Flyers’ ‘Next Shift’ program aims to inspire future generations of women who want to work in sports

Tribune Content Agency

PHILADELPHIA — Growing up as a sports fan outside of Kansas City, Kan., prospective Temple student Megan Wiley used to watch television coverage of her favorite teams with conflicting emotions.

Wiley felt inspired by the spectacle and the storytelling associated with bringing big games into viewers’ homes, making her eager to pursue an on-air career in sports broadcasting. But she would stare at the faces behind the desk and notice that they all belonged to men.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I would love to do something like this, but I don’t look like that,’ ” Wiley said.

On Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center before the Flyers’ game against the Florida Panthers, a now-20-year-old Wiley beamed while sitting behind a camera on the NBC Sports Philadelphia set as she watched Flyers host Ashlyn Sullivan during the network’s pregame show. Wiley shadowed Sullivan throughout the night as part of the Flyers’ inaugural “Next Shift” program, an event that paired 25 girls and women ages 14-22 with Flyers female leaders and executives to expose them to different roles on a typical hockey game day.

“This is such a great look for young women wanting to go into a career like this,” Wiley said. “Just what it looks like to be at the desk, being behind the camera, being just in the studio in general. It definitely is giving me ideas of, OK, this is the dream scenario. This is what I want to do.”

The Flyers’ community relations department, which is led by senior vice president of community relations Cindy Stutman, launched the program as part of the team’s celebration of women’s history month. At the pregame welcome reception on Tuesday night, president and CEO of Spectacor Sports and Entertainment Valerie Camillo explained that the team wanted to do something to help shape the future for the next generation of women interested in careers in sports.

The Flyers received 170 online applications for the program, selected mentees from the applicant pool, and matched them with female employees in roles that best suited their interests and experiences, including game presentation, marketing, social media, sales, and community relations. Approximately 40% of the Flyers’ business operations team is comprised of women, and the team has up to 60 female employees working a Flyers game day, according to a team spokesperson.

According to the NHL’s annual diversity and inclusion report, 36.81% of NHL and club employees identify as women. The ratio jumps to 46.2% when considering employees in marketing, branding, and content. The league has acknowledged a need for a greater diversity of experiences throughout hockey, including race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and more.

“I think it makes it, as a career, much more approachable, and you can project yourself into it when you see people that are like yourself in those roles,” Camillo said. “I also think that seeing women being their authentic selves, like we’re not trying to be guys. We are uniquely ourselves in doing our jobs and performing our jobs. I think that that’s really important to see.”

That authenticity is uplifting to 22-year-old Bucks County Community College student Grace Swider, who shadowed Camillo throughout the night. Swider, who hails from Willow Grove, served as the manager of Archbishop Wood’s softball team and is completing an associate’s degree in sport management this spring. She also is interning under Archbishop Wood athletic director Sue O’Neill, one of two female athletic directors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Watching Camillo and O’Neill succeed in their management positions within sports gives Swider hope that she can follow in their footsteps.

“Everyone says, ‘You have such big dreams,’” Swider said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I do. And I’m allowed to.’ I want to be the next Val.”

Plenty of footstep-following occurred throughout the night — senior director of game presentation Tina DiVilio sat beside 20-year-old Temple student Natalie Koranda at her usual table in the lower bowl alongside public address announcer Lou Nolan. DiVilio showed Koranda how she works with manager of game presentation Audrey Fissel to ensure that all elements of the in-arena presentation and production go off without a hitch.

Fissel, who is stationed mostly behind the glass in a corner of the event floor during the game, provided 15-year-old Lily Blankenship and 20-year-old Amanda Gonzalez with clipboards containing the format of the in-arena presentation so they could follow along throughout the night. During the first period, Fissel pointed out the player tracking graphics overlaid on the scoreboard feed of the game, connecting back to the pregame tour she gave Blankenship and Gonzalez of the control room which houses the tracking technology.

Digital media coordinator Regan Connaire showed 18-year-old Angelina McGrath and 16-year-old Barbara Feiler how she captures content for the Flyers’ social media channels. Before the game, Connaire took McGrath and Feiler out to the bench and explained to them her approach to taking photos and video during warm-ups, which requires her to be familiar with players’ on-ice routines so she knows exactly which visuals to look for. Connaire enjoyed giving real-time insight into her position and paying it forward from the mentors that shaped her career.

“Usually, you’ve only got certain avenues, like you can reach out in the DMs or comments and just hope that maybe somebody will respond,” Connaire said. “So it’s really nice to have an opportunity to be the mentor you wish you could have had and who’s giving them insight and saying, ‘Well, these are the things that I learned that are really useful,’ or, ‘These are things I wish I had learned that have been beneficial to me now.’ ”

While the program officially lasted from the pregame welcome ceremony until the final horn, Camillo emphasized that the relationships created during Next Shift have the potential to persist beyond Tuesday night. Camillo said that it took her nearly two and a half years of networking and until she was in her 30s to get her first break in sports with the NBA as a part of its marketing and business operations department. Before moving into sports, Camillo worked as a consultant for nearly 15 years.

Although the path to a career in sports can be rigorous, Camillo said that relationships can make a major difference in breaking into the industry, underscoring the importance of continuing a program like Next Shift.

“I think that this is a program that begins here but will go on for some time because it’s really the reception that we’ve gotten, the number of applications that we received, and just really processing the opportunity for these women; it’s something I almost feel obligated to continue,” Camillo said.