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A new face in the world of sports business

Angela Batinovich traded in a clothing line for a lacrosse team and, until now, she wasn't even a fan.

With the light on her face and the mike at her mouth, Angela Batinovich is holding her own. It is only her second radio interview, and the two male hosts are begging to know if she is single, decreeing her any man's dream. Ms. Batinovich, attractive and, yes, single, blushes slightly. But then it's back to business.

Batinovich isn't here to get a date. She's preparing Portland for its new lacrosse team, the LumberJax. She's not a spokeswoman. She's not a cheerleader. Until recently, she hasn't even been a fan. For Batinovich, it's all about making a startup venture profitable. At 24, she is the youngest woman - not to mention one of the only - to own a professional sports team in the United States.

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"I don't really think about [being a young woman in business], but in reality it is interesting," she says, winding down from the radio interview on the drive back to her team's future stadium, Portland's Rose Garden.

Batinovich's nonchalance is typical of many young women in the world of sports today. Thirty-three years of Title IX requirements has given rise to a new generation of athletes who are involved in sports purely for the pursuit of success, often without regard to gender. A Danica Patrick in IndyCar racing and a Michele Wie in golf are competing against men in professional leagues in part because it represents a new challenge, a new sports barrier to break, not necessarily a new gender barrier.

The same sense of focus can apply to women in the boardroom. Some experts say women even hold an advantage over men: a cool detachment from the passion of the game. Indeed, many women in sports business are attracted to the business more than the sport itself, asserts David Carter, a sports-business expert at at the University of Southern California.

He says women routinely outperform men in the sports-business classes he teaches. "[Women] check their emotions at the door and give you business answers that apply to sports, whereas guys give emotional answers and try to back it up with business," he says. "The women don't get caught up in the face-painting of sports as much."

Few women in the business

But that doesn't necessarily smooth the way for women to break into the multibillion-dollar industry. Sports business has long been viewed as the exclusive arena of men, with few women in powerful positions to serve as mentors or extend opportunities to young women. In an environment that relies heavily on connections and networking, the lack of ties can present a formidable challenge.

"The only way women are ever going to move up [in sports business] is if someone along the way gives you the opportunity," says Pam Gardner, president of business operations for the Houston Astros. "There has to be a mentor, or an owner that gives you the opportunity, because without that you don't have a shot."

Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal recently released its picks for the 20 "most influential women in sports business." It included L.A. Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss and USA Basketball president Val Ackerman. But almost half the list consisted of top advertisers and marketers, a side of the business women broke into years ago. No owners made the top 20.

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For many women in the corporate suites of sports, it was the dollars-and-cents dimension of the business rather than a fascination with hat tricks and homeruns that drew them to their jobs. But it doesn't hurt that it's a different kind of enterprise. "I've always liked businesses where there's a magic around them - whether it's sports, entertainment, whatever," says Ms. Gardner. "I took the job because I liked the magical environment involved, not because I liked baseball."

It's about the bottom dollar

Batinovich, too, didn't get involved with the LumberJax because of any obsession with lacrosse sticks. She, in fact, barely watched lacrosse before becoming a team owner. She has no management experience in sports and wasn't very athletic growing up.

She bought the team in part because of the challenge - the league is far from successful in the US today. She was also emboldened in her decision by the sports culture in Portland: The city has a history of being supportive of local teams.

Batinovich does have some business in her background even if not a lot of athletics. She owned a clothing line prior to buying the LumberJax. She comes from a prominent West Coast business family. She asked her father, brother, and a family friend to join her as Lumberjax shareholders, which they did. She remains the majority owner.

Certainly Batinovich will be challenged in her new venture. The National Lacrosse League, which debuted in 1986, boasts a small but growing number of teams that dot mid-size cities across the northern US. One of the more popular, the Colorado Mammoths, has only existed since 2003.

Several others - including the Syracuse Smash, Baltimore Thunder, and Columbus Landsharks - barely hit their second season before folding. Portland's Lumberjax join only two lacrosse teams on the West Coast: the Anaheim Storm and the San Jose Stealth.

Batinovich is well aware of all the risks. But after seeing the Colorado Mammoths play to a sold-out stadium last year, she is certain she has hit on a sport that, despite early growing pains, is working its way into the hearts of Americans.

For now, she, like any new business owner, is focused on the Lumberjax's debut this January. Drawing too much attention to her status as a young woman in the industry, she says, would be a waste of time. "I'm working with the arena a lot right now," she says, "making sure we get the space we need at the Rose Garden, making sure we promote on time, holding open tryouts, getting the mascot and costume made - the things that ... seem really little but are big, important things we need to start now."

The 10 most influential women in sports business

1. Lesa France Kennedy, president, International Speedway Corp.
2. Dawn Hudson, president and CEO, Pepsico North America
3. Nancy Monsarrat, director of US advertising, Nike
4. Stephanie Tolleson, senior corporate vice president, IMG
5. Heidi Ueberroth, EVP, global media properties and marketing partnerships, NBA
6. Lee Ann Daly, executive vice president, marketing, ESPN
7. Jeanie Buss, executive vice president, Los Angeles Lakers
8. Jamie McCourt, vice chairman, Los Angeles Dodgers
9. Cathy Bessant, CMO, Bank of America
10. Amy Trask, chief executive, Oakland Raiders

Source: Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal


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