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Sports, Business and Thought Leadership, with Mandy Antoniacci

Sports, Business and Thought Leadership, with Mandy Antoniacci

Episode 9: Sports, Business and Thought Leadership with Mandy Antoniacci

Mandy Antoniacci is passionate about sports and about helping progress the game to make it better for future generations. In this episode, she shares her thoughts about role models and mentors, the gender inequality in sports, why women are a huge sports-business trends this year, some great insights about socially-conscious companies (like Ellevate!) and tips for framing yourself as a thought leader.

Episode Transcript

00:12 Sallie Krawcheck: Hi, everybody. This is Sallie Krawcheck, the Chair of Ellevate Network here with my partner in crime, Kristy Wallace, the President of Ellevate Network for the Ellevate Network Podcast. Kristy, how's it going?

00:23 Kristy Wallace: It's going great. I'm trying to think of my, you say, "Hey y'all," and I'm trying to think of what my thing, my schtick can be but...

00:32 SK: Yeah, it could be coughing because you've been coughing all day.

00:34 KW: I have.

00:35 SK: Is that an allergy thing or a cold thing?

00:38 KW: It is a cold thing.

00:40 SK: Fantastic, I'm so glad I'm sitting close to you.

00:42 KW: I'm trying to point my germs in the opposite direction from you. I promise.

00:46 SK: Yeah, fantastic. Good news.

00:47 KW: So we are here today with Mandy Antoniacci.

00:51 SK: Great conversation you had, founder and owner of ChangeUp and sports business analyst for Inc. Magazine, talking about gender gap in sports and becoming a thought leader. Unfortunately, I believe you all had to cut out a chunk of the interview because you were talking about the Villanova-UNC national championship game and so I made you cut it out.

01:16 KW: Mm-hmm, yes, yes. No, I'm kidding. [laughter] No, we did not talk about that on tape, on the podcast but I did happen to maybe throw out there that I'm a Villanova alum and was very excited about the championship game.

01:32 SK: And I might throw out there that I'm a UNC alum and am not over it yet. Actually there's research Kristy, a friend of mine says he recently reviewed research that showed pictures of Olympic gold medalists as far back as they have them. And they looked at these pictures the gold medalists were smiling in, I'm making this up, 94% of pictures. The bronze medalists... 'cause they won so they're happy.

02:01 KW: Sure.

02:02 SK: The bronze medalists are smiling in, I'm making this up, 73% of the pictures. "Hey, I'm on the podium, I got this bronze thing, this is fantastic." You know what percent of the pictures the silver medalists were smiling in?

02:16 KW: Zero?

02:17 SK: Zero. Zero. But that's how I feel about the UNC loss, the three-pointer at the buzzer, I am...

02:25 KW: Well, it was a great game.

02:26 SK: Whatever. It was a great game for you 'cause you won, it was not a great game for me. I'm still, I gotta work through it. So enough about my emotions. Tell me a little bit about what you and Mandy talked about [chuckle]

02:38 KW: So Mandy and I, we talked actually about many different things, one of which was her ChangeUp going from a high power career in advertising to starting her own company and the impact of her eight-year-old nephew on that career change. So it's a great story, we talked about family and leadership and personal brand. Mandy's got a lot to share.

03:02 SK: And thought leadership too, is something that came up which I know is a topic of importance these days particularly in the age of social media. We think about personal branding, how does one position, how does one become a thought leader and how does one position oneself? Our Ellevate Network weekly poll, we asked exactly this question to the members of the network, "What's the most important thing you need to become a thought leader?" 36%, so more than a third, said, "It's being authentic." That's good to hear, that's good to hear as opposed to you have to do X or Y, pretend to be X or Y.

03:36 KW: Yeah, just be yourself.

03:37 SK: Be yourself. 28%, "Having smart ideas to share." Yup, that would seem to be important. 16%, "Producing content consistently," so that's taking a social media slant to it. And then it goes down from there. 4%, "Writing articles in different publications and blogs." My personal favorite, 4%, "Heck if I know."

03:58 KW: Mm-hmm. Yes.

04:00 SK: Okay, on to you and Mandy.


04:14 KW: We are here today with Mandy Antoniacci. She is a sports business analyst, entrepreneur, columnist for Inc. Magazine and the founder and owner of ChangeUp. Wow, that's a lot! How do you do all that?


