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Passion key to growth of women in sports business

NHL panel cites hard work, willingness to speak up as vital to success

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- The message was clear: Why not?

As Hockey Hall of Fame member and Los Angeles Times sports columnist Helene Elliott said to a full room at the NHL Women in Sports Business panel Friday, "Dream it and do it. If people say no to you, say why not? Don't be held back by somebody else's limitations they put on you."

Elliott had just related a story of approaching her high school guidance counselor, saying that her ambition was to write about sports for a living. The guidance counselor laughed at her.

But, as Elliott thought, why not? Why shouldn't she write about sports?

That message came through from Elliott and others on the five-woman panel, comprised of Alyssa Milano, actress and founder of Touch by Alyssa Milano; Heidi Browning, chief marketing officer of the NHL; Angela Ruggiero, Hockey Hall of Fame member and chief strategy officer of LA2024; and Susan Samueli, co-owner of the Anaheim Ducks and co-founder of the Samueli Foundation.

"If you follow what you love and you find your passion, you can really do anything," Samueli said.

Video: Women in Sports Business Panel at All-Star Weekend

The discussion, led by Kathryn Tappen of NBC Sports, was wide-ranging, from how women break into the sports world to the way the sports world can engage and market back to women to finding a voice to professional pitfalls for women in the industry.

"Find good role models, find good mentors," Ruggiero said. "They can be women, but most likely there aren't a lot of women at the top. So finding men as well [is important]. I think we have to embrace those men that are out there that get it, that want to support women, that want to share their experiences."

To find those mentors and those people to help, as Milano said, it's important to have confidence and to have a voice. That was another theme of the panel: Ask questions, ask for help. Speak up.

"I hope this all ends with our generation," Milano said. "I hope that young girls are being raised to have their voice at a younger age. I have a 2-year-old daughter and I encourage her to scream and to yell. I don't do that with my son, but I think it's super important that she knows that her voice matters."

Said Browning, "One thing you notice when you're always working with men is they're fearless. They're fearless in what they say, what they think, how they act, how they behave, and women don't behave that way necessarily. I feel like that's something that we need to embrace."

It's harder to speak up when you are in the minority, Ruggiero said, which women still are in the sports industry. There is still the sense that women are being tested, and that they need to be better than their counterparts to earn respect, as the panel agreed.

But the idea, and the hope, is that might not always be the case. It was something that the NHL -- along with the panel's other sponsors, the Los Angeles Kings and Touch by Alyssa Milano -- wanted to promote: That there are chances for everyone, regardless of gender, to find a place in the business.

"We pride ourselves on being inclusive and creating opportunity for everyone, not just on the ice but off the ice," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in introducing the panel. "There are opportunities. You have to work hard for them. You have to follow your dreams. You have to have a passion. But anything is possible."

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