Lisa Baird sells the Olympic dream

Lisa Baird has been the chief marketing officer for the USOC for nearly three years. As part of our ongoing Power Play series on females in sports business, espnW caught up with Baird to hear more about her career and day-to-day responsibilities.

espnW: You've been the chief marketing officer for the USOC since January 2009. Tell us a bit about your responsibilities.

Lisa Baird: I'm essentially in charge of all sponsorship and licensing sales of our consumer products and also our media efforts. We're building a digital media presence right now and working with some partners to start to license some footage to do original production and we're excited about that. … What I love about it is that it allows me to really influence in a great, flexible way as opposed to think narrowly in one function. If our CEO gives us an objective, I can say, "Let's look at this kind of integrated program" or "Why don't we do this?" That's what I love about the job.

espnW: Previously, you were the senior vice president of marketing for the NFL and then a consultant. Why did you decide to join the USOC?

LB: The draw for me was being really involved in a purpose-driven organization. The purpose of the USOC is so clear; it was a very personal draw. To be able to be part of the support team for what I feel is some of the most amazing athletes in the world, but also a mission, that's just motivating.

espnW: You've signed nine new corporate partners and renewed seven others since joining the USOC. What is it about the Olympic movement that makes it so compelling to sponsors?

LB: People want to associate with our brand. People at senior levels of companies that we deal with want to support the mission, whether it's at the global level or the domestic level with Team USA. The proposition is very compelling. But we've been fortunate enough to have the success we've had recently because we work really hard to develop the right platforms and engagement opportunities for sponsors and their business objectives. And that is something we haven't done before … building engagement opportunities outside of the traditional 17 days of games, offering integrated sponsorship packages; working with our partners so that they use our intellectual property, our Olympic athletes and our assets to achieve their business objectives.

espnW: Can you share with us what kinds of benefits the sponsors give to the athletes that we might not know about?

LB: The sponsor-athlete relationship and connection is the most valuable thing we can give them. Let's face it, they don't really sign up to sponsor the US Olympic Committee -- they sign up to sponsor the team and the Olympic movement. What we do when we get a new sponsor -- or if we're going to a new set of games -- we work really hard with the sponsor to take their business objectives and recommend the right athletes for them, for their brand mission, for their business mission, for their budget even for what they want to do. … That helps a lot of athletes with some funding because not all our athletes are super-celebrities and have something through big salaries, they have to do it on their own. Some of the lesser-known athletes who still have the Olympic world behind them were happy to get funded by a great program.

espnW: You have three children. How do you handle the challenges of a work-life balance as a working mother in the sports world?

LB: Everybody wants to be in sports and I'm always counseling young kids -- and particularly young women who want to have a life in sports. I say, "Really? It's 24/7, it's a lot of physical work, you're going to be working weekends and late nights and traveling an awful lot. Sometimes passion for the sport just isn't enough, and I want you to realize that." And yet, there's a passion that comes with connecting with fans that is very hard to find in any other industry.

I'm lucky because I have a husband who is a real partner. We have a balancing act. When we talk about work-life balance, it's usually a juggling act between him and me. We really work hard to make sure that our children are involved in our lives and it means they travel a lot to where we are. … The mission is to make sure that they're not left alone. That's a real promise that we try and keep. And they get some exciting experiences. But to say it's not hard on the both of us wouldn't be truthful.

espnW: What sports do you play or watch?

LB: I really love sports. When I was in high school and in college, I was a volleyball player and a lacrosse player. While I would have loved to have been talented enough to play at the NCAA level, I wasn't. But I'm also now not only a very bad golfer, but I'm an emerging cyclist. And I'm really finding that I love cycling a lot. I'm learning it. I just did 125 miles with my husband in Croatia because he runs a cycling company and we're really doing it not only as a healthy activity but something that we love as a sport. I have to tell you, while I'm still a very, very strong NFL fan, I'm starting to love the excitement of pro cycling and certainly Olympic cycling.

espnW: How much interaction do you have with the Olympic athletes themselves?

LB: Our athletes are so accessible to us. First of all, I spend a lot of time in Colorado Springs so we see them at the training [center]. They participate with us a lot -- I've brought athletes on sponsor sales calls. They come to our donor events. What's really great about the Olympic movement is the fact that, and this is actually law by the Ted Stevens Act, we are required to have positions on boards that have athletes. We represent the athlete point of view -- not in just serving them and helping them support and train -- but taking their point of view in the actual strategy and running of our business.

espnW: What advice do you have for women interested in working in sports?

LB: It's a consistent level of advice. Just because you love sports doesn't mean that you are going to be a contributor. … Bring a skill to the table beyond just a love of sports. And then when you have the love of sports, that's what's going to sustain you in a lot of long nights, a lot of days on the road. The fact is, it's a tough competitive environment [and] we're all looking for the best candidates, so arm yourself with the skill level you need.

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