Monday, October 6, 2008

5 Questions With Pretty Tough

Another Monday and another interview with a remarkable woman from the sports world! Have you checked out the Pretty Tough website? You need to. I’m truly honored to have Jane Schonberger as my guest and I think you’ll enjoy what she has to say. I’ll allow the mastermind to introduce herself and answer my five questions:

I’m originally from the East Coast where I attended high school and college. I began my professional life in New York and moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990’s to work as an entertainment executive. I’ve spent much of my career developing and producing content for Disney, Fox and other studios.

I’m now the mother of two daughters and as such have come to intimately understand the role of gender bias, especially in the media. I don’t want my girls to ever encounter a glass ceiling and I feel more compelled than ever to address the imbalances that exist in both media representations and real life.

As my young daughters began to play sports, I quickly saw the many benefits of athletic participation. I also saw the partiality that exists between male and female athletes – even at a young age. For example, little boys easily conceive of themselves as pro athletes with little more than a ball and delusions of talent. Little girls, even those that excel, are rarely encouraged to entertain such fantasies.

Navigating a life course is filled with variables, and girls in particular have to make hard personal choices to express their identity. They struggle with a bewildering array of challenges to their self-image. Through their performance, their bodies, activities, etc. they try to chart a course that lies acceptably within ideas of what it is to be female.

Raising girls, I became fascinated with the idea that a person’s identity may not be reducible to just one personality. We can have constitutive or “non-competing” identities (for example being a girl and being an athlete or being a girl and being president). I don’t want my daughters to be pigeon holed (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner”) and I’m intent on presenting as many opportunities as possible without regard to gender stereotypes.

The good news is that the range of what is acceptable for girls is broader than ever. As my daughters get older, I see first-hand that a young woman’s femininity and desire to play hard and be strong can co-exist. Girls who play sports and enjoy 'spirited or competitive' activities aren’t out of the ordinary – in fact just the opposite is true – they’re extraordinary.

With a vested interest in eradicating gender stereotypes, I’m focused lately on creating opportunities for young women, through athletics, business, entertainment and other platforms.

1. How did you come to start Pretty Tough and how did you decide on the name? Who is your target market and what are your goals with the site and brand?

Pretty Tough came about as a result of both personal and professional experiences. As a development and marketing executive for entertainment and lifestyle brands, I noticed a void in the marketplace when it came to female athletes. And as the mother of two female athletes (and a former/wannabe athlete myself), I know how transformative an experience sports can be.

After some preliminary market research, we learned that our audience has a very visceral connection to being Pretty & Tough. They embrace the duality and intuitively understand that the two terms are not mutually exclusive. Hence, the company name.

We like to say Pretty Tough girls are as comfortable in cleats and a pony tail as high heels and glitter. As a company, we recognize that girls kick grass on the field but enjoy a bit of glam before and after the game. We’re all about celebrating the different personalities and attitudes that make up the female athlete. Learning to be comfortable with who you are - hardly an easy task for even the most self-assured girl - is what Pretty Tough is all about.

Our mission: to be the premier brand and media property providing high-quality, specialty content, products and services for young female athletes nationwide. We hope our brand empowers and motivates young women to embrace their femininity and athleticism while encouraging them to lead active, healthy lifestyles.

At our core, we are a lifestyle company and I think it’s important for girls to understand how sports and leading active lives are central to a healthy lifestyle. Pretty Tough girls who live a “sports-inspired life” are also interested in fitness, beauty, fashion and entertainment – essentially they want to be physically competitive while keeping in touch with their girly sides.

Over the past couple of years, PrettyTough has grown to include three distinct elements:
is the online turf for sporty girls. It’s a place for female athletes and fans of women’s sports to blog, socialize, find training tips and information to help improve their abilities, and stay up to date on their favorite sports and sports personalities. There are also a number of services available including a robust database of sports camps, clinics, and leagues for girls and an event calendar. And of course there are feature articles that appeal to a female athlete’s feminine side – articles about beauty, fashion and entertainment.

PrettyTough Publishing - We’ve quickly established ourselves as one of the key players in the field of teen sports books. Partnering with Razorbill Books (Penguin Group) we’ve published a series of YA novels that illustrate the life of female athletes in a way that's never been done before. We show the grittiness and sweat that champions must endure along with the challenge of balancing sports, school, family, and a social life. We created the Pretty Tough books because we love to read, and as teens, we could never find good books with a strong female athletic protagonist. So far, there are two books in the stores: “Pretty Tough” and “Playing with the Boys” both written by the extraordinary Liz Tigelaar with more on the way.

PrettyTough Products
– We’ve created a number of products specifically for female athletes from apparel and accessories to health & beauty care. Just because girls love sports doesn’t mean they lack style so our products reflect that unique blend of attitude and style. We’re currently in discussions with a number of licensees to grow this part of the business and make more products available at retail – an exciting development.

2. What sports did you play growing up - for fun and for competition? What sports do you continue to be involved in?

I’m definitely more of an athlete now then I was younger. Growing up I played sports primarily on a recreational level. I leaned more towards the creative - studying art, literature and photography in school.

