From Athletes to Execs: How Dallas’ BSN Sports Is Turning Top Female Players Into Business Leaders

With $1.5 billion in 2022 revenue, BSN Sports is a national leader in the direct marketing and distributing of sporting goods to schools and leagues. A key factor in that success? Giving former top women athletes the opportunity to go for the gold as BSN business executives.

Dallas-based BSN Sports—a division of Varsity Brands and a leading marketer and distributor of sporting goods to the school and league markets—is harnessing the power of women athletes to go beyond their glory on the field to find success in the business world.

That hiring strategy has been paying off by driving sales for the BSN, the company says, while giving elite athletes a new way to way to go for the gold as business executives.

“We’ve been fortunate to hire talented former female athletes into the Varsity Brands and BSN Sports family,” Varsity Chief Human Resources Officer Martha May told Dallas Innovates. “Their perspective as athletes helps us meet the needs and requests of our increasingly diverse customer base, while their viewpoint as women brings BSN Sports a competitive edge to better service the women’s and girls’ sports that unfortunately can be overlooked within the team sports industry.”

“Their presence—not only on the field, court, or in the pool—has increased the visibility of women’s athletics and further drives inclusivity within our organization,” May added.

$1.5 billion in 2022 revenue, and a goal to be ‘the Amazon of team sales”

The success of those former athletes has been boosting BSN Sports as well. The company chalked up $1.5 billion in revenue in 2022, and CEO Terry Babilla—who’s led BSN in its acquisition of around 100 companies—told D CEO he has even bigger plans for the company.

“We’ve really been able to scale this business by out servicing everybody else, just like Amazon was able to do—and that’s what I want to become,” Babilla told D CEO. “I want to be the Amazon of team sales,”

From left, Maria Carlini, Sarah Gholston, and India Chiles  [Photos: BSN Sports]

From an Olympic gold medalist to an SEC Player of the Year and more

To help the company get where Babilla wants it to be, BSN Sports has hired numerous top athletes to be sales reps for their respective sports. And several have taken the role and run with it right up the company’s ladder.

Maria Carlini, a former University of Wisconsin volleyball player and captain of the Canadian Junior National Team, now serves a leading role as director of women’s sports for BSN Sports.

Sarah Gholston, a former University of Tennessee swimmer and eight-time All-American, is now BSN’s senior vice president of merchandising.

USA Olympic swimming gold medalist Jessica Hardy Meichtry is now a swimming category manager for BSN.

India Chiles (at left below in her playing days) is a former University of Tennessee softball player and SEC Player of the Year. She’s now BSN’s national account manager for softball.

Former SEC Player of the Year India Chiles, left, is now BSN’s national account manager for softball. [Photo: BSN Sports]

Learning to be successful in ‘a male-dominated industry’

Carlini told Dallas Innovates that her success as an athlete has been “instrumental” in shaping her career.

She joined BSN Sports in 2010 as a volleyball specialist to grow volleyball sales for the company. She was promoted to director of women’s sports in 2018, and currently oversees a team of category managers in volleyball, basketball, and softball.

Carlini says her involvement in sports has give her valuable knowledge on setting objectives and taking action to accomplish them. And she’s learned the significance of perseverance and coping with setbacks through her participation in sports.

“Playing sports taught me perseverance and how to handle setbacks,” she said of her sports career. “In our industry, we have external factors that may disrupt our success, and being an athlete prepared me to adapt and grow from challenges. I’ve also learned how to be successful in a male-dominated industry and to be proud of what it means to be a woman in this space.”

50 years after Title IX, female athletes ‘still face an uphill battle’

Carlini noted that 2022 was the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities. 

“We were reminded of how far we’ve come as female athletes, but we still face an uphill battle,” Carlini said. “I think one of the most significant achievements over the last few years was the NIL and compensating athletes for their likeness. This is especially important for female athletes, because they lack professional opportunities within their sports compared to their male counterparts. College and high school athletes are now able to utilize their athletic talents for financial gains.”

Support from companies like BSN Sports can be a big help, too, she added.

Carlini calls BSN “a company that strives to support female athletes by providing the best possible apparel and equipment to them, investing in their female employees by providing benefits and resources to succeed, and improving how we service our female sports. BSN Sports has also invested in providing free webinars specifically to female coaches and athletes on important topics to support their growth.”

May, BSN’s C-suite leader for human resources, says this mission is an unrelenting goal.

“We continue to focus our attention and energy on creating an equitable and inclusive space for all women,” May told us. “While I believe this work is never finished, and we all have more to do, at BSN Sports we are constantly committed to elevating women’s voices and celebrating their triumphs.”

Working with Under Armour on a women’s high school sports scholarship program

For Carlini, one of those triumphs was her work with BSN and Under Armour on the launch of Women of Will, a women’s high school sports scholarship program. 

Calling the program “one of the highlights of my career,” Carlini said it provides coaches across the country “with performance solutions and a robust female athletics support system that allows them to focus on what matters most—changing lives and inspiring the next generation of women to strive for greatness.”

“With over 300 schools participating, we’re providing an opportunity to celebrate, support and empower our female athletes with benefits such as exclusive products, leadership curriculum, national recognition, and community connection,” Carlini said.

“To be able to create a program that has impacted so many female athletes and provide them with these resources continues to motivate me to break down barriers that female athletes may have and provide solutions for their success.”

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