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Banking on KC – Kathy Nelson of KC Sports Commission and Visit KC

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Kathy Nelson of KC Sports Commission and Visit KC:
Igniting Opportunity for Women and Girls

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. And as we continue to talk with women leaders here in Kansas City during women's history month, we're happy to welcome, Kathy Nelson. Kathy has a distinction of holding dual CEO roles. She leads both the Kansas City Sports Commission and Visit KC. Welcome, Kathy.

Kathy Nelson:

Oh, thank you so much, Kelly.

Kelly Scanlon:

You have certainly, yourself, carved out a lot of firsts for women over the past several years, and you've been honored numerous times for your leadership. For example, you are the first woman to lead the greater Kansas City Sports Commission. You're also the first woman to lead Visit KC, two of the roles that you hold right now. But you've also been elected to the board of directors for the National Association of Sports Commissions. And you've been recognized as a woman who means business.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, the one I really think is cool is that you've been included as number five on the Kansas City Star's 20 Most Influential Sports Figures in Kansas City. And you're right up there with some huge names, Clark Hunt, Dayton Moore, Sporting KCs, Peter Vermes. And at the time the announcement was made, David Glass. And a number of other lists like The Business Journal's Power 100. And you received a national honor in 2018 when you were named Sports Tourism Executive CEO of the Year. You've also, some people might not recognize that you were co-founder of Metro Sports and you were the first woman to win a regional Emmy for the production of an NFL game in the early 2000s.

Kelly Scanlon:

So like I said, lots of first here, lots of recognition. There's no question that you've played a major leadership role in shaping Kansas City, especially in promoting Kansas City Sports. Did you sit back at any point and aspire to this type of leadership role? I mean, what was the path that you followed to all of this?

Kathy Nelson:

Oh, Kelly, that's such a good question. I don't know that I ever had this aspiration to be the leader that the chair I sit in today, I think for my professional career journey, there was always a door opened and I wasn't afraid to step through. And I think that's how my leadership style has really grown and blossomed, is because somebody saw something in me that ignited a curiosity of, "Well, could I do that? Should I do that?" And then had that next door open. So even though I would say I didn't necessarily aspire to that, I also think that I've had opportunities that others have seen that aspirational opportunity there for me.

Kelly Scanlon:

I think it's interesting that you say when the door of opportunity opened before you, that you weren't afraid to step through it. Because so many women, and I'm not picking on women here, I hear it from women, I see it. So many women will say that they think they're not qualified, that they have to check every box. Whereas someone else, a guy perhaps, might say, "Oh, I meet two of the qualifications. Sure, I'll do that. I'll put my name in the hat." But women think they have to check every box or that they just don't have the experience. And so can you speak to that? Did any of that ever play a factor? It doesn't sound like it.

Kathy Nelson:

Oh my gosh, no it absolutely did. And I'd say I'd step through the door, it wasn't without hesitation every time. I had a very good friend, a male friend, who actually still this day, I call him one of my ... I have mentors, of course, in my life, I have truth-tellers. And he's certainly one of my truth-tellers. And it's a little different than a mentor when you need to call someone and say, "What do you think about this?" You need feedback right away. I don't need them to coach me through a position, but I'm a huge believer in having a truth-teller, and John certainly is for me.

Kathy Nelson:

And I remember asking him when I was asked about the opportunity to serve as the CEO for The Sports Commission. I said, "I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing. I've never done something like this." And he said, "You need to turn off the sign in your head because you're the only one that sees it." He said, "The sign that says, I'm not capable." He goes, "People would not ask you for these types of opportunities to at least apply to do this if they didn't think you were capable." He said, "You're the only one that sees that and thinks that." And he goes, "There's something about females that have this not capable sign within them." And he goes, "I can tell you me, as a guy, I would never think I'm not capable. It's, of course, I could do that. Someone's going to have to show me how to do it, but of course, I could do that." So I do think there's that difference between men and women.

Kelly Scanlon:

Once you were on The Sports Commission, I know that you have done a lot to instill in other women using sports, in many cases, to become leaders, to have more confidence and to develop those leadership skills. One of the programs or one of the things you've been very involved with is WIN for KC, for example. Those you have camps for younger girls. So talk to us about those initiatives.

Kathy Nelson:

Right. So I had been a WIN for KC board member since the involved with WIN for KC since we first started it back in the early 1990s. And we had brought a women's final four to Kansas City, The Sports Commission was visiting with the Women's Sports Foundation out of New York to relocate their office to Kansas City. And all of those passionate people around the table, both men and women kind of said, "There's something here." Even though we weren't selected as the headquarters for The Women's Sports Foundation, they remained in New York. There was obviously a spark between all of us about, what do we do to continue our passion of engaging women and girls through sport, advocating what sports does for someone, especially a female?

