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Adweek’s Most Powerful Women in Sports: 31 MVPs Showing Brands and Fans the Way to Win

In the best of times, sports has the power to excite and inspire, to entertain, engage and even unite. But 2020 has been anything but the best of times. Covid-19 impacted sports early and profoundly, and social injustice left an indelible mark both on and off the field. Still, Adweek’s Most Powerful Women in Sports honorees found ways to influence, innovate and raise the bar for their brands and for fans at a time when we needed sports most. Many of these remarkable women—including NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird, MLS president JoAnn Neale, Nascar’s Jill Gregory, the NHL’s Heidi Browning, MLB’s Barbara McHugh, WTA president Micky Lawler, WWE’s Stephanie McMahon, Kate Jhaveri of the NBA and our cover star Naomi Osaka—were an integral part of the groundbreaking “Real Heroes Project” in May that united 14 professional sports leagues to celebrate the country’s front-line medical workers. All of them are game-changers by any measure who come to play, no matter the circumstances. —Erik Wander

Naomi Osaka Two-time U.S. Open tennis champion

It would be tough to pick just one career-defining moment in tennis superstar Naomi Osaka’s recent past. There’s the 2018 U.S. Open, where she beat her childhood idol, Serena Williams. She followed up that emotional victory, which she’s called “a little bit bittersweet,” with her first win at the Australian Open in 2019. And in the wake of those back-to-back Grand Slams, there was her surprise jump from Adidas to Nike in a groundbreaking deal worth $10 million. But the events of late summer 2020 may stand apart from everything that came before, making an even more lasting impression than Osaka’s straight-set blowouts and coveted endorsements. Click here to read Adweek’s full Q&A with cover star Naomi Osaka.

Renie Anderson Chief revenue officer and evp, NFL Partnerships, NFL

LA nearly 15-year veteran of the NFL, Anderson was part of league history when its draft became one of the first virtual events cobbled together in the Covid-19 pandemic’s first few months. It went off without a hitch, as more than 8.4 million viewers tuned in, up more than 35% from the previous year. Anderson was instrumental in incorporating the league’s partners into the broadcast, with Verizon providing the internet service to coaches and players and Bose sending headphones. And to kick off a mostly fanless season, she oversaw the team that added key new partners, including Postmates, Invisalign, Subway and Best Buy. This year has been “one that no one will ever forget,” says Anderson. “ … I am inspired and motivated by the herculean efforts to bring football back in a safe and healthy way. To all women that work in sports, from the boardroom to the locker room, it can be hard, you are not alone—keep going!” —Ryan Barwick

Lisa Baird Commissioner, National Women’s Soccer League

Baird stepped into her new role at the NWSL on March 10—two days before the league shut down due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Still, the league posted a record-breaking year on almost every measure, from a 152% increase in social mentions to a 500% growth in domestic television audiences. The league signed new TV and streaming deals with both CBS Sports and Twitch, and brand partnerships with Google, P&G, Secret and Verizon. In June, the NWSL was the first professional team sports league to return to play and completed a 30-day tournament in a bubble without a single case of the virus. Baird says leading the league to unprecedented success amid a pandemic is among her proudest moments. “What drove me this year in particular were our players,” says Baird. “And being able to ensure that we could continue to compensate them throughout the year.” —Kathryn Lundstrom.

Jessica Berman Deputy commissioner and evp, business affairs, National Lacrosse League

“When I got the offer to become the deputy commissioner, I knew it would be a significant increase in responsibility and role and would involve a lot more travel,” Berman says. “My 12-year-old asked, ‘How many women are deputy commissioners of men’s professional sports leagues?’ When I explained that I would be the first, he said, ‘Mom, you have to take the job. You are a pioneer.’” Indeed, Berman pioneered the NLL’s first leaguewide customer service representative platform, debuting for its 35th season in 2021, in addition to leading the league’s labor relations strategy, preparing the launch of its sports betting initiative, building its first team services function (to help clubs with broadcasting, marketing, sponsorships and ticket sales) and driving expansion, with NLL’s 14th team set to begin play in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2022. In the shorter term, Berman is helping the league navigate Covid-19 in the run-up to its 2021 campaign, saying, “Our approach is practical, solution-oriented and health-conscious, and we have been relentless in our effort to chart the course.” —David Cohen

