Working in sports isn’t easy.
Working in sports as a woman can be overwhelming and sometimes the odds feel stacked up against you.
But Laura Meyer has overcome those odds and the obstacles that come with it.
Meyer’s been with the organization since 2006 and has worked in sports since interning with the Cincinnati Reds while still in college at Xavier University.
She started out in ticket operations after traveling to Minneapolis. On the side, she’d dig through beneath-the-surface numbers for Ryan Tanke, who is now the Chief Revenue Officer. She’s a self-proclaimed math nerd, so this makes sense.
But she’s not just a math nerd. She’s extremely intelligent and that’s led to huge developments for the Lynx and Timberwolves.
In 2010, the team, with a huge boost from Meyer, became the first pro team in the Twin Cities to start using dynamic pricing – a pricing strategy in which businesses set flexible prices for products or services based on current market demands. In 2015, she led the Lynx and then the Timberwolves conversion to digital ticketing, making us the first team in the NBA and WNBA to have 100 percent digital entry.
Meyer made the rise to manager to director and in 2016, she was named VP of a new and evolving department focused around analytics and research.
“I’ve really seen Business Intelligence in sports go from nothing to department of 8-10 deep for many NBA teams,” Meyer said. “I never could have said back in college ‘this is what I want to do’ because it really didn’t exist. I knew I wanted to work in the business operations side of sports but this has exceeded any of my wildest dreams.”
Business Intelligence is a very male-dominated field. Meyer was the NBA and WNBA’s only female VP when she started. Recently, there’s been another female hired in that role.
“Now there are two of us!” Meyer said with excitement.
There is still plenty of work to be done, and Meyer has acted as an agent of change, even though naturally, she’s not one to accept a lot of credit. Meyer generally likes to work behind the scenes. The endless amount of dashboards she and her staff create are used by every other department. Her team is involved in many of our major initiatives: from the technologies they integrate to the data warehouse they’ve built or even basic problem-solving and logistics and she measures her team’s success by how they partner with the other departments to accomplish their respective objectives. But that often keeps them ‘behind-the-scenes’, which she’s working to change.
“I’ve definitely been comfortable in that pocket, but for the sake of my team I’m trying to step out of the shadow a little bit and be vocal, and more proactive in showcasing our resources or what the data is presenting. In the end, the respective leaders get to make the decisions on how they use it.” Meyer said.
Meyer is a natural introvert though, although you wouldn’t know that once you get to know her. She’d much rather ‘wire in’ and spend endless hours diving through the data.
“I don’t necessarily think that’s a female thing, that’s a me thing. And I see it in my staff as well.”
Meyer is extremely well respected in the organization. She’s smart, kind, tough and a tireless worker.
In sports, everyone works with other departments. There’s a lot of overlay.
But Meyer’s work with everyone in the organization is ridiculous.
You could walk by a meeting at any point in the day and not be surprised with who Meyer is meeting with. CEO Ethan Casson? Sure. Tanke? Yep. Target Center Security? Why not. The digital team? Makes sense. She did lead the launch of the Timberwolves and Lynx Mobile App, which is integrated with all of the point’s of sale at Target Center – tickets, concessions and retail.
Meyer is everywhere.
One thing Meyer is working on in her department, along with the rest of the organization, is work-life balance. Sports are hectic. There’s no such thing as a classic 40-hour week. There are nights, weekends and early mornings.
But Meyer found that the employees who are most likely to walk away from those hectic hours are often females who want to spend more time with family. She’s trying to change that.
“It’s very important for me that my staff feels like they can have a life, and a wife or a husband and kids, and I think that was the most surprising thing over time that we were seeing is that while we were hiring some great females, they were opting-out after a short time because they saw how hard everybody worked and how many hours we put in and thought that wasn’t possible with a family life,” Meyer said. “I feel like we’ve come a long way, we could always get better, but that’s one of our emphases’ is showing that you can be a well-rounded human being and work here, that you can have family and kids and pets. It’s all possible.”
Meyer was one of the founding members of the Timberwolves & Lynx Women In Sports Council. There, the focus is professional development and empowerment for female staff members.
“That’s not to give extra training to females because they are behind in some way. It’s more about making them aware of more male-dominating tendencies, behaviors, culture in the workplace that might inadvertently be giving females a disadvantage. It’s about overall personal growth while building relationships and a network within their female colleagues.”
She notes that a big part of it is women stepping up and out of their comfort zones. Self-promotion isn’t the easiest thing to do, for most people at least, and especially women.
“You have to learn to ask for it,” Meyer said.
In her time with the Wolves and Lynx, Meyer says that she feels very fortunate that she can’t think of a time where she’s been treated differently because she’s a woman.
“There’s unconscious bias, of course.”
And that’s the problem that is still something Meyer’s leadership group is hoping to neutralize.
Meyer isn’t a “Rah, Rah!” person. But she’s demanded a seat at the table. Before games, you’ll see her walking over to the arena with Casson and Tanke.
“They don’t slow down, even though I’m a foot shorter than them and I’m wearing heels and a pencil skirt. But I wouldn’t want them too either.” Meyer said with a smile. “They always treated me the same as my male counterparts. I’ve never felt like the odd (wo)man out. And for that I’m truly grateful.”
Now it’s about improvement. The NBA and WNBA are at the forefront when it comes to inclusion training for every team. In late-February, the Wolves and Lynx hiring managers all took part in a three-hour training session. That helps. But there needs to be more women like Meyer to look up to.
“I’ve had a lot of incredible role models, male and female and I certainly want to pay that forward. Meyer said “ . . . the Business Intelligence departments at teams are growing and being provided more and more resources, and as the teams grow in size we’ve seen more females are being hired in, they are presenting on our monthly calls and attending league meetings. They might not be the leader of the department but they’re leading initiatives and making a true impact in their roles. It’s only a matter of time and we will see more gender diversity within our BI leadership ”
For more information on women in sports who are making a huge impact for the Lynx and Timberwolves, visit our Celebrating Women in Sports site here.