How This Former Field-Hockey Star Created The World’s Biggest Sports Brand For Women – Fast Company
Leading the charge is Laura Gentile, a powerhouse at the forefront of the world of women in sports. She’s the founder and senior vice president of espnW and Women’s Initiatives, a council member on the U.S. State Department’s Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports, and an avid New York Giants fan. An athlete herself, Gentile played field hockey for Duke University, an experience that she now uses as a lens through which to view all her work. In March of this year, Gentile was hailed as one of 13 women at the forefront of the media industry.
And that title is fitting. In 2010, Gentile recognized women were no longer a niche audience. “It just became clear that there was this huge opportunity with women who not only have grown up as athletes but are real sports fans and maybe are somewhat overlooked in the sports media industry,” she says.
With that in mind, Gentile launched the first espnW Women + Sports Summit, a space that brings together the most influential women in sports. This year’s lineup boasts the likes of Sue Bird, Jeanie Buss, and Mallory Pugh, to name a few. Seven years in, Gentile reflects on how the summit has evolved, its impact, and how she manages her time as a VP, a mom, and an athlete.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Fast Company: At what point did you recognize the need for espnW?
Laura Gentile: I grew up playing sports, going to New York Giants football games with my dad, loving the Yankees and loving ESPN. That was just my brand. That sort of came full circle working at ESPN. There’s this huge change with how young girls are growing up; they participate like never before, it’s accepted as never before, and there are so many more opportunities to play thanks to Title IX. Women are gaining our footing in general, across all industries, and have a larger voice in the conversation about things like pay equity and leadership roles. So, I look at the ESPN business and say, “Okay, we should be serving all sports fans.” If we wanna grow and continue to grow, and continue to be the leader, women are a huge opportunity because there’s 83 million female sports fans in this country, and that’s not an insignificant number. We need to really think about that audience and how we’re serving her.