Lynne Biggar CMO, Visa

Even in the face of mass event cancellations, Biggar showed how a corporate sponsor can score major wins. Under her leadership in 2020, Visa became the first solo sponsor of the Union of European Football Associations’ women’s league. Of the more than 90 athletes selected to be part of Team Visa for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, more than half were women. In response to the pandemic, the payments technology company created a series of PSA-style videos featuring athletes such as Sky Brown and Katie Ledecky engaging in safe, sanitary practices like hand-washing and social distancing. And to help small businesses, Visa enlisted NFL stars Saquon Barkley, George Kittle and Larry Fitzgerald for an NFL draft spot featuring the stars holding up shirts advertising their favorite local businesses. “I’ve been so inspired by the passionate team of Visa employees I get to see and work with every single day—now through video conference—and their passion for our clients, and for our mission of enabling individuals, businesses and economies to thrive,” Biggar says, crediting them for the award. —Richard Collings

Melanie Boulden President, Stills Business Unit, incoming chief marketing officer, Coca-Cola North America

Boulden took on her current role during the early days of the pandemic, when the cloud of confusion and uncertainty was at its thickest. She got to work with what she calls her “resilient and passionate team” to “stabilize the business, revise our strategic intent [and] reprioritize investments” given a world in flux. Since the outbreak, Coca-Cola’s Covid-19 relief efforts have surpassed $100 million around the globe. The former global head of marketing and brand management at Reebok who was recently named to the board of directors at Adobe will play a key role in Coca-Cola’s marketing around the Super Bowl and Olympics, and Boulden says her focus now is on “ensuring our growth portfolio of profitable, leading brands is supported by effective and cutting-edge marketing.” Despite these accomplishments, one of Boulden’s fondest moments of the past year was watching her 17-year-old daughter’s volleyball team pull off a major upset against a formidable rival. “It still brings a smile to my face thinking about their reaction and celebration after a big win,” she says. —Paul Hiebert

Karen Brodkin Evp, content strategy and partnerships, Endeavor; co-head, WME Sports

As the NFL’s Chargers began plotting their move from San Diego to Los Angeles a few years ago, they knew establishing better connections with the entertainment industry was key to their success in a new, highly competitive market. They turned to Brodkin, a senior leader at legendary Hollywood talent agency WME’s sports division and its parent conglomerate Endeavor, who helped lay the foundation for the Chargers’ brand relaunch, digital content, game-day consumer experiences and sponsor deals. Brodkin and her team act as “commercial and cultural consultants,” she says, going far beyond selling tickets to events, for a roster that includes the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz, MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers, as well as the NCAA, XFL, Premier Lacrosse League, NHL and New York Road Runners. A pioneer in bringing video game tournaments to TV and turning them into fast-growing franchises, Brodkin expects to deepen her group’s esports work in 2021 where, she says, “we’ve really found our lane.” —T.L. Stanley

Heidi Browning CMO, NHL

When Browning took the marketing reins at the NHL four years ago, she was tasked with building up the league’s social and digital presence. What no one at the league could have predicted was how important that framework would prove to be this year. Thanks to Browning’s efforts, the NHL had established a strong online presence that allowed it to continue engaging with fans during the pandemic. Over the past several months, the league built upon that network, creating new content and experiences for fans during the monthslong shutdown—leading to record-breaking engagement from players and fans alike. “When sports leagues and teams around the world took a pause, our social media and content teams became the center of communication, connection and content for hockey fans,” says Browning. “We used this opportunity to showcase the personalities of our players, highlight their community contributions and give fans a look into their lives off the ice.” —Kathryn Lundstrom

Doris Burke NBA analyst and reporter, ESPN

Burke, an institution who has covered basketball for ESPN since 1991, carved her name into the history books in September, when she became the first woman ever to serve as a game analyst for the NBA conference finals. She followed that up with another milestone two weeks later, becoming the first woman to fulfill the same role during the NBA Finals, which she called on ESPN Radio. “This game has been my passion since I picked up a ball when I was 7 years old,” Burke, who is also the first woman to be awarded the Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, told Sports Illustrated in September. “I’m very lucky that this is what I do for a living.” Burke openly expressed support for NBA players who boycotted playoff games this summer in solidarity with nationwide racial justice protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. “Every single one of us should be asking the same question: Are we on the side of right and truth, or are we on the wrong side?” Burke said on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “And are we individually doing enough?” —A.J. Katz

