In addition to covering what's happening on the field, court or ice, we also want to get to know women on the business side of sports. The New York Red Bulls announced the addition of Amy Scheer to their front office staff as Chief Commercial Officer in September. Scheer has previously held positions with New York City FC, the New York Liberty and the New Jersey Nets.Despite a rocky first year on the field, you helped guide NYCFC to an average attendance of nearly 30,000 fans per game. How did you do it, and what lessons from that work do you take into the position with the Red Bulls?As I enter into my first full season with the Red Bulls, I feel that I have a solid understanding of soccer's role in the community within the greater New York area. The Red Bulls have an incredibly loyal fan base and one that I see continuing to grow with new faces attending games at Red Bull Arena. There has never been a better time to be in the sport of soccer in the United States.As a veteran of the Nets from their time in New Jersey, what are the biggest dos and don'ts of marketing a New Jersey team to the New York market?I do not believe there is necessarily a list of what a team should or should not be doing to market themselves in a market with a lot of competition. The most important thing is to ensure that you stay true to your brand and core values as a team as well as craft and tailor your messages to whom you are speaking with. As an example - if a big part of your commitment as a club is community – it doesn’t matter whether you are teaming up with a particular community or charity in New York or New Jersey – as long as you are doing the right thing. Also – you don’t want to limit yourself…you have data to support who you should be talking to, regardless of zip code. So you make sure you are reaching out to like-minded people with the right messaging. Then they can decide who they want to support.The Liberty have struggled to reach the same level of average attendance from your time as VP of Marketing and Communications. What do you think the team needs to do to return to that level, if not the routine 14-15K it reached in the late 90s?I can’t speak to what the team is doing now, what their business plan is or how the metrics compare, but I can say that during my time there I had tremendous support not only from my boss but from the executive team of Madison Square Garden. I was able to build out a business case for a dedicated staff and sales team and at the end of the day, that crew had a tremendous impact on the bottom line. In August 2014, Marc de Grandpre put a timetable of five years on a goal for the team to reach sellouts in every match. Do you see the Red Bulls as on track to reach that?I do 100%. Marc has done an amazing job in steering this club’s business in the right direction. We have a strong team here that is focused on building a great club on the pitch and a great group in the front office. As the sport of soccer continues to blossom in the United States, you hope it has a positive effect on your business as well. How woman-friendly have your stops in professional sports been (no need to specify which spots) and how much/what specific work remains to get to full equality in the industry?I have had nothing but positive experiences as a woman in the sports industry. I don’t believe that at any time in my career being a woman has held me back. Growing up professionally with an NBA team was very fortunate as they have always been light years ahead of other leagues when it comes to diversity. I think now if you look around across all leagues and teams, there is certainly great diversity and it continues to get better every year. When did you know this was the career path for you, and why?Sports was always such a big part of my life growing up…obviously playing but going to games and watching TV with my dad. Those times are the best memories of my childhood. And in High School I saw the Meadowlands Arena being built and right then and there I knew I wanted to work there. I never thought about working in sports until then. It was like a light bulb going off and an amazing realization that I can combine my passion with my profession. So I chose UMass as my next step because I could study sport management there. And from there I have been very fortunate to have great bosses, mentors and team members.
The WNBA appointed former Coca-Cola executive and Atlanta city council member Lisa Borders as its league president on Wednesday. Shortly after she was introduced in the job, she spoke with Excelle Sports to give us an idea of who she is and where we can expect the WNBA to go during her tenure.
What is your basketball background?
I cut my basketball teeth watching basketball as an undergraduate at Duke University, watching our men's program at the beginning of the dynasty. Right before Coach K came in. And I have always loved the game. But I had the opportunity here in Atlanta to bring a team to this city based upon a conversation my predecessor, Donna Orender, had with me and some downtown businessmen about bringing a team to Atlanta.
What occurred to me is, I've had many jobs in my career, but there's a recurring theme: I've always lifted the bar, and spoken for those who were not at the table. And so this is an opportunity to ensure that young women have the same opportunities I saw the young men have when I was at Duke as an undergraduate. So I spent a substantial amount of my team leading a group who brought a team to Atlanta in 2007, 2008, and I have been a season ticket holder ever since. So my experience has really been at the grassroots level, as a fan, and then as a leader, bringing a team to Atlanta.
We didn't have an owner, we didn't have an arena, we didn't have a team name, a color, a mascot. Nothing. We started with zero, and had to build it from scratch. And that experience, in and of itself, left a very strong stamp on my heart for women's professional basketball. So I feel like every player in my city belongs to me.
[caption id="attachment_1631" align="alignnone" width="640"] Borders enjoys an Atlanta Dream game in 2010. (Photo: Scott Cunningham/NBA)[/caption]
Why do you see yourself as a fit for the league presidency?
I think that this position is perfect for me. There are three things that drive my behavior on a regular basis. What I feel passionate about, what drives my performance, and what I say speaks to my purpose in life. I have a lot of passion around basketball, and supporting women, so clearly the WNBA checks that box in spades.
In terms of performance, what I understand is that basketball is a team sport, it is an international language. There are only two international languages: sport and music. So clearly the WNBA speaks to the sport language. And basketball is a team sport the way life is a team sport, or should be—none of us should have to navigate life by ourselves. And there are studies with empirical data that show that people who play organized sports do better in life, and certainly do better in business. Now why is that? It is my understanding that you garner skills playing organized sports that are fungible. So learning how to lead, learning how to follow, learning the discipline of a work ethic to become good at an organized sport. Learning how to build consensus. All of that happens when you are playing the game of basketball.
