espnW’s Alison Overholt on changing conversation for Women + Sports

espnW hits the week preparing for its fifth annual annual Women + Sports Summit, with all-star lineup speakers slated to include the likes of Maria Shriver, Stacey Allaster, Anita DeFrantz, Brittney Griner, Sarah Robb O’Hagan and Former U.S. Ambassador Melanne Verveer on this year’s agenda. Joining them from Oct. 8-10 in Dana Point will be ESPN staples that also include espnW’s Kate Fagan, Julie Foudy, Jane McManus and Sarah Spain, as well as NBA Countdown host Sage Steele, SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm, SportsNation host Michelle Beadle, along with ESPN President John Skipper, ESPN Executive Vice President and CFO Christine Driessen, espnW Vice President Laura Gentile and Alison Overholt, Editor-in-Chief, espnW.
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This year’s theme, “Making an Impact,” will hone in on the influence athletes and business leaders have on the women’s sports landscape. Cynopsis Sports spoke with Overholt about the Summit, the evolution of the espnW platform and how the company is transforming its editorial approach to women and sports.

Overholt on the call to action at espnW: We want to lead the conversation for women and sports. We really try to keep that at the forefront in all of the conversations we have internally with the editorial team as well as with stories and content plans as we ask ourselves ‘What do women want today?’ and ‘How can we advance and evolve that conversation?’ So, I’d say that has really been our organizing principal. I came on-board after talking with Laura earlier this year and we felt that we were really at the moment where we could really find a way to be that voice for women who love sports and are involved in sports. On the content front, we were determined to raise the profile of great stories and start conversations that sometimes people don’t have and we felt that we were at a moment in the marketplace where people were starting to realize how much women have to say in the sports world.

On developing talent: From a talent perspective, espnW has become the place where people come to see the next great generation of sports journalism talent. We are showcasing that and putting them in the pipeline to other parts of our company. That’s a huge goal here. That opportunity for me to work with talent was very exciting for me.

On the media monitoring ESPN’s editorial coverage of controversial subjects: One of the advantages of being on a digital platform is that we can sometime push pause and see if we are going in the right direction and if we are exploring stories in the correct way. We ask our talent about the stories they wished they were telling and about what are some subjects we should be looking into that we haven’t. But that is also a way for us to differentiate ourselves, be distinctive and still be very clearly female. Frankly, we don’t spend that much time wondering how we are going to be scrutinized as the female voice of ESPN. I think our coverage of the recent news on the NFL really shifted the way everybody talked about it and how people covered that subject. There was so much detailed reporting, and we are proud that we were able to stand up and point out that domestic violence is a crime and not just a family matter. It changed how we are talking about that. So, I am less concerned about the ESPN perspective and more concerned about the W perspective.

On the Summit: I can’t wait to see all those people together in one space. It feels like the Summit, in a lot of ways, is the best and truest expression of the W brand. Being new to this outfit, it is exciting to look forward to that and see that idea come to life in a live space. I was looking over the schedule to see how to bring it to life on the site and knit them together with the other aspects of our brand under one unified identity. The mix of speakers, topics and formats feels like a great combination of hearing world-class athletes share their experiences and know-how and then getting to learn from executives in the business who can shine some light on where the business is heading. To me, it is this opportunity to see in real-time that intersection of social conversation, the business of sport, the athlete experience and seeing everything from very serious to very fun. It should be an amazing event.

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