Jeanie Buss Controlling owner and president, Los Angeles Lakers

There’s an unimaginable kind of pressure that comes from taking over a job from your late father, who’s listed in the Guinness World Records as the “winningest owner in professional sports.” But Buss, daughter of iconic Lakers owner Jerry Buss, has risen to the occasion, becoming the first female controlling owner of an NBA team to win a national championship. The Lakers took home the NBA Finals trophy this fall, besting the Miami Heat in the league’s first experiment “in the bubble,” with players locked down as a precaution against the coronavirus. The climb back to the top, after missing the playoffs for six straight years, required a dramatic housecleaning, according to Buss, who fired her brother as head of basketball operations in 2017 and brought in Magic Johnson to lead the rebuild. On-court talent was the next focus, with sought-after players LeBron James and Anthony Davis joining the team. “Furthering my father’s legacy has always been my motivation,” Buss says of the season dedicated to Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. —T.L. Stanley

Marie Donoghue Vp, global sports video, Amazon

This year, Amazon Prime Video took the NFL’s Thursday Night Football to a global audience while continuing to expand its footprint, including acquiring the rights to Europe’s Champions League in Germany and the new Autumn Nations Cup rugby tournament in the U.K. Meanwhile, NFL fans around the world are enjoying an increasingly immersive viewing experience on game day thanks to Prime Video. “This season, we introduced a new lineup of energizing and refreshing talent and continued to innovate on behalf of our customers with new features like replays on-demand with X-Ray and co-streaming on Twitch that give fans more viewing options than ever before,” Donoghue says. Now, she’s looking forward to Prime Video’s first exclusive NFL game—which will reportedly be a Saturday game late in the season—as well as its airing of French Open matches next year. Donoghue cites Serena Williams, who has won the French Open three times, as her inspiration. “Everything she does encourages us to keep pushing, keep striving and keep reaching for our goals,” Donoghue says. —Lisa Lacy

Cathy Engelbert Commissioner, WNBA

Perhaps more than any other league, the WNBA has become a focal point of American athlete activism. Engelbert says the players’ priorities are paramount. “We’re leading a very player-first agenda, and my role as commissioner is to support the players and amplify their voices as they advocate for social and racial justice and equality,” Engelbert says. And despite years of critics shouting for athletes to “shut up and dribble” and “stick to sports,” embracing athletes’ political impulses has not hurt the league. In fact, business is booming. According to Engelbert, the WNBA saw a 68% bump in average viewership this season, a 350% uptick in merchandise sales and a 74% increase in mobile app installs. The league is in the middle of a five-year growth strategy, which includes investments in sales and marketing and building “household names” among its stars. And it made strides toward those goals after returning from the pandemic stoppage and playing its season in its own bubble—affectionately nicknamed the “Wubble.” —Scott Nover

Johanna Faries Commissioner, Call of Duty Esports

After launching the Call of Duty League in January, Faries had to pivot to an online-only environment just three months later. She nevertheless capped off the inaugural season with the most-watched Call of Duty esports event ever during the league’s first championship weekend. Creative activations to promote the event included fashion and design collaborations, exclusive in-game rewards for viewers and a virtual broadcast set in Warzone’s Verdansk Stadium. “We worked tirelessly across our teams and players, the entire Call of Duty game franchise team, our studio and commercial partners and many more stakeholders to deliver a world-class event despite having to do so in a fully remote manner,” Faries says. “It took hundreds of people and extensive planning to get it all done, and to see fans engage the way they did was incredibly rewarding.” Next up: Season 2—and continuing to deliver the best possible experience for fans and players. —Lisa Lacy

Dany Garcia Chairwoman and CEO, The Garcia Companies; co-founder, Seven Bucks Companies; owner, XFL