04:30 Mandy Antoniacci: Oh, gosh. I'm very busy. [laughter]

04:33 KW: You started out in corporate America working in advertising and now you have made it to thought leadership, entrepreneur. Share that journey with us.

04:43 MA: Yeah, so my background, I started my career in marketing and advertising, and I grew to become one of the youngest executive vice presidents in the advertising industry. Part of my responsibility there, I managed teams of, in upwards of 60 people, in about 12 different countries and ran businesses and built communications for companies such as LG Electronics, Hilton Worldwide, US Open Tennis, the Olympics to name a few. In my experience there, part of my experience was to be responsible and take part in agency acquisitions, so small agencies and start-ups and I think that's when I really got my feet wet in the entrepreneurial space. I always had a passion for building things and I knew that I would end up on the entrepreneurial side of things someday.

05:37 MA: It's funny when, I always say that whenever you're ready to make that leap, the world, the universe throws you a curve ball, right? And you could tell from the name of my company and my column, I embrace changeups, I let curve balls go. As I grew in my career when I was ready to make that leap I had an opportunity that was offered to me to be one of the youngest presidents and CEO in the advertising industry. Whenever you're confronted with that decision, that big moment where you know you need to pivot in your career, you just start to rationalize things and you think, "Okay, well, I can do it for one year." One more year and I can... "Well, if I really make a difference, I'll probably have to do it for two years." And I thought, "Okay, the second you start to craft your plan B, you set yourself up for failure." So, I thought, "No, I am ready. I have been working on this." I started to build my company out and where I knew I wanted to go at night as I was doing my very demanding day job so I was working 18 hours a day for probably about a year and a half and I ended up making the leap to entrepreneurship.

06:46 MA: I was at a speaking engagement and at that speaking engagement, I met the editor-in-chief of Inc. Magazine and we were talking about my interest in authoring a column and he had asked if I would be interested in giving budding entrepreneurs some advice in thought leadership and I said, "Well, what can I write about?" And he said, "You can write about whatever you want." So, I remember attending a strategic session at Inc's headquarters and I said, "Can I write about sports business?" and the advice that the editing team there gave me is write about what you're passionate about because it will come easier. So, I thought, "Okay, I'm gonna write about sports business and this is gonna be my focus." So, I did and I'm thrilled and it just blossomed from there.

07:32 KW: Why sports? Why the passion for sports?

07:34 MA: It's funny, I used to call myself, "The girliest guy you'll ever meet," truthfully. I grew up with all older brothers in a big sports household and sports culture. I played sports, I'm still an athlete but I played in college as well and usually in my spare time, I could be found at anything with a scoreboard. So for me, it was really a personal passion but it was also this wonderful device that I feel I was blessed to have in my arsenal as a tool that I can use in everyday business and just in life in general, and gave me so many gifts and life lessons. So for me, it's just always been this wonderful thing that I felt that I can draw on and that I knew I wanted to pursue. And I did have experience managing some of those companies and building out communications in my advertising career for the Olympics and US Open Tennis so it was just a really natural progression for me.

08:32 KW: How was it being a young female executive? I would love to hear a little bit about your experiences and how you managed success as a young age and a woman in business.

08:46 MA: It's really interesting. In my career, as I look back... I just mentioned this to someone and realized I've never had a female boss in my entire career. There was a brief stint once that did not last long but I really have been blessed to have some wonderful male mentors in my life who have pushed me in challenging and compromising situations. I could remember a story... Funny, when I was very junior in marketing, it was my very first presentation I was giving. I was 23 years old, I was up on a stage, it was in front of 1500 people. I thought, "Man! There's lights, there's a band, I'm like a rockstar." Right?


09:25 KW: Sure.

09:26 MA: But I was the only girl, the only female in the marketing organization at the time and there was always funny things where I would stand out, of course, in simple things like using the microphone. It clips on a man's collar button-down shirt quite well but if you're a woman and you're wearing a shawl or a dress, not so much. That one first presentation, as I'm up on stage delivering my speech, all of a sudden, you can't hear my voice anymore because the microphone starts to dip down into, unfortunately, my cleavage at the time where my breasts are delivering a presentation.

09:58 KW: That is unfortunate.


10:00 MA: So, I've had many situations like that but truly, I have to give so much credit to a lot of wonderful male mentors that I've had throughout my career which I think is really important. I'll also say that my role model in life has always been my mom. My mom was the first woman to graduate from an all-male university with a double major in Economics and Finance, and women were only allowed to go to that university at night and unfortunately, the requirements that were offered for women weren't enough to constitute a degree. So, she put up a stink and she was one of the first women to graduate with a double major in Economics and Finance.