I played competitive tennis as a teenager although not at an elite level. Now, I love being athletic – with biking, hiking, kayaking, swimming– regular pursuits. I still play tennis and I play basketball on a Moms League which is really my first team experience.

I’m also an avid spectator – one of my daughters is an elite level soccer player, the other is a fencer – and I love going to youth sports competitions as well as college and professional sports events.

3. What are the most significant sporting events throughout history for women in your opinion? What is the most meaningful event that is sports-related that you have personally participated in?

Probably the most significant event for women in sports was Billie Jean King’s 1973 victory over Bobby Riggs. We all know she was at the height of her career while he was on the downward slope so the match itself wasn’t that spectacular but Title IX had just passed and the match sparked a revolution for women as well as a heightened awareness of female athletes.

The Women’s World Cup in 1999 was the first sporting event I attended where I could literally feel popular opinion shift. With nearly 100,000 fans in the stands, the most-attended women's sports event in history, the U.S. Women’s National Team held the appeal of rock stars. These players were Title IX babies who embodied the best of what women in sport stands for. And the match was incredible! It was as good a competition as any sporting event, male or female, I’ve ever attended.

More recently, Danica Patrick winning an Indy race put to rest the notion that women can’t compete against men. Drivers like Janet Guthrie and Lyn. St. James had already put a stake in the ground but Danica got the checkered flag and will go down in history.

On a far more personal level, I’m involved in supporting girls in our community via sports events with the Los Angeles Parks & Recreation Dept. and the Girl Scouts. And as a company, Pretty Tough sponsors girls across the country that are involved in both traditional and non-traditional sports. I find participation at this kind a micro level is extremely meaningful.

4. What is the most rewarding thing about covering sports for you? The most challenging?

The most rewarding aspect of covering sports has to be the many inspiring stories about girls and women doing remarkable things. The most challenging would have to be the scarcity of information on women’s sports.

I don’t think of as strictly a sports news site as we cover lifestyle stories equally. My favorite part of writing and editing for the site is finding stories that have impact outside of the sports arena.

For example, did you know that 80% of female executives at Fortune 500 companies played sports when they were girls? Or that singers like Ashanti and Queen Latifah were successful high school athletes? Or that Serena Williams is a fashion designer as well as a professional tennis player? I love connecting the dots and seeing how sports impact women’s lives in unexpected ways.

5. What do you think it would take for professional women athletes to be compensated the way their male counterparts are? Tennis and golf come closer than most other sports - but how can women gain the respect and recognition that they deserve as athletes in your opinion?

Tennis players and golfers are definitely the highest paid athletes. Maria Sharapova is the biggest earner but Venus and Serena Williams, Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and others have also broken into eight-figure earnings territory. IndyCar driver Danica Patrick is very close to being part of that club.

When the All England Club announced it would offer equal prize money across the board to both men and women tennis players it was a milestone – in fact women actually get paid more than the guys based on the number of sets they play – truly a first!

Not only do sports have a direct influence on the American way of life - an estimated 100 million people regularly participate in sports and hundreds of millions more watch sports events on a regular basis – but sports are also serious business. It’s not just about filling stadium seats; it’s about media rights, ancillary products and merchandise as well.

I think women are beginning to get the respect and recognition they deserve but pay equality has clearly not caught up. As more and more young women become role models, they’ll begin to get more corporate support. Olympians Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson have legions of fans and so it makes sense for companies like General Mills (Wheaties) to Procter & Gamble (Secret) to employ them in their recent marketing efforts.

Unfortunately female team-sport athletes still have a ways to go. WNBA stars like Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi and Lisa Leslie don’t get nearly the same money from corporate sponsors that LeBron or Kobe command.

I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg however with women’s sports. Just as college sports exploded in the past couple decades; women’s sports will be the next huge growth area. College basketball games used to be played in empty arenas. Today there are entire cable networks devoted to college sports and they’re big business for all involved. Women’s sports will follow a similar trajectory.

In the short-term, companies should recognize that women involved in sports and living a healthy lifestyle are a valuable demographic with enormous spending power. Hopefully more corporate executives will focus on utilizing female athletes, teams and events in their marketing efforts to both fuel the growth of women’s sports as well grow their bottom line.

And of course, everyone needs to support the effort by attending women’s sporting events, watching televised programming and buying products endorsed by female athletes. As they say in that great (smile) film High School Musical, “We’re all in this together.”


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to thank you for your kind words about our loss of Jackie, and also to express my sympathy for your loss too - 3 years old is way too young for a kitty - I know you had to have been crushed by it. Thanks again.

Apryl DeLancey said...

Thanks! I appreciate your visit.

Lindsay said...

Just last night I was thinking how my favorite posts on your blog are the ones like this that are pro equality for women in sports.

I really enjoyed this interview. It makes me want to do more to both support college and professional women's sports and also to help out girls' teams.

I checked out the Pretty Tough web site too. Looks good!

Apryl DeLancey said...

I know - I can't wait for women's football to start again so I can get out and cover that! I'm looking for others to give attention to as well!