Women on Course: An Interview With Lindsey Huff on Sports Marketing and Women - 

Women on Course: An Interview With Lindsey Huff on Sports Marketing and Women -

By SBS Personality Erin Vranas (erinvr@sportsbusinesssims.com)
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Sports Business Simulations, Inc. (SBS) boasts a bright new addition to its executive team, Lindsey Huff. Lindsey joined SBS in April as the Vice-President of Affiliate Marketing, equipped with a resume that reflects the thematic flavor and focus of a lifelong athlete.

Lindsey's athletic accomplishments include all-state honors in three high-school sports (soccer, basketball, and softball), a scholarship to play Division I basketball, and both the "Freshman of the Year" award and All-Conference distinction in her senior year at the University of San Francisco. In case any doubt remains regarding Lindsey's athletic prowess, she is also a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Clearly, Lindsey Huff knows the territory when it comes to playing sports. However, sports business is familiar terrain as well. Her high-level experience as an elite athlete, graduate student in sports management, and businesswoman lay the foundation for Lindsey's multi-dimensional insight into what it takes to be a winner - as a sports team or as a company.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Lindsey that took place on April 29, 2004:

EV: How did athletics become a part of your life?

LH: I think I would be making the understatement of the century if I said that athletics were a "part" of my life. Ever since I could walk, athletics were my life. My parents said that, as a baby, I would run right past the dolls and grab a ball...whether that be a soccer ball, football, basketball...you name it. Both my father and brother always included me when they would play sports and it became apparent early on that I had a knack for them.

EV: What was it like to be a female college athlete? Tell us about some of your experiences and role models along the way.

LH: I have very mixed emotions about my time as a female college athlete; it was a great experience but it was also suffocating at the same time. The expectation put on you by coaches and administration was to the point of being ultimately very controlling, which is fine on the court, but when I was off the court I wanted my own life, which I discovered wasn't a realistic expectation. On the other hand, I will never forget the great times I had with my teammates and the experiences we all went through together that helped solidify our friendships. I wouldn't change that for anything.

EV: What responsibilities do you believe athletes have as role models?

LH: Athletes need to be aware of their actions and realize that children are watching every move and will interpret those players/actions as "Gods." The unfortunate part of athletics is the incredible amount of money that is at stake, and I believe that is why you get many athletes acting out in extreme or negative ways...it's for attention.
More press usually equals more fans, which equals more money. It's a sad world when outstanding players like David Robinson and Tim Duncan don't get endorsements because they are well behaved or "boring." I think that's the wrong message to be sending to America's youth.

EV: Who are your favorite athletes?
LH: Alana Healy, Stephanie Bealle, Kevin Garnett, and Lindsey Whalen.

EV: What made you choose to pursue a career in sports business? What is your dream job?

LH: I chose to pursue a career in sports business because I felt as though I understood the territory pretty well considering the fact that I've been an athlete all my life, and it's what I love. My dream job would be General Manager for the 49ers.

EV: What is your role at SBS? What do you hope to accomplish through/for SBS?

LH: My role at SBS is the Vice President of Affiliate Marketing. I would like to help SBS establish itself in the sports and entertainment industry. I would also like to develop the affiliate relationships that would best meet the target market criteria so that we may reach our revenue goal by the end of the year.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

In 2002, Lindsey interned at Charles Schwab as part her graduate curriculum in Sports Management. There she worked as part of the "Women's Initiative" program, a company-wide effort to improve the number of female clientele at Schwab, which was currently at only 18 percent. Lindsey's assignment was to reach this target market via sports.

During her time spent researching general sports business issues and trends, Lindsey learned that 43 percent of CEOs admit that some of their biggest business deals are made on the golf course. The golfing community seemed like the classic image of an "old boys network", and indeed ??? Lindsey???s examination of current trends uncovered that there are an overwhelming large number of male golfers to women golfers. Thus, gender dynamics on the golf course seemed parallel to Schwab's problem with ratio and under representation of women.

Lindsey recognized that Schwab needed to distinguish itself as a company committed not only to understanding the different requirements and needs of female clients, but to developing unique benefits for them according to this knowledge. Thus, she put both practical research and gut instinct into action when she identified and secured the Executive Women's Golf Association (EWGA) as an affiliate relationship for Schwab.

The EWGA is a not-for-profit organization formed in 1991 to provide opportunities for women to learn, play, and enjoy the game of golf for business and for life. Over 100 chapters nationwide conduct their own local tournaments, tee times, networking events, and conferences with the mission of promoting and fostering a spirit of acceptance, dignity, and respect for career-oriented women golfers. By providing a first stepping-stone for women looking to assimilate into the golfing community, the EWGA concurrently provides women with a tool for career advancement.

When Lindsey discovered the EWGA, it was falling short in achieving a number of business goals; namely, member retention and new member growth. The EWGA required assistance in developing a marketing plan that laid out a specific prescription to deal with ailing membership and that provided innovative promotional ideas in light of a limited budget. Meanwhile, Schwab needed a way to attract female clients with unique, specialized benefits.

It was a classic win-win: by creating a new marketing plan designed to transform the EWGA into the ultimate networking tool for women in the Bay Area, Lindsey extended the helping hand of Schwab's business expertise. In turn, Schwab gained the opportunity to promote and support women through their involvement with the EWGA, gaining exposure and credibility as an agent for this target market.

As author of the EWGA's new marketing plan, Lindsey submitted it as her final Masters Project at USF. This working paper may be referred to in full text on the SBS web site. (Just click on the logo to be taken to the SBS home page. The paper "The New Face of the Executive Women's Gold Association: A Marketing Plan is featured in the SBS site).

