The Estrogen Effect
How Northwest women are changing the business of sports
By Bridgete Lynch
Today women represent 46 percent of the total workforce, according to statistics from the
U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. The same study reports that women hold
half of the management, professional and related occupations. However, the business of
sports often seems, at least from the outside, to be one of the last bastions of the “No
Girls Allowed” clubs that Spanky and Alfalfa were so fond of.
Though female athletes like Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, Maria Sharapova and Annika
Sorenstam dominate their sports, in many cases the upper echelons of the business
apparatus that surrounds athletics remain mostly male-dominated.
And right here in Oregon much of that multi-billion dollar sports business takes place.
Oregon is home to some of the giants in sports apparel and equipment, such as Nike,
Columbia Sportswear, Adidas, SportHill, Dakine, Salomon, InSport, to name just a few.
And in part because of Oregon’s spectacular wind, snow and other climate plusses, many
top athletes live or train in the state. As a natural consequence, Oregon is also one of the
places where women are showing their stuff in the business of sports.
So how high do they climb up, how deep into traditional male sports have women forged,
and what effect is all that estrogen having on sports?
“There are a healthy number of women working for the NFL,” says Whitney Moulaison,
adjunct instructor of marketing at the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing
Center and former NFL marketing executive. “But all the women are in the lower third of
jobs. Everyone has an assistant who is female and they are speckled in middle
management and there are one or two at the high level but there are a disproportionate
number of women in low level jobs.”
Though there does not appear to be any overt or systematic exclusion of women, they
sometimes need to do things differently, Moulaison says.
“You have to get used to being the only woman in the meeting,” she says. “That was my
experience for seven years (in the NFL.) There is just something that happens when there
are six guys in suits sitting around a table and a woman walks in. There is a change of air
pressure. You have to be comfortable being the only woman. Second, I felt as if I had a
smaller margin of error. We have to be better at our own particular job that any guy
would be. We have to be a better communicator and just a little sharper.”
Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal recently compiled a list of the top 20 women in
sports business and focused their search on women in the boardroom rather than women
on the courts or playing fields.
“While there remains a need for greater gender equity in this business, there does exist a
deep pool of talented female executives active in sports business today,” the article says.
Marta Monetti, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Portland Trail
Blazers, sees the situation as one of an overall drive to hire the best people for the job.
“I don’t see (sports business) as any different than anywhere else,” Monetti says. “It has
been very male dominated but I feel like it is changing. It’s like when you draft, you go
for the best athlete. Companies are going for talented people. And a lot of times, the
positions are being filled by women because they are tremendously talented women.”
Monetti has worked for the Trail Blazers for 15 years and has seen a great deal of change
during that time, including an effort to hire more women overall in the sports business,
“Ten or 15 years ago, lots of business was done over golf while smoking cigars,” she
says. I had to figure out how to be successful because I was really terrible at golf. I tried
really hard but I really stunk. So I had to figure out how to make my way and I decided
that it would be through really great service, by listening to what customers needs were
and building relationships based on great service. The industry was also changing
because a lot of the decision makers and sponsors were women. That made it easier.”
Echoing Monetti’s view is Lauren Anderson, Partnership Marketing Manager for
Portland-based Adidas. “In this industry it matters if you are good,” Anderson says.
“Sports (business) moves too fast for it to matter what gender you are. There is so much
interest in working in this field. Anyone who is changing jobs says ‘Oh, I’ll go to work in
sports, that’d be fun.’ So there is often more supply of potential employees than there are
jobs available. What matters is who is the best person for the job.”
To the extent that there might be perceived challenges to women working in sports, there
are also benefits, says Maidie Oliveau, sports attorney at Law Sports.
“I’ve been a women working in sports for 20 years,” Oliveau says. “I’ve never been
anything else so I have nothing to compare it to but I can say that there are benefits to
being different and feminine in a room full of testosterone. If I can take advantage of the
attention that I get, I do that. I get deference, if not respect. It’s a big edge.”
