In the best of times, exercise has the power to excite and inspire, entertain, engage and even unite. But 2020 was anything but the best time. Covid-19 affected the sport early and profoundly, and social injustice left an indelible mark both on and off the field. Even so, the winners of Adweek’s Most Powerful Women in Sports have found ways to influence, innovate, and raise the bar for their brands and fans at a time when we needed sports the most. Many of these notable women – including NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird, MLS President JoAnn Neale, Jill Gregory of Nascar, Heidi Browning of the NHL, Barbara McHugh of MLB, Micky Lawler of WB, Stephanie McMahon of WWE, Kate Jhaveri of the NBA and our cover star Naomi Osaka – were an integral part of the groundbreaking Real Heroes Project in May, which brought together 14 professional sports leagues to celebrate the country’s medical front-line workers. All of them are game-changers who come to play in every way regardless of the circumstances. – Eric Wander
Two-time US Open tennis champion
It would be difficult to choose just one career-defining moment in tennis superstar Naomi Osaka’s recent past. There’s the 2018 US Open, where she defeated her childhood idol Serena Williams. She followed up on that emotional win, which she called “a little bit bittersweet”, with her first win at the Australian Open in 2019. And after those back-to-back Grand Slams, there was her surprise jump from Adidas to Nike in a groundbreaking $ 10 million deal U.S. dollar. But the events of late summer 2020 can stand out from anything that came before and make an even more lasting impression than Osaka’s no-nonsense blowouts and coveted endorsements.
Click here to read the full Adweek Q&A with cover star Naomi Osaka.
Chief Revenue Officer and EVP, NFL Partnerships, NFL
Courtesy of the NFL
A nearly 15-year veteran of the NFL, Anderson was part of league history when his draft became one of the first virtual events cobbled together in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. It went smoothly, with more than 8.4 million viewers tuned in, more than 35% more than in the previous year. Anderson was instrumental in getting the league’s partners on the show. Verizon provided the internet service for coaches and players, and Bose sent headphones. To kick off a largely fanless season, she led the team that added key new partners, including Postmates, Invisalign, Subway and Best Buy. This year was “one that no one will ever forget,” says Anderson. “… I am inspired and motivated by the Herculean effort to bring football back in a safe and healthy way. For all women who work in sports, from the boardroom to the locker room, it can be difficult, you are not alone – keep going! “- Ryan Barwick
Coaching the next generation of women in sport: “Tell women that they are important and valued. Work hard and become an expert in your craft (whatever it is). Root for other women. Let’s support each other and lift each other up. “
Commissioner of the National Women’s Football League
Courtesy of NWSL
Baird joined the NWSL on March 10, two days before the league closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Still, the league had a record year in almost every area, from a 152% increase in social mentions to a 500% increase in domestic television audiences. The league signed new TV and streaming deals with CBS Sports and Twitch, as well as brand partnerships with Google, P&G, Secret and Verizon. In June, the NWSL returned as the first professional team sports league, completing a 30-day tournament in a bubble without a single case of the virus. Baird says one of her proudest moments was leading the league to unprecedented success amid a pandemic. “What really drove me this year were our players,” said Baird. “And to be able to make sure we can compensate for them all year round.” – Kathryn Lundstrom
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