What Other Industries Can Learn From the NBA's Investment in Women

Love him or hate him, it's undeniable that David Stern's reign as NBA commissioner coincided with a major institutional investment in female fans and employees. The NBA's progressive gamble has paid major dividends.

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Love him or hate him, former NBA commissioner David Stern should be credited for boldly going where no other major American sports commissioner was willing to go. Throughout his 30-year reign, Stern invested in making the NBA a champion for women athletes and sports professionals. That investment has paid major dividends, writes Amanda Hess of Slate. Her article details Stern's dedication to making basketball a major player in progressive social policy. His real success, though, was in convincing basketball's owners that combining sports and social issues was a way of doing well in addition to doing good.

"But Stern’s real success was in translating that moral imperative into a business imperative that would support NBA owners’ bottom lines."

What's the Big Idea?

Hess points toward basketball's unique position as a sport both sexes are encouraged to play. Women's (American) football is merely the stuff of intramural competition. Girls interested in pursuing baseball are too often diverted to softball (a brief digressive anecdote: when I tried out for my high school baseball team a million years ago, the gruff head coach rudely directed two girls interested in playing to the office of the softball coach, spitting out the phrase "no girls on my team." That he's now under investigation for defrauding the school and his players to a tune of $100-grand isn't necessarily related to the above anecdote, but sure as hell feels like an instance of karmic/poetic justice).

Basketball, like soccer, offers opportunities and scholarships to females without forcing them to play a bastardized iteration of the sport. The NBA has been hugely successful in plucking up female former collegiate athletes and giving them opportunities on coaching staffs, as referees and in front offices, not to mention the fact that the league is the biggest investor in its WNBA sister-league. The NBA league office features 40% female employees while MLB and the NFL hover around thirty percent. 

So what's the lesson here for other industries? An investment in diversity is an investment in new markets to sell your wares. Opening up opportunities for women has likely contributed to the boost in the NBA's popularity with female audiences. David Stern oversaw a cultural shift in which basketball sought to become the major American sport most invested in promoting diversity. His investment is already paying dividends. What can your industry do to be more inclusive of women?

Read more at Slate

Photo credit: Africa Studio / Shutterstock

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