So when I think of performance, having a tool kit of fungible skills is incredibly advantageous. And so professional women's basketball is by definition a great departure point for women who want to fulfill their initial goal of playing a professional sport, but ultimately to live a life that they can navigate smoothly. And finally, in terms of purpose, I've lived an incredibly rich life with a support network in dang near everything I've tried to do. And I recognize that not everybody has had that. But my personal mantra is 'Of whom much is given, much is required.' And so I have always tried to add my individual voice to add to the chorus of voices who have not been supported, or whose voices have not been fully valued. And that's certainly true of women in professional sports. So this is a sweet spot for me that merges all three of those concepts. My passion, my performance and the performance of women, as well as my purpose as an individual person.
How important was the commitment of Adam Silver and the NBA in you signing on?
The most important question to me was whether Adam was committed to the WNBA. Because everything else is a strategy. And there are tactics under each one. That works well on paper or on a grease board. What I really wanted to understand was, was the leader of the NBA committed to the WNBA? And Adam answered unequivocally, and said I am 1000 percent committed to this league.
Because if he had no answered that way? We would be great friends, but I wouldn't be working at the WNBA. So the belief by Adam—will continue to permeate the entire organization. Not just the people who work in New York. Not just the owners in Chicago. But the owners everywhere. The players everywhere. And the fans everywhere. It's up to people like Adam and myself to set the tenor and the tone for how people perceive the WNBA. And each of us has to be joined at the hip, recognizing that we are driving awareness, we are driving alignment we are driving action on every front. Period. Full stop.
So I understand as the president of the WNBA that my job is to wake up every morning promoting, protecting, preserving this league. Adam will be there as an anchor, but I must do my part to lead our side of the business. And let's be clear: it is a business. It is more than that, but at its very core, it is a business. So we've got to drive top-line revenue. That is our overarching issue. We've got to make sure we improve our television ratings, that we increase our attendance, that we have more sponsorship, that merchandise sales move quickly, that online traffic has high volume. All of those things are like dials on the board that we can tweak and turn. But belief is fundamental. And if you do not have that? I don't care what program you put in place. It's not going to work.
Are there specific metrics you're looking to achieve?
I think it's a little premature to talk about it at that level of granularity. I need to spend a fair amount of time assessing where we've come from, where we are and where we aspire to be. And I need to do a lot of listening, from the folks in New York, to the people in every team market, to the fan experience and our players. There are many stakeholders, and each of them have a point of view, a substantial perspective that needs to be included and evaluated.
So I would say, give me some time to get in and get my feet wet. I had a grandfather who was a pastor, who said, 'God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason. So you could listen twice as much as you talk. So that has been an ongoing approach for me my entire career. And I will not deviate from that—it has served me extremely well for, I don't want to tell you how many years, but it's over 30.”
What are your first priorities as president?
So I will start this weekend at the [NBA] All-Star game, meeting lots of folks who are there. But when I do officially start on the 21st, I'm going to start in the office. I'm going to take a page from our partner, Delta's safety book. You want to put on your safety mask first. Make sure you are pristine and perfect—make sure you know what is going on in your own house.
So I'll start with the WNBA staff, with the business operation folks, with the marketing folks, with the sponsorship folks. So that is first, internally. And then we'll start talking to stakeholders beyond—the individual markets, the owners, the operating officers, the players, the fans. So we'll hear what everybody has to say, in the office, and then working your way out.
[caption id="attachment_1633" align="alignnone" width="640"] (Photo: Chris McKay/Wireimage)[/caption]
What is the image you intend to portray of the WNBA?
So the WNBA is a business at its very core. But it can be a transformational platform not just for women, but for the world. I talked about sports as an international language—it makes you feel a certain way to be healthy. It makes you feel a certain way to watch people run up and down the court and for you to be able to cheer for them. The WNBA at its core is a business, but I think it is a transformational platform for how we perceive women, and for how we perceive women's achievements. This league has done so much in two decades—we are two decades old.
But look at our brother league, the NBA, it is 70 years old. Clearly, there are substantial opportunities for us to improve. But it would be crazy for us to think we can leap to the level of maturity as our brother league, or of other leagues, without a whole lot of hard work. So bringing an awareness of the benefit of organized sports for women. Recognizing that our players are extraordinary and there are multiple facets to their personalities, being able to connect them to our current fans and our future fans, says to me we can change the way people perceive and receive women and their accomplishments.”
Do you have a model for what the WNBA should be?
We're the longest-running and most successful women's sports league in America. And I would tell you that we are creating the model. The beauty of our situation is that we have endured for two decades. And we have a blank canvas in front of us that we can paint on together and create what the model looks like. I'm very much about thinking beyond the boundaries that we have today. We know what has worked.
What could we be? What should we be? And then we answer the question of how we get there. But I see a white canvas. I see opportunity in that canvas. So I am ecstatic about my opportunity to lead this journey. But I will not be on it alone. Everyone will be here to help. It cannot be one person, marching to his or her own beat. So I don't think it is insurmountable, because I don't know what it is yet. But what I do know is that if we put our collective minds to it, we will own the future. Because we will design what that future will be, and then we will go get it.”
Any final thoughts?
The parting thought is that I am absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity. My predecessors, the three presidents who came before me, did tremendous work. We're going to build on that work. We have exceptional players. We're going to build on the players who came before, and look to the players who come after, cut a very wide berth for this generation, and for generations to come.