The second annual espnW Summit NYC was set for Thursday, May 28, with a packed agenda, a near-sellout crowd with months to go, and more than half a year of planning by the espnW Summit team. Following the impact of COVID-19 on the sports world in March, and with a healthy mix of optimism and innovation, the espnW Summit team changed course to produce its first Virtual Summit event.
With the recent announcement of the espnW Keynote Conversation with Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft, as well as more than 6,000 registered attendees, the first Virtual espnW Summit is well on its way to success.
Front Row asked espnW Summit veterans Laura Gentile, espnW founder and Senior Vice President, Marketing, and Rachel Epstein, senior director, Emerging Properties and Brands, espnW, what attendees can expect from the three-hour Virtual Summit. EDITOR’S NOTE: You can register for The espnW Virtual Summit NYC at www.espnWevents.com.
Why did you decide to pivot to making the espnW Summit NYC a virtual event? What is the decision-making process that goes into changing that format? What are the opportunities and challenges it presents?
LG: As a sports community, I believe we’re all suffering from cancellation-fatigue. And we had the option with this particular event and with the W brand to take the experience online and still make it a satisfying, uplifting one. espnW is a brand of resilience and optimism and what better way to express that than rising during a crisis. Once we decided to try to make this a virtual event, a la video chat which we’ve all become accustomed to, we began to dig in and plan this, and galvanize around creating the best possible three-hour experience.
This could be another great moment for ESPN, and that’s what we are aiming to create. — espnW founder and Senior Vice President, Marketing, Laura Gentile, on the espnW Virtual Summit NYC
With the announcement of the Virtual Summit, demand has skyrocketed. The hunger for great content and connection is deep, and we now have more than 6,000 registrants. We have incorporated all that we’ve learned and the innovation involved in bringing our virtual NFL and WNBA Drafts to life. Working with [EVP, Content Operations & Creative Services] Jodi Markley [Senior Vice President, Production Operations] Stacey Fitch [EVP, Event & Studio Production] Stephanie Druley, and with [Executive Vice President, Content] Connor Schell’s leadership, we will be producing this event as we have the Drafts and will aim to make it one seamless production for our guests/fans. This could be another great moment for ESPN, and that’s what we are aiming to create.
The espnW Virtual Summit NYC is going to be the first Summit experience for many attendees. What can they expect and what should they take away from the day?
RE: Whether the espnW Summit is in person or virtual, we always aim to engage our audiences in conversations and perspectives that are unique to the women + sports space. Ideally, people walk away inspired and armed with insights and ideas that they can act on, even in some small way. And we always spotlight amazing female athletes, which we’re doing with Sabrina and our espnW Keynote Conversation.
We’ll also have wellness and movement sessions as part of the agenda – a key component of our typical Summits – to help everyone feel as refreshed as possible during a time when we’re all looking at our screens a lot. Especially in this particular moment, we’ll also look to inject a good dose of levity and humor into the day. We’ve got [espnW writer and ESPN Radio host Sarah Spain as our host, after all!
Summit staffers and attendees often speak of the magic that comes from the event. What makes that magic happen?
LG: We’ve always planned our espnW Summits with an eye towards breaking the mold of traditional conferences. We intentionally aim for provocative and unexpected speakers coupled with movement and wellness, all in a spirit of honest conversation and positivity. Providing inspiration has always been a guiding principle for an espnW Summit, and that’s the source of a lot of magic.
What’s your favorite W Summit moment/memory from the past decade?
RE: There are countless to choose from, but I won’t soon forget Andra Day singing her heart out on “Rise Up” while sitting on the edge of the stage surrounded by the amazing women of our Global Sports Mentoring Program.