By Geoff Baker
The Seattle Times.
Inside sports business Root Sports NW reporter and producer Jen Mueller had listened to a group of female accounting friends discuss how male colleagues hustled up new clients by taking them to sporting events.
The women were frustrated by how sports bonding was helping the men get ahead, despite education and experience levels similar to theirs. Onetime high-school athlete Mueller, 37, wondered why more women couldn’t bond with business colleagues the same way, talking sports and furthering their own careers.
She explored the matter more deeply and in 2009 formed Talk Sporty to Me: a company guiding women — and men as well — at initiating sports-related conversations to create new business opportunities, improve teamwork and maintain client and customer relationships.
Mueller says women today are succeeding more than ever in professional sports and other traditionally male-dominated business realms largely due to the confidence that comes with relating to colleagues. And one of the easiest ways to find common ground, she adds, is talking sports.
“Fans across the board don’t understand how powerful their fandom is,” says the Louisiana native, who moved here in 2000 upon graduating from Southern Methodist University with degrees in broadcast journalism and public policy. “They use it on game day but they aren’t leveraging it in business to build relationships.”
Mueller relayed these observations to more than 400 people attending the Women’s Leadership Breakfast put on by the Seattle Sports Commission last Wednesday at the downtown Sheraton Hotel. She served as moderator to an on-stage panel that included Seahawks CFO Karen Spencer, ex-Olympian and Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder, onetime Huskies star and former Storm CEO Karen Bryant and non-profit fundraiser Karen Moyer.
The women told the mostly female audience of the differing paths they took to career success and how sports provided opportunities.
Spencer described being an “introvert” upon joining the team as a staff accountant in 1991, having never played sports. She talked of overcoming that shyness and working her way to where her ideas merit serious consideration within an organization where women now comprise 30 percent of its senior management team.
Moyer, co-founder of The Moyer Foundation and wife of ex-Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer, told the audience of her life in sports. The daughter of former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, she became the first girl to play Little League Baseball in South Bend, Indiana.
Later, she coached club soccer and high school girls’ basketball.
Gilder, a silver medalist in rowing at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, talked about how newly implemented Title IX rules helped her pursue sports dreams in the 1970s she otherwise might have missed out on. And of how they instilled confidence for her to keep competing in the business world and eventually become a Storm owner so she could reintegrate sports into her professional life.
The onstage panelists also discussed “life balance” issues like raising children and — for some — the difficult decision to end marriages. They joked of fretting about things their male counterparts did not, like what outfit to wear to the office.
Mueller talked about how intimidating it can be for women to initiate sports conversations in work settings with men they assume know more about the rules than they do. A former high-school football referee for 10 years in Texas, Mueller insists most men don’t know much about the rules either and are unlikely to devote much business conversation to them.
Instead, she says, it’s about simpler talking points like last night’s score and understanding what hidden messages colleagues convey in a sports conversation.
Beyond developing a rapport, she says listening to the verbal cues can help determine whether colleagues are “team players” and how well they’ll respond to victories and defeats in the business world.
Afterward, Mueller said in an interview the best part of the panel was the women showed there was no single path to success in the sports business world. And when it comes to using sports in a business setting, she says, women don’t need to be experts in it to use it to their advantage.
“Fifty percent of Americans call themselves sports fans,” she says. “If you can talk about sports, then you’ve got access to those people.”
Talk Sporty to Me offers mentoring videos to young women, with advice on promoting themselves and succeeding in the work environment. Mueller also offers training programs and hires herself out to companies as a public speaker for larger employee groups.
She’s written two sports communication books: “Game Time” and “Talk Sporty to Me” — the second of which is required reading for one of the business courses at the University of Oklahoma.
In fact, after serving as the radio sideline reporter for the Seahawks-Cowboys game in Dallas on Sunday, she planned to travel to the school’s Norman, Okla., campus to speak Monday to business students there.
“All in a day’s work,” she says.
A workday that, for many women, is now more sports-infused than in decades past.