Four-time Olympic medalist Angela Ruggiero’s Sports Innovation Lab, a market intelligence firm, is launching a women’s leadership board comprised of 22 female executives from the sports, media and technology industries. The initiative brings together leaders from the NBA, NHL and NFL, as well as ESPN, Google, Visa, Coca-Cola and more with the goal of using the Sports Innovation Lab’s data and research to support each individual member’s continued professional success and leverage the collective power of the network.
Supporting women at the top in their triumphs is key to elevating women more broadly, Ruggiero argues. The only woman on several executive boards herself, the Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman and Harvard grad hopes board members will not only learn from the information her company has to offer—“So all these women stay ahead in their careers,” she said—but also learn from each other through the new network.
“Everyone invited brings a level of practitioner experience to the table,” Ruggiero explained. “Through what they can learn from that and from my company, hopefully we can get more women doing deals together and supporting one another, both personally and professionally.”
Inaugural members of the Women’s Leadership Board include Big East commissioner Val Ackerman; Jessica Berman, deputy commissioner at the National Lacrosse League; WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon; former pro tennis player and current CEO at Billie Jean King Enterprises Ilana Kloss; LA28 Olympics/USA Olympics CEO Kathy Carter.
In addition to team and league executives, the board includes female leaders at companies heavily connected to the sports industry. Women from FanDuel, Nike and more are members, and sports-adjacent tech companies—including online gaming company and sportsbook PlayUp, biometrics company CLEAR and cashless payment company Tappit—are also represented.
“First, I wanted to make sure our research is getting into the hands of the most senior women making some of the most strategic decisions in the industry,” Ruggiero said in a phone interview, noting that her company was intentional in the invitations it extended to ensure a membership with a broad range of backgrounds, experiences and areas of expertise.
“Second, it was about creating a community,” she continued. “It’s the new girls clubs, as I call it. It’s taking the ‘old boys club’ model and seeing [that] guys are really good at supporting one another. Knowing that, can we assemble a group of women who are going to support one another and learn from one another and hopefully do business with one another and create our own community?”
The new initiative is modeled after other successful Sports Innovation Lab leadership boards, the first of which was launched in 2019 with members including UFC COO Lawrence Epstein. Those initiatives set the stage for the women’s board, which is focused on making sure its insights and research get into the hands of more women in the industry after a “very popular” pilot program with director-level women in the industry ran last summer.
Among the topics Ruggiero expects the board to tackle are the future of sports, technology, consumer trends and fan behavior, providing Sports Information Lab data on each topic to lay a foundation for greater understanding. Access to information that will aid in decision-making, innovation and strategic planning was part of the appeal for members, each of whom are especially in tune to growth opportunities and changes in light of the pandemic.
“These women are already brilliant,” Ruggiero said. “We just want to add a layer of support, to be an extension of their team and of them. They’ll have our research and insights at their fingertips to help them. That way we can continue to push women in the industry and the industry itself in a positive direction.”
The board’s announcement comes exactly one month after the company launched The Fan Project, a women’s sports-centric research endeavor. Backed by the WNBA, NWSL, LPGA, UFC, WWE and the Women’s Sports Foundation, the project’s goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the women’s sports audience to accelerate investment in, and media coverage of, women’s sports across the board.