Below are additional excerpts from my conversation with Lindsey that more specifically address the marketing plan and golf as a business communication and advancement, specifically for women:

EV: How/why did the Women's Initiative get started at Charles Schwab?

LH: There was an overwhelming percent of male clientele over female clientele. I believe only around 20 percent of all clientele were female, which was a lower percentage than any other competing company. The goal of the Women's Initiative was to cater to the different needs and requirements of female clientele so that they would feel more welcome at Schwab.

EV: What caused you to "stumble" upon the EWGA and to write about it for your Master's project?

LH: During my search for appropriate partnerships/sponsors for Schwab, I found the EWGA. There already existed a relationship with the PGA (at Schwab) and, therefore, the EWGA was right up the alley we wanted to pursue.

After my internship terminated, I decided that there was a lot of potential for the EWGA to grow. I believed that it could be a powerful tool for businesswomen in Northern California, and that it would be a lot of fun in the mean time. I saw so many things that the EWGA could do better within five minutes of looking at their web site.

EV: How do you see the EWGA as a marketing tool for businesswomen?

LH: The EWGA doesn't only teach how to play golf, it provides the opportunity to network, participate in business-related seminars, and creates a community that fosters the growth of involved individuals as players, people, and professionals.

EV: In your paper, you quote an EWGA member as saying that golf "used to be more of an old boys network, now women are creating their own networks." Please comment on this -- how effective is a network of just women in terms of influencing the business world as a whole?

LH: I saw a statistic that 56 percent of all new businesses are women-owned. This means that there are more and more women in high-profile positions and these women will hire people they know and trust.

Chances are, they (new hires) will be women that executives have developed business relationships with in the past. A sense of community can develop around a sport and association, as well as loyalty and life long friendships. The more women get involved, the more business relationships there will be. And I guarantee you that if there are two females neck and neck for a position under a male employer; the one that can talk and play golf will end up with the job. In my paper I state that the business world centers on whom you know, not what you know???anyone who doesn???t agree is an exception to the rule.

EV: How does the new, simplified slogan "Drive," which you created, better serve to convey the message/mission of EWGA?

LH: Drive can imply the act of swinging a golf club, furthering your career, take charge, etc. It is up for interpretation by individuals, either way it has a positive/ambitious connotation.

EV: In what ways do you think familiarity with golf benefits businesspeople? Do you think benefits differ based on gender?

LH: I strongly believe that socializing with other business professionals outside of the office helps to not only get to know them better as people, but it gives a sense of the type of competitor they are...a key ingredient for success in life.

Plus, who doesn't love getting out of the office and "shmoozing" for a few hours in the sun? Hence my reason for writing my marketing plan to get more women involved in golf. I truly believe that women who are not able to participate on the course with female or male counterparts are at a strong disadvantage. Special relationships develop on the course because individuals are no longer one-dimensional; on the course they expose their whole personality. Golf is a great icebreaker in any business setting.

EV: If a businesswoman were to beat a business partner at a round of golf, do you believe this could hurt her professionally?

LH: Absolutely not, especially if playing against a male, I would believe that they would gain more respect and the gender issue will not be so prominent when males know females can hold their own on the course. Why wouldn't women be able to do the same in business?

EV: Do you golf? Can share any experiences where golf has helped you advance your career or achieve business objectives?

LH: I do not golf as often as I should. However, I did participate in a golf tournament for Charles Schwab. During and after play, I earned people's respect by winning the longest drive contest and met several individuals with whom I still associate with today.

EV: How do you think women's sports as a whole are doing these days? What, if any, professional women's sports do you believe can produce sustainable and financially sound leagues?

LH: Women's sports are doing quite well in my opinion. I believe the women's Final Four had the highest ratings in history this year. Women's professional sports are also doing well (tennis, figure skating, etc.).
However, women's professional team sports are a different story. Since women's professional leagues are so new compared to men's sports, I believe it will be some time before women's professional team sports truly find their own niche. Today, they are being compared to their male counterparts when they are actually quite different from each other.

Lindsey also adds, "I want to say thank you for taking the time to interview me and to Zennie Abraham for giving me such an outstanding opportunity to be a part of his company."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

After speaking with Lindsey, I imagined the oh-so-memorable personalities from the reality TV series "The Apprentice" vying for attention and advancement on the golf course instead of within Donald Trump's boardroom. On this show, America bore witness to the type of fierce competition that can exist among professionals who are trying to promote their careers - even between those that are supposed to be working together. Acknowledging Hollywood's flair for finding and displaying the dramatic, "The Apprentice" still serves as a reminder that personal and professional relationships in the workplace are about as independent as peanut butter and jelly.

And while day-to-day business presents a variety of abstract and directly competitive situations, nothing brings out true competition -- from spirited to cutthroat -- like sports. If integrating women into the golfing community is anything like what've I've experienced trying to get into all-male pick up basketball games, then it's possible the current business golfing environment will foster less of a sense of belonging for women and more a need to compete with male co-workers as well as clients.

How will the presence of women change the business dynamics on the golf course?

Will the benefits of the golfing network be the same for women as for men, or will the glass ceiling be replaced by the grass ceiling?

If assimilation of women on the golf course -- a traditionally male environment -- proves professionally beneficial to women, should this encourage business men to venture towards traditionally female bonding activities in order to advance their careers, especially in light of the increasing number of women operating the controls in corporate America?

Apparently, if Lindsey Huff and the EWGA have anything to do with it, we are going to find out.

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