March 2017- Seattle, WA
As the PAC-12 Woman’s NCAA basketball tournament unfolded this Spring at the Key Arena, Media Inc Magazine got a chance to sit down with two quite extraordinary PAC-12 conference executives whom together lead the nation’s most impressive linear and digital broadcast entities – the PAC-12 Network. As part one of our two part featured ‘Women In sports’ coverage of the NCAA Women’s PAC-12 Conference tournament, we first caught up with first with the Chief Marketing Officer – DANETTE LEIGHTON.
Leighton, whom was appointed the first ever CMO in the history of the conference by commissioner Larry Scott , returned to the PAC-12 in 2010 after cutting her teeth with some of the biggest organizations in professional sports, the WNBA, NBA and Sony Sports. Prior to her meteoric rise in the world of sports marketing as an executive, Leighton had a long-standing connection to the conference since graduating from the PAC-10’s (at the time) University of Arizona in 1993.
She realized this unique passion and connection to the world of sports and the now the PAC-12, suited her well when the call came from conference commissioner LARRY SCOTT to execute his elaborate vision to re-brand and enhance the conferences already impressive tradition of excellence.
Q: Tell us about your journey to the PAC-12 Conference & Network and the brands evolution to where it is today.
I’m a product of the PAC-10 (the former name of the PAC-12 before Colorado and Utah joined in 2011) where my father played baseball at UCLA and I went to Arizona so pretty much grew up in this league. So, when I came back seven years ago, I already had a very strong passion for what this brand is and was. I believe a brand is truly built on its genuine and authentic pillars that exist. So, my job when I came on board was to really find the ones that differentiated us and start to “pound our chest”, so to speak, but to do it in a way to always be humble.
One of the first things I worked on with our commissioner, Larry Scott, where he was already well down a path of doing an overview of where the brand was and where we needed to go, was to examine the Pac-10 brand that we had and to fortify and strengthen the conferences three very strong brand pillars. Innovation, geography and excellence. Geographically speaking, it wasn’t only about the beauty of the mountains, deserts and ocean that made our regional footprint unique, but dating back to the covered wagons pilgrimage to the west coast, it represented a time where Americans moving west carried with them an innovative mindset and looking for a better way of life.
The history of our twelve Universities were each built on the foundations of this great academic success but through a very modern and progressive point of view. Our strength of being on the west coast really tailored well into the innovation brand pillar we believe is so unique to us. Blending three very innovative communities in our geographic footprint you can think about entertainment in Hollywood, the Pacific Northwest and Silicon Valley which is our biggest differentiator when you look at us across the landscape of sports compared to other conferences. Our third pillar of excellence reflects our long and distinguished history of dominance within athletics. Entering our 101 year of existence, we hold the most NCAA titles than any conference and what makes it so amazing we are currently at 493 national titles where our next closest counterpart is roughly half of that. We not only have the dominance of the national titles, but we also have a strong Olympic success as well for both men and women. I believe we made up roughly 80% of team USA which, if we were a country, we would have finished fifth in the overall medal count. Which complemented our progressive mindset of always offering these types of opportunities to both men and women and really value the importance of them.
So, one of my primary roles since I have arrived was tell the stories of these 7000+ student athletes that make up our PAC-12 through these distinguishable and long standing traditions in both athletics and academics.
Q: What experiences from your prior endeavors have helped you enhance the PAC-12 brand.
When I worked with the Monarchs of the WNBA managing the business side of things, I learned how to be scrappy, innovative and mindful of modest business operations and initiatives. While working with the Kings of the NBA under the great commissioner of David Stern, I had the honor to work with some very dynamic owners who allowed me to work autonomously which Commissioner Scott has supported and embraced with my current position here at the Pac-12. What I learned most was how different the two brands were and how to market to uniquely different to the men and women fan base of each of the organizations which has helped me tremendously here with the Pac-12.
Q: Tell us more about the creation of the PAC-12 Network.
One of the most impressive and innovative ideas that my commissioner Larry Scott conceived since my arrival has been the creation of the Pac-12 Network. For the first time in conference history fans can experience LIVE linear and digital broadcasts of over 850 games across multiple platforms and multiple sports. Where before the TV coverage was very minimal and nearly non-existent with many women sports. We now LIVE stream our all our basketball press conferences on Facebook live and utilize multiple platforms like Twitter and Instagram to engage our fans around the world.
The network also has enhanced the relationship between student-athletes, fans and families. Where some live quite far away from their kids and now have the technology to watch and experience their kid sporting events. Not to mention how the network has helped and complimented the recruiting component allowing high schools coaches from around the county to watch incoming student-athletes.
Q: What is the most exciting part of your job.
I love being a part of a team and leading a great group of humans. I think it’s very important to believe in what your organization stands for in terms of personal and cultural standpoint. Although I feel very strong about our brand and our 12 universities, the role that I love so much is experiencing events like this one here in Seattle, the PAC-12 Conference Championship tournament. I feel very lucky that my team gets to touch everything and experience it. I value the autonomy commissioner Scott gives me to execute his vision every day at my job.
The one thing that impressed me the most in chatting with Danette was her fierce passion and genuine love she has for her Pac-12 team she works with every day. But most impressively, her innovative vision she has reflecting her commissioners most impressive creative to date – the Pac-12 Networks.