As Dwayne Johnson’s longtime business partner and manager, Garcia has long advocated for equality: As an executive producer on NBC’s The Titan Games competition series, hosted by Johnson, she ensures the female contestants compete on the same courses as the men. Garcia, who also competes as an IFBB professional bodybuilder, announced that the bodybuilding competition at the inaugural Athleticon event she co-founded with Johnson, debuting next year, will award equal prize money for male and female competitors, which is unheard of in the bodybuilding industry. But she made her biggest splash last August, when she and Johnson, along with RedBird Capital Partners, won their bid in a bankruptcy court auction for the assets of the XFL’s parent company, making Garcia the first woman to own an equal or majority ownership stake in a U.S. major professional sports league. “My career has been characterized by my relentless nature. I am obsessed with the things that I am passionate about—which manifests itself in the continuation of our success,” Garcia says. “And we remain diligently committed to uplifting, amplifying and advocating for marginalized voices in and beyond the entertainment space.” —Jason Lynch

Jill Gregory Evp, chief marketing and content officer, Nascar

Gregory can boast control over both event and arena due to Nascar’s acquisition of International Speedway Corporation last October, putting 12 national series racetracks under her purview, including Daytona International Speedway. Planning for the 2021 Daytona 500, the sport’s marquee event that’s slated to kick off the season Feb. 14 amid the uncertainties of the pandemic, is full throttle. Gregory helped keep fans busy while the tracks were quiet with the eNascar iRacing Pro Invitational Series on Fox and FS1, following that up with the “Nascar Returns” marketing campaign when live racing returned May 17 at Darlington Raceway. That race, The Real Heroes 400, inspired by “The Real Heroes Project,” paid tribute to front-line healthcare workers. She also pushed diversity and inclusion, hiring and overseeing Nascar’s first vp dedicated to those initiatives in June and rolling out a series of videos explaining its playoff system to new fans. “This year has been challenging on many fronts and is certainly one that we’ll never forget,” Gregory says. “We made the decision early on that Nascar wasn’t going to sit back and follow other sports through the adversity. Rather, we’ve looked to seize the opportunity to lead from the front and go forward boldly and decisively in our actions.” —David Cohen

Jemele Hill Sports journalist and media personality, Spotify, Vice TV, The Atlantic

The irony is purely intentional in the names of a few of Hill’s ongoing media projects—Stick to Sports, a Vice TV talk show, and Jemele Hill is Unbothered, a Spotify podcast—because the veteran reporter speaks her mind, unapologetically and fiercely, on issues far beyond the playing field. She discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and voter suppression on her podcast recently, for instance, and with Stick to Sports co-host Cari Champion spoke to the NBA’s Doc Rivers about the league’s summer walkout. Not that Hill isn’t still embedded in the sports world. The Detroit native, who spent a dozen years at ESPN, works as a contributing writer at The Atlantic, where she has called out the Big Ten for resuming games amid coronavirus outbreaks and held Jay-Z’s feet to the fire over his cozy relationship with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. On the horizon: Hill will produce a docuseries on Colin Kaepernick as part of the former football star’s deal with Disney, an alliance she says signals “a significant culture change.” —T.L. Stanley

Kate Jhaveri CMO, NBA

Since taking over as the league’s CMO a little more than a year ago, Jhaveri has had a proverbial baptism by fire, navigating the brand through a pandemic that suspended play midseason, not to mention the death of two of its biggest icons, Kobe Bryant and former commissioner David Stern. When play resumed in a “bubble” in Orlando, Fla., Jhaveri spearheaded the “Whole New Game” campaign aimed at reconnecting fans with the sport they loved. “Our ability to bring back basketball to the community of NBA fans while maintaining our core values and remaining focused on health and safety is powerful and something I am extremely proud to be a part of,” says Jhaveri. “The hard work and resilience of the players, teams and the entire league to reenvision basketball for our restart is a testament to our leadership.” In addition to her role overseeing the NBA, Jhaveri also runs marketing operations for the NBA’s G League and esports NBA 2k League, and oversees the consumer insights and analytics departments to merge the NBA’s data and marketing strategies. —Ryan Barwick

