We deal with an ever-growing amount of nonsense every day, so cutting through the clutter and trying to find those really striving to make a difference is always welcomed. One of those on the watch is ESPN’s Maria Taylor. Taylor and business partner Corinne Milien have started The Winning Edge Leadership Academy, which will develop the next generation of women and minority leaders in sports business. They will host its first retreat June 21-24, 2018 in Miami, FL, a four day intense professional development retreat will feature five industry professionals serving as mentors for 12 current and former student-athletes as they begin their career in sports business
Taylor is in her third season as a college analyst and reporter and joined ESPN and SEC Network in 2014. In 2017, she was named a reporter for College GameDay Built by Home Depot and ABC Saturday Night Football. She had previously served as the host of SEC Network’s traveling pregame show SEC Nation, alongside analysts Tim Tebow, Marcus Spears and Paul Finebaum. In addition to her football duties, she is a host of Big Monday and NCAA Women’s Final Four studio coverage. She also serves as a sideline reporter for men’s basketball, and is an analyst on other SEC and ESPN telecasts, including volleyball, and women’s basketball. Prior to her role on SEC Nation, she served as a college football reporter on SEC Network with commentator Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer.
Maria attended the University of Georgia where she played volleyball and basketball for the Bulldogs. She was named to the All-SEC volleyball team three times and was also a member of the USA A2 National Volleyball team. She graduated from Georgia in 2009 with a degree in broadcast news. She returned to the University to pursue her Master of Business Administration which she completed in May of 2013.
We caught up with Maria to talk leadership, mentoring and how she views the business today…
How do you define leadership in the fluid world we are in today?
I define Leadership as the ability to galvanize and inspire a group of individuals towards a common goal or purpose. A leader should never be deterred by a fear of failure or make decisions based on the norm. I feel like in our world today there is no longer a norm! Everything is changing. And the best leaders that I have been around or read about are innovators with brilliant ideas and an ability to execute them.
As a rising media personality you have to deal with balancing the headlines from the positive, maybe less sexy stories. How do you find that balance in your storytelling?
I think the key is taking a step back and looking at the sport that I am covering from the viewer’s perspective. If there is a negative headline that could directly impact the outcome of the game or future of a coach, player, or program, I will do everything in my power to deliver timely information on that subject matter. But if it is a very “sexy” headline that does not add value to a broadcast or show I filter it out of my reporting. I also think it is important to not just see people and talk about them. But that you must talk to people and see what they are about. So my goal in most of my reporting is to give the information and balance it with the words or insight of the coach, player, or administrator that we are discussing.
Who have been your role models and mentors and how did you find them?
My role model is Robin Roberts. Not simply because of the position and esteem that she holds in the broadcasting world but also because of the way that she treats people. I was introduced to her over email by my collegiate basketball Coach Andy Landers. He met Robin during her time working the sports beat in Atlanta. Coach Landers told her that he knows a girl that reminds him of her and would love for us to talk. She immediately emailed him back. Robin was working the Grammys that week and she took the time to say as soon as she returned to New York she would have a day and time set up for us to chat. And one day after she finished an episode of Good Morning America, I received a call from Robin. She sat on the phone with me for almost an hour talking me through what should be the next step in my career how to juggle our crazy schedules and answered all of my silly questions. I don’t remember everything she said but I remember exactly how she made me feel. Because of what she did for me. I will never knowingly turn away someone who is seeking my guidance.
Tell us about your role with The Winning Edge Leadership Academy and why it’s important to you as a professional?
I am the co-founder of The Winning Edge Leadership Academy. I work alongside Corinne Milien to promote diversity in the sports industry by equipping women and minorities with the mentors, experiences, and exposure to start and sustain a successful career in sports. My biggest focus right now is fund raising through speaking engagements to fund our first annual Winning Edge Game Changing Retreat for student-athletes. The four-day retreat will take place in Miami and will be led by industry professionals. The Winning Edge Leadership Academy is important to me because I recognize that many places list diversity as a company priority but have yet to come up with sustainable solutions to actively diversify their employee workforce and retain women and minority employees. It is our hope that The Winning Edge can be a resource to companies truly interested in diversity and students with incredible potential. The Winning Edge can be the bridge that fills the gap between these two.
Do you feel the industry in general needs change, and where do you see that change coming from?
I believe every industry is changing at lighting speed due to technology and broadcasting may be number one on the list. The younger generations shift to entities like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and SnapChat for their entertainment has left cable looking for different and unique ways to capture the next generation of viewers. My 23 year old sister literally never turns on the television and can sit on her phone for hours watching videos and playing around on social media and it’s the same for all of her friends. I think the key to creating a strategy that will be successful and sustainable is having different voices in the room making these decisions. If your goal is to market to everyone you should probably have an inclusive decision making table that represents the voice of everyone’s unique experiences and backgrounds.
What’s the one takeaway you would like people to have after attending the Game Changing retreat or participating with The Winning Edge?
The number one take away is that it is not about the grades you make it is about the hands you shake. At the end of the day in the sports industry most people get their first job because they know someone who can vouch for them. And they get their second job because someone has spoken highly of their work. We want all of our students to know that networking with a purpose and delivering at an elite level day in and day out will lead to a prosperous career in sports.
What advice do you give young people looking to enter any area of sports or media today?
I think the key in today’s changing world of media is to be multifaceted. Students graduating from college today need to be just as comfortable writing a long form feature script as they are writing a script for a SnapChat show. I always tell students not to be afraid of working in Olympic sports or non-revenue sports. I got my start calling volleyball games, the sport that I love, and my career evolved from there. And for individuals looking to get into sports, just be persistent. Ask someone that has the job you want if you can shadow them. Don’t be afraid to send a cold email to someone and ask for feedback on a resume or resume reel. Be bold, be persistent, and be you. Because no one else can bring what you bring to the table.