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Women’s Sports Foundation Announces Veteran Sports Business Executive Danette Leighton as New CEO

Danette Leighton

Following a four-month nationwide search, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) is proud to announce it has appointed 30-year industry veteran Danette Leighton as CEO, the seventh in the organization’s history since being founded in 1974.

Leighton’s new role was ratified by the WSF board yesterday on National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD), which included more than 30 legislative meetings and hundreds of community events across the country – all to celebrate the day and commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX this year.

Most recently chief marketing officer of the Pac-12 Conference, Leighton brings an array of operational, data and analytics, sponsorship, fan engagement, marketing and sales experience to WSF, spanning professional and college sports for both men and women.

While with the Pac-12, Leighton oversaw all external/marketing operations, including all major championships (football, men’s and women’s basketball, Pac-12 China Game, and many more), and led the creation of the only Conference-wide Fan Data and Analytics program, as well as the establishment of a first-of-its kind outbound ticket sales and sponsorship arm for members in Pac-12 Sales & Pac-12 MMR. She also rebranded the Pac-12 Conference and assisted in the launching of the Pac-12 Networks, while facilitating best practices amongst Pac-12 member institutions in all areas of external relations/operations.

Prior to her nearly 12 years with the Pac-12, Leighton was with Maloof Sports & Entertainment’s NBA Sacramento Kings as vice president of marketing and brand development, as well as vice president of business operations for the WNBA Monarchs, where she led the business of the World Championship-winning WNBA franchise. She also previously worked for Sony and managed their sponsorship of the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii and was Stanford University’s executive director of the 1999 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

“Danette brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and connections to the Women’s Sports Foundation that will help us create more opportunities for girls and women in sports at a time when digital engagement and advocacy is as critical as enhancing the in-person experience for athletes and fans at every level,” said Billie Jean King, WSF founder. “As we mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX and remain fully committed to being guardians of this important legislation, our work is not done in achieving gender equity in sports. We must maintain the momentum created by the trailblazers who came before us to ensure future generations carry the torch forward.”

Leighton follows one such trailblazer, Dr. Deborah Antoine, the Foundation’s CEO since 2017. After decades of nonprofit leadership, Antoine announced her plans last summer to pursue corporate board service. Throughout her tenure, Antoine has led the organization to more than double in size and expand its impact exponentially, leading WSF to a major milestone this year: an investment of over $100 million since its founding to drive access and opportunities for girls and women in sports.

“We are so grateful to Deborah for her leadership and passion in furthering our mission,” added King. “Her entrepreneurial spirit paired with her lifelong commitment to serving her community has inspired everyone around her to dream bigger and do better.”

Antoine is already working to ensure a seamless transition to Leighton, who will officially begin her new role in March 2022.

About Jerry Milani

Jerry Milani is a writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 30 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and as a freelance professional. His PR clients have included Wizard World and FAN EXPO, which produce pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America, USA Wrestling, the National Lacrosse League, Strat-O-Matic Media, the Pacific Life Open and Pilot Pen Tennis tournaments and dozens of others. Milani is also the director of athletic communications for Caldwell University. He is a proud graduate of North Rockland High School and Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at Jerry (at) JerryMilani (dot) com.

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