Micky Lawler President, Women’s Tennis Association

Women’s professional tennis, like most every other sport, came to a halt in March because of the coronavirus, but it was another pause in play that made an indelible impression on Lawler. In late August, the WTA suspended play at the Western & Southern Open, joining its fellow tennis associations and the NBA, MLB and NHL in an unprecedented work stoppage, taking “a stance against racial inequality and social injustice,” she says. That was one history-making moment in a year that saw the WTA honor its original nine athletes, who five decades ago “paved a better future for women in sports,” and revamp its brand to “champion women to compete fiercely and live fully,” says Lawler, who led the WTA’s summer return to the courts. A former Octagon exec and certified interpreter (she’s fluent in five languages), Lawler has set a new bar in prize money given to female tennis champs and spearheaded the WTA’s involvement in “The Real Heroes Project,” a groundbreaking collaboration between 14 pro leagues to honor essential front-line workers during the early days of the pandemic. —T.L. Stanley

Devi Mahadevia Director of emerging sports, fitness and digital publishers, Facebook

Mahadevia was one of the first members of Facebook’s sports partnerships team when she joined the company in 2014 after stints at the NHL and the NFL. Now, she’s leading Facebook’s efforts to help emerging sports and fitness publishers succeed on the platform. This year, Mahadevia struck content deals with UFC, Overtime and the Professional Squash Association to up their offerings on Facebook. UFC, she says, is now raking in seven-figure ad revenue on the platform. She says her work is even more critical during the Covid-19 pandemic as people are figuring out how to exercise—and run fitness-centered businesses—with severe restrictions on congregating. Mahadevia organized Facebook’s first fitness summit, a two-day course aimed at helping fitness organizations build a better business via Facebook, in August. “With so many people and businesses impacted by this pandemic, it was inspiring to help an industry when it needed it most,” she says. Next up for Mahadevia: expanding these sports and fitness initiatives to Facebook’s Portal and Oculus products. —Scott Nover

Barbara McHugh Svp, marketing, MLB

With arguably the best influx of young talent the game has seen in our lifetime, Major League Baseball is focused on bringing baseball to the next generation of fans. McHugh has overseen a number of initiatives that meet fans where they are: on social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. “It was critical and extremely important to me to ensure we prioritized connecting with fans in as many ways as possible (bringing the game to them) and to focus on opportunities that engaged a young (and new) audience,” McHugh says. The league is increasing its MLB Player Social Program, which provides engaging content for players to share with fans. As part of its social push, the league is mic’ing up players, and those clips are routinely the league’s most-viewed TikToks—one recent video of Mets star Pete Alonso garnered 2.3 million views. “We will continue to pay close attention to what excites the Gen Z audience and deliver them original content on the platforms and communities where they prefer to spend their time,” says McHugh. —Jameson Fleming

Stephanie McMahon Chief brand officer, WWE

Under McMahon’s leadership, WWE seems to have no limits. In early April, the pandemic forced WrestleMania 36 to shift from a live event performed before a sold-out crowd of 80,000 screaming fans to a closed-set scenario with only essential personnel in attendance. Still, the company’s biggest annual spectacle achieved record-breaking results, with more than 967 million video views across the company’s digital and social platforms during WrestleMania week, a 20% year-over-year increase. Total interactions across multiple social media channels also climbed 57% to 13.8 million. McMahon has made a name for herself fighting for gender equality, too, debuting the unscripted series Fight Like a Girl and spearheading a professional development initiative called the Women’s Affinity Group. “As a mother to three daughters, I am passionate about empowering and showing young girls and women that there are no boundaries to what you can do or be,” says McMahon. “Empowering women begins impactful, meaningful conversations.” —Paul Hiebert

Sarah Mensah Vp, general manager, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Nike

Joining Nike in 2014, Mensah has risen to become the brand’s first African-American woman responsible for leading one of Nike’s four regions, overseeing the brand’s strategy in 17 countries representing roughly 40% of the world’s population, including Nike’s youngest audiences. Under her leadership, the brand invested in “reigniting” Asian sneaker culture and driving record year-over-year growth across Nike Sportswear. Her proudest moment this year was watching new Nike addition Naomi Osaka win the U.S. Open, calling Osaka “the embodiment of what it means to be living proudly within your purpose and without apology.” Meanwhile, Nike has seen its digital business, a key short-term priority, boom, with first-quarter fiscal year 2021 global digital business growth of 83%. “Our mission at Nike is to help make sport a daily habit for all athletes around the world,” says Mensah. “In order to do this, we need to accelerate our digital strategy to put accessibility to sport into the hands of consumers wherever they are and serve them at scale.” —Ryan Barwick