Oliveau tells the story of meeting an ABC executive for the first time while she was
working for the Los Angeles Olympics. The exec asked one of her staff people to point
her out in the crowd. Upon doing so, the exec took a step back and exclaimed, ‘That little
“Sometimes people are expecting an ogre and are diasarmed,” Oliveau says.
Jennifer Rottenberg, Senior Vice President of Business Development for CC&C
Management, says that there really is no advantage to being a woman in sports business. But the real advantage lies in being a sports fan. One of Rottenberg’s major clients is the
U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players’ Association, for whom she handles
sponsorships, licensing sales and long-term asset creation.
“My personal experience with (soccer) is an advantage in this job,” Rottenberg says. “I’m
a soccer fan when I’m not working—last year I had season tickets to the LA Galaxy. My
entire life I’ve known what is going on with soccer and I think that makes me more
attuned to what the fans are interested in.”
Her relationship to soccer as a fan helps Rottenberg when she is working on business
opportunities, she says. Recently Rottenberg helped develop a plan to create a U.S.
Women’s Soccer Team fantasy camp.
“For years and years there were mainly baseball fantasy camps,” she says. “Middle-aged
guys go down to spring training and hang out with baseball players. Now we’ve gotten to
the point in this country where women in their 30s and 40s have actually grown up
participating in sports. So I thought now is the time for a fantasy camp for women to go
to where they get to hang out with their heroes.”
Rottenberg says that her connection to the sport made her intuitively realize that there
was a market for such an idea.
“It wasn’t because I am a woman,” she says. “It’s because I understand the sport.”
Moulaison’s mother always tells the story that as a kid, Whitney never played house or
school. Instead, she always played bank, Moulaison says. She had a teller window and a
drawer of money set up in her bedroom, she says.
“It was clear that business was where I was going from the start,” she says. “I was always
a jock wanna be and I wished I had enough athletic talent to be one, but that clearly
wasn’t the case. It came to me in an epiphany that I could do something with my love of
sports and the business side. I got started with an internship with the athletic department
Marketing seems to be one of the major strongholds of women in sports business.
“By and large, my counterparts in the business are probably about 50-50, male-female,”
Anderson says. “But the more senior management at companies that we work with in
sponsorship marketing are more male dominated.”
Nine out of the 20 women on the Street & Smith SportsBusiness list of the Most
Influential Women in Sports Business fall under the broad umbrella of marketing
professionals. This might have something to do with another trend involving women and
sports, the rise of the female fan and female-targeted advertising campaigns.
Recent numbers from Brandweek magazine say that women influence 88 percent of
household purchases and sports franchises and leagues are paying attention.
“If women are making all those decisions for the household, they are involved with
discretionary income,” Rottenberg says. “If dad says he wants to buy Trail Blazers season
tickets or even tickets to Friday night’s game, mom is going to be involved in that
decision now more than ever. It benefits the Trail Blazers to have mom favorably
disposed to the idea—it benefits the franchises.”
Historically, sports were considered the best way for consumer products companies to
reach the “coveted male demographic” as it was called, she says. Today however, sports
are reaching more people than ever.
“Honestly, I don’t get it because why is that male demo coveted if women are making 88
percent of the decisions?” she says. “The addition of women to the fan base opens a
whole new world for teams and leagues to be able to pitch to entities.”
Though the Trail Blazers don’t do large amounts of so-called targeted marketing, they are
absolutely trying to reach women, Monetti says.
“They are the decision makers of the family and we are marketing to different places
where we think women might be listening,” she says. “We primarily do general
marketing as opposed to super targeted marketing but we will chose certain radio formats
because we know women are listening.”
Moulaison uses the example of Major League Baseball ads in women’s magazines as
evidence that sports are speaking to women directly through targeted channels of
communication like never before. However, the sport itself, in this case baseball, isn’t
changing in response to the female fan base.
