espnW Virtually Welcomes Thousands for espnW Summit NYC


espnW Virtually Welcomes Thousands for espnW Summit NYC

espnW hosted its first virtual espnW Summit Thursday, shifting plans for its second annual New York City event to a fully digital offering with more than 14,000 registered attendees. #espnWnyc trended in the top five nationally all afternoon, reaching as high as No. 1 in the U.S. for the final 90 minutes. The espnW Summit NYC is already available on demand, with all sessions set to view on

Laura Gentile, espnW founder and ESPN senior vice president, marketing, and espnW Summit NYC emcee Sarah Spain welcomed the thousands of virtual attendees to start the afternoon, discussing the importance of community, reflecting on where the country is currently, dealing with cancellation fatigue and learning what our priorities are.


  • Spain, an espnW columnist and ESPN commentator, continued by moderating the “Women at the Helm Panel” where CAA’s Lisa Joseph Metelus and NBA CMO Kate Jhaveri discussed the importance of the visibility regarding women in leadership roles, navigating athlete voices in the name of social justice and how both are modernizing their fields as the sports industry continues to evolve.
    • Joseph Metelus discussed the importance of athletes’ voices with regard to social justice, noting that “our clients at CAA have spent this time trying to figure out how they can help. Donovan Mitchell was the first players to be affected by COVID-19 and publicly talk about it. So our role is how we help them navigate through that process.”
    • Jhaveri remarked that the WNBA Draft and ensuing CBA has invigorated both the WNBA fanbase and its stars. “About 30% of NBA fans are women, and for the WNBA that number is closer to 45%. When you look at the audience that is interested in the WNBA, it’s young, diverse and looking for brands that speak to them. They care about players and an ethos that relates to who they are as change makers.”
  • ESPN senior vice president, multiplatform storytelling and journalism Alison Overholt introduced No. 1 overall WNBA Draft pick Sabrina Ionescu and SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm. The espnW Keynote Conversation between Ionescu and Storm was highlighted by several personal anecdotes from Ionescu, including being asked to be a Commencement speaker at the University of Oregon, her relationship with the late Kobe Bryant, the importance of focusing on the things you can control and being the author of your own story. She also touched on the possibility of playing without fans and her decision to partner with Nike.
    • On playing without fans: “It would be really different. Obviously, every game, that’s what you’re really excited about. You’re excited to get out to a packed arena, through the ups and downs of a game have fans cheering for you and there supporting you. It’ll be different but I’ll play the same whether it’s a packed arena or no one there, so I’m just excited to hopefully be able to play and be on the court with my teammates.”
    • On choosing Nike as her sponsor: “It wasn’t easy; it almost felt like college recruiting all over again. Your future is based on the decision you make. Relationships are important to me and I’ve had a long, long relationship with Nike, just being a Nike athlete for nearly 10 years through high school and college. Weighing out the pros and cons and wanting to align with a brand that has high values and sky is the limit, and Nike really embodies all of that on and off the court, field, or whatever sport you’re playing. So I’m really happy with the decision I made and I’m excited to see how both of us together continue to grow the game of basketball.”
  • ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro, an espnW Summit regular, discussed the espnW Summit NYC’s chapter in the story of how the industry pivoted during this time, the production innovation of the WNBA and NFL Drafts, ESPN’s commitment to women within audience expansion, and the work that still needs to be done in diversity and inclusion worldwide. He shared a few recent audience expansion notes, including:
    • 34% of the audience for “The Last Dance” were women
    • ESPN and ABC’s coverage of the 2020 NFL Draft reached 4.4 million more female viewers than 2019, accounting for nearly 70% of growth in reach
  • Spain was then joined by frequent ESPN collaborators Mina Kimes and Katie Nolan to discuss their careers, the importance of women supporting other women, their own battles with imposter syndrome or industry hurdles, why they each find that women at ESPN work together rather than “substituting for each other” and the necessity to be yourself. As Kimes so perfectly noted, “what I bring to the table is enough.”
    • The trio also discussed their viral Highly Questionable segment, reflecting on how their experiences in the industry and negative social media chatter gave them fodder for their exchange
  • SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan was next to chat with Spain to reflect on her viral #GirlDad SportsCenter segment, an incident that nearly derailed her career and the importance of redemption and forgiveness.
    • “In that very moment, I thought to myself, every moment I’ve worked for, all of the calculated moves that I had made, all the plans that I had to eventually work at ESPN one day and walk the same halls as Robin Roberts, it’s over. It’s done. … I leaned on the family that loves me and the colleagues that carried me through.”