Erika Nardini CEO, Barstool Sports

Nardini has been a driving force behind Barstool Sports’ growth since joining the company in July 2016 as its first CEO. Once known mostly for its raunchy blog posts, Barstool is just as well-known these days for its podcasts and digital video content. Revenue has grown 1,100% since Nardini arrived, and Barstool Sports is now a top five podcasting publisher in the U.S., according to Podtrac, with the world’s No. 1 sports podcast, No. 1 hockey podcast, No. 1 golf podcast and No. 1 female-hosted podcast. Nardini says her most significant accomplishment in 2020 is spearheading the recent investment deal with Penn National Gaming in which the casino operator bought a 36% stake in Barstool Sports, valuing the company at $450 million, and “together we would tackle the sports betting market,” says Nardini. And while 2020 has been a difficult year for the media industry, Nardini is proud of how her 230 staffers have persevered. “We went from closing the biggest deal in Barstool Sports’ history to being shut down due to a global pandemic in under a month,” says Nardini. “We didn’t miss a beat.” —A.J. Katz

JoAnn Neale President, Major League Soccer

MLS was as ready for the pandemic as an organization could be thanks to Neale’s formation of the MLS Covid-19 Task Force in February. Her moves to smooth the transition to remote work, retain six infectious disease experts, secure tests for the entire league and craft its testing plan and protocols paved the way for the sport’s return with July’s MLS Is Back Tournament in Orlando, Fla. Not only did the event mark a return to play, but it enabled players to shine a spotlight on the important issues of racial injustice, inequity and violence against the Black community following the death of George Floyd. “There was no precedent or playbook to follow,” Neale says. “I am very proud that we were one of the first North American professional leagues to safely return to play. … Many staff, players, coaches and officials spent more than 45 days in a ‘bubble’ environment, away from their loved ones, to protect the health of everyone involved in the tournament.” —David Cohen

Kim Ng General manager, Miami Marlins

A front-office veteran who started her baseball career as an intern for the Chicago White Sox, Ng has been within arm’s reach of a general manager gig numerous times, with the Dodgers, the Angels and the Padres, among other ball clubs. The former college softball star landed that role last week, with Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter citing Ng’s “wealth of knowledge and championship-level experience” in welcoming her to the team. With the new job, Ng, whom Adweek named among its Most Powerful Women in Sports in 2017 and 2018 and who took part in a panel discussion at Adweek’s Women in Media & Sports Summit in 2017, becomes the first female general manager in Major League Baseball and one of the highest-ranking women in men’s professional sports in North America, telling ESPN, “This challenge is one I don’t take lightly. When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a Major League team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals.” Ng, who spent the past nine years as MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations, is a key hire in Jeter’s ongoing effort to rebuild the Marlins, who recently made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. —T.L. Stanley

Andrea Perez Vp, general manager, Jordan Brand

Even though apparel and footwear brands were among the most negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Jordan Brand demonstrated resiliency with its women’s business achieving double-digit growth globally in the fourth quarter, according to Perez. In particular, she credits the brand’s introduction of women’s apparel this spring. To drive up the score, during NBA All-Star Weekend in February—during which sneakerheads look for new releases—the Jordan Brand focused on women when the emphasis is usually on men. That included the unveiling of the highly sought-after Air Jordan I “Carolina to Chicago.” As a result, women now constitute a quarter of all Jordan customers. Perez says she was most inspired by her team in 2020. “The women’s team in the Jordan Brand is diverse in ethnicities, national origins, expertise, years of seniority and even gender,” she says. “However, they have one thing in common, which is a deep passion to build the culture of basketball through and with women.” —Richard Collings

