Angela Ruggiero: Creating A Better Sports Industry Through Market Research
Hi there, my name is Spiffy, I’m an interplanetary journalist hanging out on Planet Earth. Today I’m interviewing four-time Olympic medallist Angela Ruggiero who is now the co-founder and CEO of Sports Innovation Lab, a sports market research company.
Spiffy: Welcome, Angela! Let’s jump right in. What challenge is Sports Innovation Lab addressing?
Angela: Cheers for the invite, Spiffy! At Sports Innovation Lab, we know fans. We analyze fan data to help sports organizations understand who their fans are and how technology is changing their behavior, at scale. When I started this company with my co-founder Josh Walker, we set out with a mission of making the sports industry a better version of itself. Our team works toward that mission every single day by putting in the work to discover the insights that drive decisions that will create more equal, accessible, affordable, sustainable, inclusive, innovative, and technologically-savvy fan experiences.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Angela: I've been motivated to fight for equality since I was told I could no longer play on the boys team and got sent home from my local hockey rink because I was a girl. I went on to win four Olympic medals for Team USA, become the first woman to ever skate in a men’s professional game, and to reform the legislation at my local rink to be more inclusive. From there, I continued my push for change from the inside out. I joined the Athlete’s Ethics Commission as a member of the IOC, became the first woman to be on the Board of World Rugby, and served as President of the Women’s Sports Foundation. While serving in all these capacities, I noticed a huge lack of data and intelligence in major decision-making. This motivated me to start the Sports Innovation Lab.
Spiffy: Talk about rising to the occasion and leading the change! You and the Sports Innovation Lab are clearly involved in creating a more equitable world. Can you elaborate on your day-to-day work for the same?
Angela: Thank you, Spiffy! Sports Innovation Lab releases research reports surrounding the change we want to see in the industry. We have done studies on smart venues, sustainability, innovation, and women's sports. We also run two Executive Networks that focus on women's sports and elevating female leaders. Additionally, I am no stranger to being one of the only queer leaders at major conferences and events in the industry. I take this responsibility to represent the LGBTQ+ community with pride and am committed to inspiring others to be themselves and maximize their own greatness. I am dedicated to making sure those that follow in my footsteps have an easier path because of the struggles I have faced and the barriers I have worked hard to break.
Spiffy: You’re paving the way and how! Is there a recent company milestone or initiative you want to share with our readers? Can you also talk about the impact it has on your community?
Angela: In 2021, we launched the Title IX Creators Grant Program where we awarded four up-and-coming female content creators with grants of $1,972 to continue to build and expand their self-started businesses. Additionally, we will be releasing the second edition of the Fan Project report this June. It will continue to build on last year's findings that prove the exceptional ROI for investing in women’s sports. In May 2022, we released our Top 25 Most Innovative Teams in Sports report. Covered by major outlets such as SBJ, Sportico, and Forbes, this ranking includes the key criteria of Organizational Agility, which deals with front-office Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (D/E&I) and investment in women’s teams/athletes, providing a data-backed report that rewards teams for forward thinking.
Spiffy: As an athlete and an entrepreneur, I’m sure you have faced your share of failure. Can you share an experience and tell the audience what you learned from it, how you dealt with it?
Angela: I was full of anxiety and self doubt during my first year at Harvard. As a result, my grades were subpar. The summer after my freshman year, I realized my lack of confidence had as much to do with my bumpy first semester as the rigor of the course work did. I decided to test my theory by setting goals and repeating daily affirmations. Once I started advocating for myself and asking for help, my grades and my confidence steadily improved. I increased my goals little by little, and little by little proved to myself that I was capable of achieving them. During my last year at Harvard, I was named an Academic All American! I'm even more proud of this achievement than any award I won on the ice because of all the hard work it took and personal growth that resulted.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Angela—it’s been an honor!
As a four-time Olympic medalist, podcast host, speaker, TV personality, and businesswoman, Angela Ruggiero is a leading figure in the global sports world. After her Olympic run, Ruggiero earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and served as an IOC member and the President of Billie Jean King's Women's Sports Foundation. Fusing her passion for sport with her extensive business knowledge, Angela co-founded the sports market research company Sports Innovation Lab in 2017, where she is currently the CEO. (Nominated by Lorenzo Thione at Gaingels. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 22, 2022.)© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.