CT women in NBA, NFL leadership roles say to work in sports, you ‘have to be gutsy’

DARIEN — When Renie Anderson first moved to Los Angeles — a Kentucky native fresh out of college — she wanted to write a screenplay and marry Leonardo DiCaprio.

That did not materialize, she said recently. Instead, Anderson stumbled into a job in the sports industry and spent her career working her way to the role of chief revenue officer for the NFL.

In conversation with ESPN broadcaster Jay Alter, Anderson and fellow Darien resident Amy Brooks — the first chief innovation officer for the NBA — spoke about how they landed their current high-profile careers in major sports leagues during a May 12 event as part of the Darien Community Association’s annual Global Speakers lecture series.

“I just sort of ran into a variety of responsibilities,” said Anderson, who is going into her 17th season at the NFL and handles sponsorships, consumer products, gaming and legalized sports betting. “The job is kind of big, sort of stressful. I’m in charge of the small billions that we have. There’s television billions — and then there’s all the others.”

The pair offered advice for those seeking an in to the sports industry, though they cautioned the field is not always as rosy as it may appear to fans.

Most jobs are in the operational side of the industry, such as human resources or accounting, both said. And they spoke about how time-consuming sports can be, with games and events scheduled regardless of holidays.

“It’s a business — like I don’t walk down the hallway and give high fives to Patrick Mahomes every day,” Anderson added. “There’s many trips to Disneyland (where) I’ve got one foot in a teacup and the other foot on the phone trying to get a deal done on the sidelines.”

Brooks, who grew up in California, said she grew up with a passion for basketball, later attending Stanford University to play the game.

Initially, she went into technology in the Bay Area before she realized she wanted to work in sports and returned to school for a business degree, Brooks said.

“A lot of people want to work in sports, but you just kind of have to be gutsy ... and do some different things,” Brooks said, describing her first career in management consulting to learn data analytics, which helped her land a job with the NBA.

Brooks has also been with the NBA for 17 years, she said. As the first chief innovation officer at the NBA, she oversees new initiatives — including the association’s foray into blockchain and NFT technology and the pandemic-era “bubble.”

As women in largely male-dominated fields, both Anderson and Brooks said they encourage others seeking jobs in the industry to go in with confidence — and to view themselves just as they do the men they may be working alongside with.

“I don’t think of myself as a female executive. I’m just an executive,” Anderson said. “Be great. Become an expert. Know your business or the job, not because you’re a woman but because you are the best at the job.”

And as transplants who first lived and worked in New York City, both lauded Darien as a haven for their families.

Anderson and Brooks each have two daughters who are roughly the same age and play a variety of sports in town, they said.

“We came in and we saw the water and we saw what a cute small town it was,” Brooks said. “We were just enamored by it ... it’s been such a fantastic place for our family.”