Kathy Nelson:

So that's how WIN for KC was launched. I've been there since pretty much day one, as we started to talk about it. More so a few years into it when we hosted the women's final four. But we do everyday focus in our office on creating that opportunity for someone to engage in sport and fitness, and especially females. Because we know the physical, the emotional attributes of what comes from participation in a sport. Whether that's leadership or goal setting or resiliency, just all those things that are that unique opportunity to learn when you have a basketball in your hand or you're swinging at a golf ball, things like that. Especially any type of team sport, where you learn those lifelong leadership opportunities.

Kelly Scanlon:

It's not just about the athletic skill that you are honing. It's developing competence, it's the teamwork, it's the leadership. Thrive KC, I think that's just a fascinating program, talk with us about that one.

Kathy Nelson:

Yes. So that is actually what we used to call our youth advisory board for WIN for KC. And this is an advisory group made up of high school girls from around the Kansas City Metro area. We started this years ago with just a small group of young ladies. And actually one of the first groups was my oldest daughter who now is 25 years old when she was in high school. And we started to really grow this group of young ladies because they all played a sport and they all knew the girls in their neighborhood or the girls they went to high school with. But it wasn't always easy for someone from Paseo High School to meet someone in North Kansas City High School to then meet someone at Pembroke, their paths didn't cross.

Kathy Nelson:

So this Thrive KC is this board of high school girls from across the Metro that play a sport at some level, maybe not necessarily varsity. But that they are doing things to give back to the community through sport. And then we give back to them. We do things like resume building, practice interviewing, we have college girls come in and talk about their experience and how to get into college. So that's our goal, as well, to give back to these young ladies.

Kelly Scanlon:

There's been enough time that's passed that you can perhaps see a little bit of history there and some patterns develop. Have some of these relationships stayed together even after maybe some of the girls have left high school and they continue to support each other in the workforce?

Kathy Nelson:

Yes. And what's fascinating is it's not just necessarily girl to girl, even though a lot of them have stayed very close all the way throughout their college and now as they're becoming into their professional careers. But I would even tell you myself with some of these young ladies and others from our staff, staying in touch with them, it's great. Social media provides us with great opportunities to see what's happening in other people's lives.

Kathy Nelson:

But beyond just following them on Instagram. Seeing where they are and they love when they're back in Kansas City if they don't live here, to stop in and say, hi. That relationship has been important. And it's really refreshing when you plant that flower seed when they're a young girl if they're attending our camp. And then they become old enough where they can serve on our drive advisory board. And then you see them now as a professional, to watch that flower bloom is very special.

Kelly Scanlon:

It's really amazing sometimes how little it takes to recognize somebody yet the lifelong impact that has.

Kathy Nelson:

Yes.

Kelly Scanlon:

So we talk about how vital sports are to developing competence, leadership, teamwork, and all kinds of different life skills for women. And yet we're seeing more and more that there is a disparity between men's and women's sports. And I'm talking about in bigger terms, like pay, sponsorship, the television coverage that they get, and there are other areas. In your opinion, where do you see those gaps being closed? What needs to be done to close them?

Kathy Nelson:

Well, conversation and relationships are some of the biggest things I've learned of how we can help close those gaps. To not sit quietly on the sidelines and assume someone else will step up and step into that. With Kansas City now being the home for the Casey Current, the new woman's professional soccer team. It's been fantastic to be involved from day one on when I received the phone call from Chris And Angie Long, "Hey, we're thinking about the soccer team. What do you think?" And to jump in with both feet to say, "Yes, of course, we want a women's professional sports team in our city. And of course, we will support you on all that."

Kathy Nelson:

For me, from a professional level, being helpful in having that team in Kansas City. And then you've seen with the NWSL now promoting and winning the fight for equal pay. And just making sure we're tracking on all of that and how we can be supportive there. When it comes to sponsorship and things like that with we're hosting big 12 men's and women's basketball in the month of March, we're hosting the MIAA men's and women's basketball. We make sure in our office, everything is equal, from the amount of money we're spending on advertising, to what we're doing on social media. We actually even lean more towards pushing those women's tournaments because unfortunately, they do not sell out like the men's do. And I feel obligated as a female to make sure there are people in those stands cheering for our female athletes that are here visiting our city. So I think personally, being aware and knowing that to say something and to do something about it is the only way we're going to continue to close those gaps.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, you make a good point there. Yes, conversation starts it, but do something about it. I mean, one of the simple things that, if you're someone who sees that disparity and wishes that something could be done about it, go attend one of the games. It's as simple as that.