10:45 MA: And you know what's interesting about it is that if you speak with her about things like equality or progress for women, she will not strike you as a feminist or wear it on your sleeve, and I think that has helped me in my career because she never taught me to do anything special like lean in or really anything different. She just told me to do. So I just do it, and even now in a very male-dominated industry like sports business, I often joke because I'll say I find myself where I look around and I think I'm either at the men's dark suit convention or someone's funeral, which happens all the time but I don't think of myself as coming at this industry or approaching it from a defeatist position because it's just not what I was taught. I was just taught to do.

11:37 KW: Sure. It's amazing how our parents influence us in that way and by just their action. My mom received... She studied for and received her doctorate when I was in high school and I'm the oldest of four. So she had four children in high school and younger, was working full time and then driving two states away once a week to take classes and get her doctorate. And it was just part of life, that's what it was. And it wasn't until I became a mom myself and was juggling a job and kids that I thought back and wow, "How did she manage that? That's so impressive." And it inspires me to always think, "Well, I can handle this. If my mom could do it, I can do this."

12:26 MA: They just did it and we're living in a different time where I think with telecommuting and things, technology makes, I think, starting a company so much easier now that it did for them and we have many more opportunities and those opportunities are growing so it's good. I do think we touched upon passion a little bit too. I think what has also helped me is really staying focused on doing something that I am passionate about. I often joke and say, but it's actually true, in the entrepreneurial world when I made the switch, I never know what day it is, ever. It's absolutely terrible because you work seven days a week. So for me, whenever I start hearing things like, "Oh, it's Saturday, I can't wait for the weekend." I think, "Saturday is no different than Tuesday when you're working everyday of the week." But if you're doing something that you're passionate about, it makes those moments much more acceptable, much more tolerable.

13:17 KW: And you always knew... I mean, we talked a little bit about your journey to entrepreneurialism but you always recognized what you're passionate about and had a vision for pursuing that?

13:30 MA: Mm-hmm, I did, I did. I mean, I have tried other things before too but I think where it actually comes full circle is... It's interesting, I look back at my career and I feel like there is a circuitous process and sometimes when you have things that don't work out, which in the entrepreneurial space that is hourly. But there's a great phrase that I love which is, "Rejection is protection," and I'm a firm believer that if something doesn't work out for you or it doesn't work out as planned, you really have to have faith and you have to believe that it's not working out for a reason, this is not your story, that if you're disappointed in something that didn't materialize, rejection is protection. It might not feel like it now but I feel like that always comes full circle for me and it reveals itself in a few months or a few years and later on, so it's a great piece of advice that I was given.

14:24 KW: Sure, that is really great advice. So, let's delve a little bit into the sports industry, I know you write for Inc. Magazine. I would love to know your thoughts on one piece in the sports industry that's been getting a lot of attention, which is the pay inequalities. Thoughts on that, where do you think we're going with that opportunity for change?

14:49 MA: Yeah, absolutely. It's interesting because my company and my column, they're both called ChangeUp and what that means is that I get involved with companies and projects in sports business and author stories in sports business that help to progress the game. So anything that helps to make it better and improve the footprint for future generations, and that does include obviously equality. And what's interesting is every time I author a piece about equality, and especially on equal pay day that just recently happened, the backlash in social media is vast, it's so controversial. What's interesting is I always get the virtual high fives from women and I get all the derogatory comments from men. I think because the sports industry in particular is just not there yet, it's a fraternity. And there's improvements but it's just not there.

15:42 MA: One of the pieces that I authored, I received a piece of data which I found to be interesting, and it was the amount that athletes actually make per second. And it was extracted from... Forbes puts out a Top 10 highest paid athletes list every year. And the company took that and then they extracted it in a paper play, so how many seconds you're in the ring, on the court, on the field and took a per second calculation of athletes. What's really interesting about that is that it was very difficult to dissect men versus women because there's not enough women in Forbes Top 10 list. So that made it very difficult. I think the best example that we've seen so far in terms of having an equal playing field is really tennis. So tennis is actually the exception where the prize pot is now the same for all major Grand Slam tournaments, but that took a long time, that's about 42 years in the making from pioneering efforts of Billy Jean King who started women's tennis foundation and voices like Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova forcing the issue.

16:50 KW: And you still have detractors even.

