Continuing our "Innovation In Sponsorship" series, Angelina Lawton, Founder and CEO of Sportsdigita gives us insight into her journey from senior leadership with the Tampa Bay Lightning to founding her sports agency, Sportsdigita, and the creation of the Digideck.
An innovative digital platform, the Digideck provides sponsorship sales teams with the ability to create customized, interactive decks to present to potential partners. When traditional sales and PowerPoint presentations weren’t proving effective, Angelina saw the opportunity to revolutionize this niche space and create a product that catches the eye of key decision makers. Today, Sportsdigita’s clients include teams in every major sports league and a recent partnership with Learfield added 120+ intercollegiate athletic departments to the Sportsdigita family.
What were your career ambitions after graduating from Arizona State University? I always knew I wanted to work for myself. My father is an entrepreneur and I find myself utilizing a lot of the strategies and skills I recognized in him growing up. Being an entrepreneur is definitely in your blood and I definitely had the bug. I made sure I learned as much as I could from my first jobs and initial work experience. All of my roles focused on running in-house agencies, so I knew this would be my route. Also, I loved sports but not in a cliché way - all of the work that goes on behind-the-scenes, creative branding and revenue-generating aspects of the industry have always captivated me.
I had one prerequisite. I wanted to work with big brands. Brands I noticed on TV, brands I saw on a day-to-day basis out in the marketplace. Marrying my agency experience with sports was a perfect fit.
What would you say are some of the most pivotal experiences you've encountered throughout your career that have helped you to get to where you are now?
My most formative years, in terms of developing Sportsdigita, occurred while as an SVP with the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was my responsibility to oversee all aspects of the Tampa Bay Lightning brand. Radio, TV, in-game entertainment, billboards, you name it. I realized there was so much potential when it came to the intersection of sports and digital media! After working in that space for just one team, I knew I could successfully drive digital products for all organizations. I wanted to have an impact in the sports industry on the largest scale I possibly could.
While with the Tampa Bay Lightning, you recognized there wasn't a tool to create customized sales presentations; when you realized this, what were the first steps you took toward making the idea of Sportsdigita/the Digideck into a reality?
This entire notion - that there was an unfulfilled need to create customized presentations - was the basis for developing our marquee sales engagement platform, the Digideck. We initially created the Digideck for a project with the Minnesota Twins. In just a few short years (how time flies!), it has morphed into a product that is a culmination of innovative thought leadership from our incredible team combined with amazing client input from individuals who use the product on a daily basis.
You recently partnered with Learfield to bring the Digideck to 120+ collegiate properties, what does this partnership mean for Sportsdigita?
First of all, it’s a game changer for our company. To bring 120+ teams to complement our 150+ professional sports portfolio is an amazing milestone for Sportsdigita. We worked with Learfield's EVP/Chief Revenue Officer, Andy Rawlings and SVP of Integrated Marketing, Keisha Taylor, to formulate a plan that would arm the entire Learfield sales force with a sales engagement platform tailored to drive ROI with custom-branded design, engaging content and smart sales analytics. I am so, so excited to see this plan rollout in 2017 and the results to come thereafter. What does it mean for Sportsdigita, specifically? I believe it highlights our team's ability to develop turnkey sales and marketing solutions at a rate and level of quality no one else can match.
Where do you see Sportsdigita going in the next 5 years?
My first priority is to make Sportsdigita the go-to digital company for generating revenue in all sports leagues and for all sports verticals. Our team has worked tirelessly to create tailored software solutions for sponsorship, ticketing, premium hospitality, fundraising, recruitment - we will not stop innovating. On a similar note, there are more aspects to the sports industry than many people often realize. In addition to the Big 5 American leagues, there are international, minor and youth leagues along with collegiate athletics. I anticipate Sportsdigita being an influencer in each of them. Furthermore, I would love to expand our sales engagement platform, the Digideck, to verticals outside of sports. Our team developed the Digideck before sales engagement platforms were widely used, and now sales engagement platforms are one of the fastest growing technology segments in the world. We are so proud and excited to be at the forefront of the industry’s growth.
While you were with the Tampa Bay Lightning you helped launch the team Facebook and Twitter pages. At the time, social media was popular, but still on the rise, what were some of the ways you attracted fans to the pages and what strategies do you think were (or are) the most successful?
Content is king. To think about the fact that in 2008 - when I first started with the Lightning - an NHL team didn’t have a social media presence is hard to believe. Creating Facebook and Twitter accounts for the Lightning is what drove a new, special type of two-way communication that was inaccessible before, and I think social media in general is an awesome form of technology connecting teams with their fans in a much more personal manner.
From a business standpoint, social media creates a tool for reaching fans far beyond in-game communication. I like to think of social media in the metaphor of an octopus, where each different platform acts as a tentacle tying back to the team’s website. This was a huge strategy I initiated while with the Lightning. Getting fans involved, and bringing them to a place where they could purchase tickets, view content, and help drive sponsorship revenue.
Who do you admire the most in the business and/or sports industry?
Erin Andrews. Erin is the ultimate professional, an inspiration to young women and is dominating in her field. She is an innovator and has created an incredible brand for herself. I respect her obvious attention to detail, preparation and insights she relays to her audience both in sports + entertainment. She has changed the face of the broadcast world.
What were some of the biggest hurdles you had to overcome to achieve success in the sports industry and eventually to found your own company?
To date, a few come to mind. Technology, because it’s always evolving, seems to be a hurdle that will never go away (and we’re okay with that!). Also, being a woman in a male-dominated industry and becoming relevant in a competitive market are two challenges I have had to work extra hard to overcome. I surrounded myself with people who come from different leagues and backgrounds and in doing so, our entire team has worked together to conquer learning curves, deliver an innovative and ever-evolving platform keeping Sportsdigita on the forefront of the industry.
Any time you start a business from the ground up, there are challenges. Luckily, I have a very determined and talented team who have helped us ride out the waves, and we are now seeing these efforts pay dividends.
Having a personal brand is increasingly important, how would you describe your own personal brand? I definitely try to keep my work and personal life balanced - at least for the most part. Sometimes work trickles into life, and vice versa, but at the end of the day, I’m a CEO + Mom + Sports Fan. I try to highlight that in my brand online.
Outside of work, is there anything you are passionate about?
I love, love, love to travel, especially to Tulum, Cabo and Italy. I love to play golf, too. It’s the one way I can totally relax and take my mind away from everything else going on in my chaotic (but always exciting) life. I am from Minnesota, and our summers are amazing so you can always find me out enjoying my favorite...Lake Minnetonka with my family and friends.