Members of Women In Sports and Events’ Tampa Bay chapter came to the USL's headquarters on Wednesday morning for the latest in the group's WISE and Shine events. | Photo courtesy United Soccer League
TAMPA, Fla. – The United Soccer League welcomed around 30 members of Women In Sports and Events’ Tampa Bay chapter on Wednesday morning for the latest in the group’s WISE and Shine events. The first event hosted by the league featured USL Senior Vice President of Digital & Content Lizzie Seedhouse and Associate General Counsel Lauren Mehta provide an in-depth presentation and Q&A on the USL and the growth of sports betting in the United States.
Having just celebrated its first anniversary in September, Tampa Bay’s chapter of WISE is one of the newest in the country for an organization that has been an important resource for women in the sports and entertainment industries for more than 25 years.
A member of WISE before the local chapter launched, Seedhouse was pleased to welcome the group to the USL’s modern workspace as the organization continues to branch out and develop relationships within the local business community.
“I was really excited to have the opportunity to host,” said Seedhouse. “People [locally] have heard of the USL but maybe don’t really know what it looks and feels like since the new iteration of the brand and its history. It was really good to welcome them to one of the coolest office spaces in Tampa Bay, but also to introduce them to our mission and vision.”
“WISE is a fantastic group, so having the opportunity to welcome WISE members into our space and share our culture and values with them was an extremely proud moment for me,” added WISE Tampa Bay member and USL VP of People Rachel Bukszar. Seeing the buzz in the room was a reminder of why I am proud to be a member of the USL team, a promoter of the sport of soccer and community, and a member of WISE.”
WISE Tampa Bay's Jennifer Renspie (left), USL Associate General Counsel Lauren Mehta (center) and Senior Vice President of Digital & Content Lizzie Seedhouse (right) on Wednesday morning at USL headquarters. | Photo courtesy Claire Lessinger
WISE Tampa Bay is part of WISE’s larger growth across the United States in recent years. While originally founded in 1993, the organization has added 10 local chapters over the past five years in cities such as Houston, Detroit and Toronto and state-wide chapters in Utah and Arizona.
According to Tampa Bay chapter President, Michelle Harrolle Ph.D, the confluence of WISE members arriving in the area from other parts of the country – including one of the chapter’s founders in Meredith Scerba, who prior to her position with the University of South Florida’s Athletic program was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – and research conducted by organizations like the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, Tampa Bay Lightning and the University of South Florida’s Vinik Sports & Entertainment Management Program resulted in the new chapter being born.
Now home to more than 300 members, the response to WISE Tampa Bay’s arrival has illustrated why a local chapter of the national organization was required.
“I think clearly, it’s a testament to the need, and the demand,” said Harrolle. “There are so many women in this space that want to come into these opportunities, learn about professional development and gain the opportunity to network with other people.”
For an organization like the USL, opportunities to build bridges from business to business through events like Wednesday’s are an essential part of growing the organization’s brand locally. WISE Tampa Bay will host between 14 to 16 events this year, with each an opportunity to make connections which can lead to future collaborations that will benefit the Tampa Bay community overall.
“The network of WISE members spans various organizations and includes individuals with impressive backgrounds who support and champion community development along with the USL,” said Bukszar. “When we bring organizations with similar missions together, we are able to achieve greater goals and deeper connections.”
While the USL played host on Wednesday, the area’s other leading sporting organizations have also fully invested into the group with the Lightning, the Sports Commission and USF’s Vinik Sports & Entertainment Management Program being joined by the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in hosting events as organizational partners. While the sports world can be a competitive place on the field, the area’s sporting organizations have held the mindset that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that’s led to a camaraderie that shows at WISE Tampa Bay events.
“I think for me it’s the teamwork aspect of it,” said Harrolle, who works as the Director of the Vinik program at USF, about what she enjoys most about the events. “I love all of the people we get to work with. It’s not me, it’s WISE, it’s all the leaders that you see here, Lizzie being one of them, so it’s a team effort and we are very supportive of each other. Team Tampa Bay is a real thing.”
That support can also be seen in the mentorship program that serves as a central pillar to WISE’s overall mission. After having received guidance in her career from Harrolle that has opened new doors and ways of thinking for Seedhouse, she’s now hoping to pass on her experiences at the executive level to those looking to make the next step in their careers.
“My mentorship with Dr. Harrolle has been phenomenal,” said Seedhouse. “She’s definitely challenged me and really accelerated my growth as a professional, which is huge, and I’m looking forward to the potential opportunity to give that back to the women in sports in Tampa Bay too.”
As one of the key figures in the USL’s growth since her arrival, Seedhouse’s success – and ability to clearly demonstrate her growing expertise in new technologies – has been highly enjoyable for Harrolle to take in.
“It’s amazing, to put it simply,” said Harrolle. “What’s interesting about it is while she was speaking, I thought, ‘she needs to come and talk to my class and teach my students, the up-and-coming leaders in sports and entertainment.’
“To watch her growth, and just being able to help, that’s what WISE is about.”