  • Reaching its millionth download this week, “Laughter Permitted with Julie Foudy” welcomed Simone Biles and Crystal Dunn to a Summit-sized version of the podcast. The duo shared their thoughts about the postponement of their respective seasons, how they’re keeping busy during this time and their pets.
    • Biles
      • On the Tokyo Olympic Games being postponed: “I was pretty devastated because I’ve never felt more ready this early in the season, and we were preparing to do a World Cup in Japan. We were supposed to leave in 2.5 weeks, and I felt really strong, confident and ready for the Olympics to be this year since that’s the schedule we were on. Once it got derailed, it was hard to process and it didn’t seem real. … There were a lot of unknowns and that was the hardest part.”
      • If the Olympics are canceled in 2021, would she retire: “I could walk away from this sport and feel like I accomplished more than I ever actually imagined, because whenever I was growing up, all I wanted was a college scholarship, and I exceeded that. And then I wanted to go to a World Championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five Worlds and one Olympic Games, so I’m more than happy.”
    • Dunn
      • On the creation of the NWSL Challenge Cup: “As national team players, we have a lot of pressure on us at all times. We make a decision, people question us on why we made that decision and there’s a lot of responsibility. However, I do think the tournament was set up for everybody, it’s not a national team tournament or just for NWSL, it’s everyone’s tournament. So during this time, I think it’s really important that people understand that it’s based on your comfort level. I think it’s really cool that we all support each other: if you want to play, awesome. If you don’t, that’s awesome, too. It has to be an individual decision and people might feel like on the outskirts or make that decision to not play, but it’s important that they know that there’s support for them. I support any of my teammates that say they don’t want to play and of course I support my teammates that are 100% bought in and ready to go.”
      • On whether she’s decided to play: “I’m taking it day by day and week by week. COVID is obviously very scary and you have no idea what can happen to you when you contract this disease, so it’s important not to think, ‘oh this only happens to older people or I’m immune. Millennials think we’re invincible and we’re not, so it’s important we understand how serious the virus is. I think for me, I have that [fear] in the back of my head. Also physically, the tournament is one month long and is basically a month away, so we have to ramp up this pre-season and be prepared to play in a World Cup-style format, and that’s not easy. It’s a very hard task to compete against these women every single game. I just want to be healthy and I want to get back and play. I miss the game, but I want to do it in a safe way. I want to be protected from COVID and I want to be protecting myself and not getting injured.”
  • Jodi Markley, ESPN executive vice president, content operations and creative services, joined Gentile to discuss ESPN’s remote productions of the WNBA Draft, NFL Draft, various studio shows and today’s espnW Summit NYC
    • On how her team pivoted with the onset of COVID-19: “During the month of March, when all of this started happening, we figured out early on that we needed to reimagine how we are creating content. We also knew our No. 1 priority was the health and safety of our people. So every move was made through that lens. Our remote operations team installed cameras at every [talent’s] home. I’m actually talking to you from one now. Since March 12, the team has deployed more than 100 in-home cameras and have more installs every day. We also developed what we’re calling live from home production, where each member of the production team controls their portion of the show from home, so the graphic operator, the producer, the talent, the editors, everybody is producing their piece, and all the elements are fed into a piece of equipment in our facility. The director takes these elements and creates a show from home. They’re talking to each other throughout…and this new workflow has allowed us to bring back shows like The Jump, Around The Horn, Pardon The Interruption and Jalen & Jacoby. We are producing a small handful of shows from our Bristol facility, including this one. .. We’re utilizing new workflows, innovating every day and keeping people as safe and healthy as we can.”
  • It wouldn’t be an espnW Summit without movement and mindfulness. Midway through the day, energy coach Lizzi Cutler led attendees through a meditation exercise, expressing the importance of finding love and gratitude and making a self-care checklist. To close out the afternoon, Dr. Jordan Metzl took attendees through his 9-Minute Strength Workout.

To access images from today’s event, please visit: (Courtesy of espnW / ESPN PR)

Amanda Brooks

Amanda is the Senior Director of Communications overseeing publicity strategy for ESPN’s entire college sports portfolio, including college football and the College Football Playoff, 40 NCAA Championships and ESPN's college networks. Amanda is a proud alum of Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., and earned her master's in ethics from Vanderbilt University. A native of Kent, Ohio, she is a die-hard Cleveland Guardians fan.
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