“The product is the product and in sports in particular, you can’t tinker with that too
much without negatively effecting a huge amount of people,” she says. “It’s not like
toothpaste. You can make minor changes to toothpaste and people will say ‘Well, I’ve
got to buy toothpaste so it’s okay.’ If they really start to change the game, which is the
product, that would have such a negative backlash from traditionalists and their core
audience that they are not willing to do that. The product won’t change but the marketing
Though they use promotions like “family night” to market the game to women, the Trail
Blazers main goal is to entertain people and not get in the way of enjoying the game,
“We want to enhance the game experience as opposed to hindering it,” she says. “But
some people always have differing opinions. It’s kind of like having a party for 18,000
people—trying to please everyone is really hard.”
It is a fine balance for sports to actively market to women while remaining loyal to their
male-dominated fan base.
“There is a tipping point in marketing,” Moulaison says. “You can’t speak to one
segment too heavily because the core fan will get offended. For instance, take light beer
as an example. If a man has a light beer in his hand and he sees a commercial on Monday
night football that is targeted to women and they are drinking light beer and it talks about
how sexy it is and how ‘he’ll think you’re still cute if you are drinking it,’ that man says
‘holy shit, I’m drinking a chick beer.’”
This holds true for football and baseball, she says. Teams want the male fan to think that
watching these games is “what men do” and if a man sees female-targeted ads then there
is a possibility that he’ll say “wait a minute I thought this was manly” and be upset, she
says. They key is that you can’t cross promotional messages, so you can’t have the core
audience see a message that isn’t targeted to them because that makes them
uncomfortable, she says.
“The fear will be that ‘Oh they are making it for women now and my male experience
will go away if we start including the ladies,’” she says.
In a recent ESPN Sports Poll, researchers found that 42 percent of NASCAR fans are
women. In 1995, women made up only 36 percent of the NASCAR fan base. A Neilson
Media Research survey conducted in 2003, showed that NASCAR was leading the NFL
and MLB in the percentage of female viewers. NASCAR sponsors are clearly listening,
as is evidenced by two of the newest logos to appear on cars in the Busch series:
Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, a diaper rash cream, on Kim Crosby’s car and Vassarette
Lingerie on Shawna Robinson’s car.
And women have something else that sponsors are thirsty for: loyalty.
“It’s the borrowed equity proposition,” Rottenberg says. “Fans have loyalty and passion
for their favorite team and a brand that sponsors their team sort of borrows from that
equity and gets the rub.”
NASCAR is a prime example. Fans know implicitly that sponsors help make sure that
their sport and their driver exist, so that passion translates directly to support of those
sponsors and the purchase of their products, Rottenberg says. It’s what Procter and
Gamble set out to do 30 years ago when they invented the soap opera. Women watched
their soaps and knew that Proctor and Gamble paid for them so they bought their soap.
That’s where “soap opera” came from, she says.
There is a tendency for a slightly higher brand passion proposition for the women’s
leagues like the WNBA, she says. Fans want those leagues to grow and they are more
attuned to doing anything they can to support them, she says.
According to a 2004 survey by Scarborough Research, 57 percent of WNBA fans are
“The women’s leagues should be going for the same sponsors as the big leagues do,”
Rottenberg says. “They have a different value proposition—they’re smaller so they cost
less and they have a high degree of fan loyalty. It’s not just men watching sports. The
world is not like that anymore—it’s as hard for a consumer products company to reach
busy women as it is for them to reach men. If they play a sports sponsorship right, it only
The estrogen effect in sports looks like it’s here to stay. And businesses that take that
effect into account might just get an edge on their competitors. Although women still
may not be as numerous at the top executive levels, they are deeply immersed in sports
business and shaping the future of sports both as fans and marketers, athletes and
referees, and even owners and CEOs.
Chalk it up to Oregon’s pioneering spirit or to the benefits of Oregon’s amazing
geography, but women in the Northwest are putting together their own winning team in
BrainstormNW - June 2005