the XFL?

Wyman: We’re trying to create a family-fun atmosphere with the XFL. “Fans Above All” is our mantra.

All of these teams play at night and on the weekends. And all of these teams require you guys to be at every game. What’s that like as a woman, as a mom, as a wife or as a single mom?

Wyman: I worked about six seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and three seasons for the Lightning, and as my children were growing up, it was tough. It was difficult going from football to hockey, think about the number of games that you’re playing. And I was a single mom during that entire time. I used to look at some of the guys that are working all day and their wives were bringing the kids to the game and I was a little jealous. It’s tough because you’re working so hard and your kids are at home or they’re at the game, which is awesome, but it’s difficult.

I actually stepped away for a couple of years and then I saw this opportunity with the Tampa Bay Vipers that I can play five home games, just five, and get to be with my kids and let them be a part of it. But it is definitely a struggle and a juggle. But if you really love it, then you make it work. ♦

ABOUT WOMEN OF INFLUENCE

TBBW’s Women of Influence series is an exclusive, invitation-only, monthly event that brings together some of the Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle.

The Women of the Influence series was sponsored by TD Bank and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  DCE Productions is our event partner.

The event begins with a cocktail reception for about 120 guests, followed by a live interview of Bay area C-level executives who provide insight into their personal lives, careers and views on issues affecting the business community. The interview is conducted by Bridgette Bello, TBBW’s CEO and publisher.

Partnering with TBBW on this event provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities, and increase brand awareness.

For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at [email protected]

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