The Impact and Role Sports Has Had on My Life

Becki Civello

Thanks to my dad, I’ve been a sports fan as long as I can remember. We are a New York Jets, New York Yankees and Seton Hall Pirates basketball family. I grew up playing and watching sports; some of my earliest – and fondest – memories have to do with them.

I have vivid memories of running around at Jets games, making trips to Yankee Stadium and attending countless Seton Hall basketball games. I understand the joy of being a fan (thank you, Yankees) and the heartbreak of loss (Jets and Seton Hall). As a kid, when an important game was on later than I could stay up, the first question I would ask my parents in the morning was “Who won?” 

Like many little kids, I fell in love with soccer at a young age and grew up playing in co-ed town leagues. I was always one of a few girls on every team. By the time I was 14, I was good enough to take the next step which, at the time, meant the (boys) travel team. There was basically an unspoken rule that girls could not participate. Ultimately, my childhood best friend and I tried out for the travel team and both made it. 

The coach made us co-captains for our first game. With this gesture, he was saying ‘You deserve to be here. I believe in you, you should believe in yourself.’ His decision sent a clear message that has resonated with me – personally and professionally – since then. I still remember running onto the field for the coin toss, surveying the field for other girls. There were none that day, or any other day after that. Fortunately, progress of getting girls to participate is certainly being made. Anecdotally, only one in 27 girls participated in sports in 1972 when Title IX was introduced; that number is now two out of five. In 1972, only seven percent of females participated on varsity teams; by 2019, that number grew to 43%. 

Though I got roughed up, knocked down, and heckled by opponents, I learned to push back and hold my ground. The unwavering support of my teammates, coaches, and best friend made me stronger personally and athletically. This experience undoubtedly molded me into the person I am today. While I didn’t know it at the time, I would continue to survey the field

When evaluating career options in college (a proud James Madison University alumna), I had my heart set on becoming a sports agent. Between my love of sports and the fact that my father and other family members are lawyers, it seemed like a good choice. I remember thinking I would be in the minority working in sports – and especially as an agent – but I was used to it given my travel team days. The number of female sports agents, even today, is astoundingly low. As recently as a 2020 ranking of the top 50 sports agents, all were men. And of the nearly 800 NFL Players Association Certified Agents in 2021, there were just over 30 females. Though my career took a different direction than the one I thought I wanted, I still found my way to the sports industry. 

My first job out of college was at AOL. After 4 years at AOL, I joined Madison Square Garden as a Project Manager for the MSG Interactive department (MSGi). This was a perfect role as I was able to combine my digital technology experience with my desire to be in the sports industry. 

My time at MSG was exciting, challenging and, upon reflection, a time of tremendous personal growth. At this point in my career, I started to survey the field again. I realized there were countless meetings where I was one of a few females. Upon reflection, I regressed in my early days at MSG, by holding back questions and opinions in meetings or allowing someone to push their ideas through without discussion. As I became more comfortable, similar to my early days playing soccer, I also started to hold my ground and push back. Fortunately, I was able to look to several strong, female leaders for inspiration and guidance.  

After MSG I joined a technology services company, OMNIGON, and spent 9 years working with some of the biggest brands in sports and building relationships with some of the best leaders in the industry, many of them women who, like me, played sports when they were younger. Interestingly enough, a recent EY report found that 94% of women in C-Suite roles played some form of sport growing up. 

While there, I worked for incredibly talented and supportive founders who created opportunities for growth for me. I had exposure to people, events and experiences I never had before. I grew into leadership roles, took on more responsibility and had the privilege of collaborating, and forming genuine relationships, with other female leaders. While I still found myself being one of a few – if not the only – female in many meetings, I was confident in my place in the room. 

Though there has been lots of industry change in a (relatively) short period of time, there is still so much that can – and will – change. While I do not think my instinct to survey the field will end in the near future, I am happy and excited to play my part in leveling it.

As I’ve advanced in my career, and especially in my new leadership role at Next League, I am proud of the direct impact I can make in the lives of young women. As part of my role, I am focused on creating a pipeline of diverse candidates (so our organization better reflects the makeup of the workforce) and help coach and build out paths for all employees. 

There are also many more outlets and opportunities dedicated to helping further female representation today than there were even a few years ago. Next League is a proud supporter of Women in Sports Technology, dedicated to driving growth opportunities for women in all stages of their careers. We are one of only 24 companies who are fortunate to have a WiST Summer Fellow on their team this summer.  Additionally, I am a member of Chief, the only private membership network focused on connecting and supporting female leaders. 

I am looking forward to introducing my two young girls to the joy and sorrow of being a true fan. Their experiences, both in playing and watching sports, will be different from mine. I am committed to doing everything I can to help create a more equitable playing field for them. 

 

Becki Civello is VP, Strategic Operations at Next League.

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