16:51 MA: Absolutely, absolutely. So it wasn't until 2007, Wimbledon became the last Grand Slam tournament to shake off that stagy gender bias and equalize prize money. But that's a great example of, I think, where the sports industry can go and the potential it has, but it is gonna take some time. The other thing that just recently happened during Equal Pay Day and of course, that always gets a lot of attention in sports is women's World Cup Soccer. And they are the best example because the biggest argument, and I understand the argument that we get with Equal Pay Day, which is supply and demand. But they are the best example where the demand is there and they drew the highest American television rating for soccer in history. And according to a recent report for US soccer, they helped generate almost $18 million in revenue, whereas men lost a million dollars. To give you an idea, a male soccer player who won the World Cup for the United States, their bonus would be around $390,000. For women who won and represented our country, they were bonused $75,000.

17:57 KW: Wow, wow.

18:00 MA: And again, men's World Cup generates vastly more money globally than women's but the simple truth is that the US soccer projects with the team. Women's team is going to generate a profit of $5.2 million in 2017 and men are going to lose a million dollars. So, there's a lot of progress that needs to be made there. Even President Obama came out on Equal Pay Day and used women's World Cup Soccer as an example of how we need to progress in this area. Carli Lloyd penned a wonderful [18:31] ____ in the New York Times last month as well, talking about her passion for this. So I think as you start to see more voices creating awareness, that will help. I think the other piece of it too, so awareness is one piece, but access is another.

18:45 MA: I was at the women's LPGA tour last year that was just in Westchester Country Club and I was amazed because this was the first year, 2015 was the first year that women were allowed to play on this particular course. And it's just amazing to see...

19:03 KW: You said 2015?

19:04 MA: Exactly. Part of the allure with golf is not just the performance of the players but it's also the beauty and the challenge of the green. So, if women aren't given access to some of this, the participation just isn't going to be there. So I really think awareness and access are two things that's going to help to make a change in the field of sports business when it comes to equality and equal pay.

19:26 KW: I agree and that's having these conversations too, conversations like we're having in the media. I actually spoke to my son, my son is seven, we were talking about Equal Pay Day and I was trying to explain to him that women who do the same thing as men don't make the same amount of money, and his response was, "Well, the man must be better." And I said, "Well, no. Here's an example, the World Cup soccer." And he watched the games with me, I love soccer and so I said, "You know, the women's team they won. That was really exciting. The men's team, great team, they did not win but the men still made more money." And he was a bit perplexed, then he just said, "Well, I guess the guys must be better." I'm like, "But no."


20:20 KW: He's seven but how can you have those conversations with future generations and just raising awareness that this happens but it shouldn't happen and we need to change it.

20:32 MA: Yeah, I agree. It's always an interesting perspective to get that younger generation because they just look at things so differently.

20:38 KW: Sure.

20:39 MA: But I think the other thing that's important is that this isn't a male versus female battle because I do think a huge piece of the problem is that women aren't watching women's sports. You know 45% percent of viewership of the NFL actually comes from women. I guarantee you the majority of them aren't watching women's sports and then conversely, I think we need to see a lot of male professional athletes support their female counterparts. Phil Mickelson was so instrumental in ensuring that women had access to that course at last year's LPGA tour in Westchester County. He was very vocal and he was part of the entire leadership committee to make that happen. Kobe Bryant is very vocal and instrumental for women's World Cup soccer players and also for his WNBA counterparts and even acts as a mentor to them. So I think when you see those men with those deep social media followings and that reach to the younger generation, they can help to pull through participation and viewership. I think the culture and the stigma of this is a man's versus a woman's battle really needs to change because both genders are part of the problem and the solution.

21:53 KW: That's a great point. So talking a little bit more about women in sports, you wrote that women are one of the top 10 sports business trends of 2016. Fill me in more. What are some of these trends and what can we do?

22:08 MA: Yeah. I think that it's huge. Every year I author a piece called whatever the year is, Top 10 Sports Business Trends To Watch. My number one trend for 2016 was women, and the reason I feel that that is so important is some of the things that we talked about which in terms of, I feel like the on the field, the on the court presence of women and just how much female sports have grown as a whole is going to have a rippling effect off the court and off the field, which I think needs to be paid attention to. Especially now, we're entering into a season, let's pick on the NFL for a moment, where women aren't pleased with the NFL at this point in time. So we have cases of domestic violence that have come out and just how things were handled when it comes to women as a whole. 45% of viewership of the NFL is women. The NFL knows they can't afford to lose that audience.