Elizabeth Rutledge CMO, American Express

Though fans could not attend tennis matches at Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong stadiums, under the aegis of Rutledge, players and viewers could still hear their cheers via the U.S. Open Fan Cam sponsored by American Express. Via the activation, the financial services company recorded fans rooting for their favorite players. It was one of the many ways American Express created experiences that added a little cheer, in this case literally, to 2020. More recently, the company partnered with Shaquille O’Neal, an American Express ambassador, to launch the Coalition to Back Black Businesses, a grant program to which the company committed $10 million to support Black-owned small businesses over the next four years. These wide-ranging efforts were made possible by the team at American Express, Rutledge says, citing their commitment, resilience and focus. “I am so inspired by my colleagues and all they have done to deliver best-in-class service to our customers, particularly during the pandemic,” she says. —Richard Collings

Morgan Shaw Parker Vp, CMO, AMB Sports + Entertainment

As vp and chief marketing officer of AMB Sports + Entertainment—which includes the Atlanta Falcons and Mercedes-Benz Stadium—Shaw Parker has overseen significant, positive change and growth. She rebuilt the entire internal marketing team, unifying all disciplines to “bring the team closer to our fans and the city of Atlanta.” The Falcons are held up as one of the top marketers in the NFL. For example, in social and digital content, the team rose from the bottom to top quartile in every metric, especially important as the Falcons launched a highly successful uniform change and brand identity overhaul. But for Shaw Parker, who spent over 10 years at Nike and was a big part of guiding the brand’s NFL partnership, success comes first from empathy. “You have to bring people along with you,” she says. “Empowering and opening doors for others gives me great joy.” —Doug Zanger

Stephanie Sherman Svp, marketing, DraftKings

One of the winners of 2020 is DraftKings, which has cemented its grip on the daily fantasy sports market, expanded its offerings and taken the company public—all in a year marred by a pandemic that shut down most major sports around the world. When sports came to a halt, DraftKings scrambled to add new esports and international leagues but, when the major leagues resumed, it was ready. Sherman and her team have led the marketing effort through the tumult, engaging influencers and partners around league openings and setting their sights on having industry-leading NFL offerings. “At kickoff, we internally coined the phrase ‘winning the NFL,’ and I am most proud of my team doing just that,” Sherman says. “For example, our push around DraftKings $100M Golden Ticket Giveaway garnered over 540,000 entries, ultimately maintaining customer engagement and generating excitement for weeks to come.” Sherman says she’s looking forward to a more normal 2021 and early-in-the-calendar events like Super Bowl LV and March Madness, which was canceled in 2020. —Scott Nover

Molly Solomon Executive producer and president, NBC Olympics Production; executive producer, Golf Channel

Golf Channel executive producer Solomon was pulled onto the NBC Olympics Production team in November 2019, just months before the anticipated 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Then 2020 happened. “Bam—the pandemic hit our world, and the Olympics were postponed,” Solomon recalls. That didn’t mean her work slowed down. Instead, the TV executive pivoted to golf, one of the first sports to return during Covid-19. Navigating new socially distanced play and production protocols, Solomon got coverage of the PGA Tour, the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the USGA Championships and the U.S. Open in front of audiences starved for live sports, notching ratings wins. With those accomplishments in the books, Solomon has her sights set on even bigger productions, starting with Tokyo. “The NBC Olympics team will be producing two of the world’s largest sporting events, the Summer and Winter Games, within six months of each other, along with the Super Bowl, which also will be televised by NBC in February of 2022,” she says. It’s no small task, but she’s “honored and psyched” to do it. —Kelsey Sutton

Julie Uhrman Co-founder, president, Angel City FC

Growing up playing basketball, Uhrman learned early on that she only operates at one level: being “all in.” And that’s come in handy as Uhrman has built Angel City FC, the professional women’s soccer team coming to Los Angeles in 2022. Since Uhrman, actress and activist Natalie Portman and venture capitalist Kara Nortman founded the team in 2019, the goal has been to push boundaries and take chances. As president, Uhrman has secured a plethora of high-profile, majority female founding investors, from tennis icon Billie Jean King to Serena Williams and her 3-year-old daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. (the youngest team co-owner in history, according to Uhrman). She’s also made community building a priority for Angel City FC by partnering with LA84 Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for increased access to youth sports in L.A. Launching Angel City FC amid the pandemic hasn’t been easy, but Uhrman thinks the experience will make the club stronger in the long run. “We didn’t have to innovate to survive; we had to innovate to exist,” she says. —Tiffany Moustakas

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