Women Leaders in Sports Panel

Victoria Newsome, Staff Writer

On Wednesday, February 1st, Villanova Athletics hosted the Women Leaders in Sports Panel at the Finneran Pavilion. The event on National Girls & Women in Sports Day served as an incredible opportunity for female student-athletes and young women to be empowered and to learn from influential women working in some of the highest positions in the sports industry. The panel lineup included NBC Sports CFO Christine Dorfler, President of Playfly Sports Christy Hedgpet and Philadelphia 76ers COO Lara Price. 

Olivia Kraus, a senior on Villanova’s women’s rowing team, opened the event by thanking everyone for attending and welcomed Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman. Ackerman is an American sports executive and former basketball player, and she was the first President of the Women’s National Basketball Association from 1996-2005. A successful trailblazer and inspiration for women on the business side, her introduction of each panelist was impactful to show how the industry is constantly growing and evolving. 

Hedgpeth began the panel discussion by speaking about the current state of the women’s college basketball experience compared to the days when she was on the court. She emphasized that media coverage has grown and how it has tremendously helped athletic departments to invest more money into women’s basketball across the country. This has been elevating the game as she explained the importance of parity, which is the state or condition of being equal in status and pay.

 “More administrators have gotten behind women’s basketball,” Hedgpeth said. “And it’s become more competitive. You’ve seen it, you know, get a lot of media attention and that’s made it more competitive. There’s a lot more, I would say opportunities, for young girls to develop and that has really translated to…a lot of really high-level competition, which is great to see.” 

Dorfler added that media coverage is critical for women in sports, especially in television production. The sports media industry is evolving to new platforms that will change the way audiences watch sports and will allow new women viewers to become immersed in the sports world. 

“I’ve been in my role working for a media company for 20 years, the past four or so have been in sports media,” Dorfler said. “I’ve seen it grow, I think a big key to the future of women’s sports, with regard to media, is streaming. Right? Because we have a whole new platform that is boundaryless, that is not limited by a 24-hour television schedule, that is limited in terms of media real estate, and I think that creates an incredible opportunity to blend both linear and television media coverage of women’s athletics with streaming coverage of women’s athletics that can go far we’ve thought before.” 

As sports media outlets are working to diversify their staff and audience, Price emphasized how more women are securing roles in front offices, as officials and are constantly growing in the NBA space. She shared a brief story about how there were not a lot of women on the business side, so Ackerman and Holly Hansen inspired her to pursue the industry when she first started in the NBA. She saw little change over time as she mentioned that the NBA is dedicated to focusing on diversity and getting more women in positions. Many of the opportunities today for women in sports were not available for the panelists, so they emphasized how building careers up now is essential with NIL deals, networking and coming to events like a panel to learn more about the industry.

Hedgepeth described how female leaders want to see more people like them as she encouraged everyone to empower each other. Representation and showing up in leadership are key as more women can picture themselves in different jobs in sports. 

“Leadership is really about showing people their superpowers, not just yours,” Hedgepeth said. 

Although there is still a long way to go in terms of accessibility and senior roles for women in sports organizations, Dorfler mentions that finding a balance of confidence and humility is key to being successful in sports. 

“[Be] confident in your ability to learn,” Dorfler said.

This is a skill that so many female student-athletes learn through their sport and can be transferable to their career. 

After their inspirational remarks, the panel opened into a Q&A as students learned that establishing a network early on can change the trajectory of their careers and that strong women get the job done.