23:04 MA: Additionally, aside from domestic violence there's also the increased data and awareness of concussions that's existing. And the NFL and any particular league and organization knows that the decision for a child to play a contact sport starts with mom. And the more awareness that women have of that, the less likely they're gonna want their child to participate in contact sports. So, I really think those two things are very, very important in terms of targeting women. The NFL has done a great job in trying to connect and reach with women. For the first time, they actually created a campaign in 2015 called NFL's Family, and it was the first time they actually featured an ad that didn't include a man and it was a woman, it was her daughter. So, it was a mom and daughter situation and they were wearing all of the NFL garb of their favorite teams.

23:57 KW: I love it.

23:57 MA: And it wasn't pink. And it was really embracing women as participating in this sport in a great way. So I do think that any sports property or owner of a sports franchise knows that vast purchasing habits come from women. So when it comes to bringing family to a live spectator sport, they are making the purchasing decisions. A majority of people who are on their mobile device during live sporting events are women whether they're posting pictures on Facebook of their family experience or learning about the game, whatever it might be. That's a mobile-y charged audience that a live sporting event that represents the vast majority. So I think all of the owners of properties and just the sports leagues as a whole knows that this is an audience that they cannot afford to lose.

24:41 KW: Yes. I wanna switch gears back to you as an entrepreneur. Tell me a little about your company ChangeUp.

24:48 MA: Yes. So, the origin of ChangeUp started, of course, with a sporting event. It was 2010, I was with my nephew, Michael, who was eight at the time. We were going to the Celtics-Lakers NBA championship game in Boston and obviously, going to a championship game at eight, yes, he's spoiled. And it was his first time on the Amtrak, his first time at a game of that caliber. And anybody who knows the NBA knows that the Celtics-Lakers are one of the most heated rivalries in the history of NBA. So needless to say, it was an intense game. And to this day, Kobe Bryant actually says that this one game in particular just sticks with him they happened to lose. And he said it's just this one game in particular he just can't get over. And I always say, "You know, no offense to Kobe, but the most instrumental part of that game actually didn't happen in the arena, it actually happened on the Amtrak."

25:42 MA: So growing up in a big Italian family, we have something called "family gossip." Everybody knows everybody's business, everybody's involved definitely to a fault. But I said to Michael, I said, "Michael, I have family gossip." And he said, "You do?" And I said, "Yes." "What is it?" And I said, "Aunt Mandy's starting her own company." And he said, "You are?" I said, "Yeah!" And he paused for a few seconds and looked out the window, and he looked back at me and said, "How will you help people?" And I thought, "Whoa. Okay, now that's huge responsibility. Now I have to re-change my business model, what's happening here?" [laughter] But it's true. So the whole genesis and origin of ChangeUp is specifically that I get involved in companies and projects and author stories in sports business that are specifically designed to better the game. So, anything that helps progress the game and makes it better for future generation, so that's why it's called ChangeUp.

26:38 MA: If I were to give advice to anyone who is thinking about either becoming an expert in a field or commanding thought leadership in a space, I think one of the first things that really helped me is removing the word "expert" from your vocabulary and replacing it with "student." And the reason I say that is because I actually think of myself as an eternal student and I think that aspect of humility has helped me immensely. Especially now, in an industry of technology and how it's changing so rapidly, it's impossible to be an expert in anything these days at the rapid pace for which things are accelerating and changing. So I think if you have the mindset that you are an eternal student, that you will open yourself up to learning, open yourself up to possibilities that wouldn't exist if you deem yourself an expert in a field. And I think that will position you for continued growth in whatever path you choose to pursue. So that's something that has really help me.

27:36 MA: The other thing, I would say, people look to thought leaders and people look to other people, I would say, to influencers in their field because of the power of their story. And something, whenever I give a presentation, there's a quote that I positively love which is, "Do something worth writing or write something worth reading." And if you think about it, my career started in marketing and in advertising and now, authoring my column. As an entrepreneur in business, the common thread across all of those things is really story telling. So whether you're telling a story about a brand, a company, or the brand is yourself, everybody has a unique story to tell. I think the question is, "What story will you tell? And how will you tell it?" So I really think authenticity, relevance, having a point of difference in your story telling helps but really, channel your own unique power of storytelling and really succumb to the status of being an eternal student and I think you'll organically find expertise in your craft.


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