Kathy Nelson:

Right. That's exactly right. It's as simple as that. Buy a ticket and take your family.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've added a role recently, as I mentioned, you're now also CEO of Visit KC, which as we all know, promotes tourism to Kansas City. And our sports teams play a big role in attracting tourists to our community. Being here in the Midwest, we get people from Nebraska, Iowa, and all over that come and watch our sports teams play. What are your goals for Visit KC? I know you haven't been in the role for too long, but tell us about where you'd like to lead it.

Kathy Nelson:

Well, I wouldn't have said yes to the shared CEO opportunity to lead both organizations if I didn't have two amazing strong teams around me. So that was easy for me ... I shouldn't say easy. It wasn't easy to get to this decision and to this idea to make it work. But I certainly was much more comfortable in saying yes to this.

Kathy Nelson:

I think vision-wise for me for Visit KC is we're getting ready to work on our strategic planning process. And I really see this as a destination strategy, not just a Visit KC strategy. I think being in Kansas City all my life, I really feel like the destination needs to come together to help us build what this strategy should be for our visitors here. We created this graph that's been fascinating to me to really watch play out of an oval, overlapped oval with our diagram. And it shows on the left side, everything The Sports Commission does, on the right side everything Visit KC does, and the middle, joint opportunities. It's becoming quickly easier to fill in those joint opportunities, learning both staffs. So that's really exciting for me too, looking down the road.

Kelly Scanlon:

What kinds of opportunities do you see Kansas City having in terms of being able to pull people in to come and see Kansas City as a destination, as you said?

Kathy Nelson:

Well, World Cup being the biggest opportunity we have in front of us right now. Not only a showcase for getting people from across the country to come to Kansas City, whether that's a convention traveler, a business traveler or a leisure traveler. But now in an international stage, I think that's an opportunity that we've really never had before. We're hosting the NFL Draft in 2023, that's pretty much an international stage anymore. And then the potential of hosting the FIFA World Cup, of course. So that's exciting for me that both organizations are working on that bid together and then both will be very involved in that. I think that's where a lot of these bigger events that see you once or twice on television, or it's no longer now, what is Kansas City? Where's Kansas City located? We're getting past that now.

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, absolutely. And the fact that when those kinds of opportunities came our way, I think a lot of Kansas Citians would kind of shrug and say, "Well, yes, of course, we're going to bid on them. But, no chance." But now that's not true, there is a strong chance of Kansas City, like you said, we've got the Draft coming up and all kinds of good things on the horizon. And speaking of the Draft, it's a huge accomplishment to have the Draft come here. And I mentioned some of the other accolades that you've received along the way, some of the positions that you've held, some of the awards that you have received. But for Kathy Nelson, what has been most satisfying to you? What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Kathy Nelson:

A lot of people would expect me to say an event, like planning the World Series parade, or planning a Super Bowl parade, or being awarded the NFL Draft. I think what I'm most proud of though, which are all great, don't get me wrong. Seeing those pictures hang in our office, makes me very emotional still to this day. But when I walk out of here at night, the thing that I really go to bed smiling about are the relationships I built.

Kathy Nelson:

Our staff laughs, they're like, "Oh my gosh, to have Kathy Nelson's phone, how cool would that be?" On any given day, like today, I've had a great conversation with the Lieutenant Governor, I've had a conversation with Sarah Thomas, the first-ever NFL official who officiated the Super Bowl as a female, a couple of years ago. I've had a conversation with the big 12 commissioner. It's just crazy to think that we have this comfort amongst ourselves to call each other and ask difficult questions. And no matter how we see things eye to eye or not, we're still friends. I think that's what I'm most proud of, is that I represent Kansas City in a very positive way to a lot of different people. And I like to say, I can call most of them friends.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you think about these accomplishments, especially your first as a woman leader, that's groundbreaking. What kind of a message does that send to young girls?

Kathy Nelson:

I think that anyone has the opportunity to do anything they desire, at least try to do anything. Sarah Thomas, the female NFL official, we've become extremely close friends. We talk or text almost daily right now. And we both laugh a little bit about how we first met two years ago. She's the first female official, I'm the first in my role, both at The Sports Commission and at Visit KC. And I'm the first female to win a regional Emmy for the production of an NFL game. And so I said, "How do you know when you made it?" Like we were laughing one day, like, "How will we know when we've made it?" And she said, "When you and I no longer have to say we were the first." Like, that's right. When other females, other girls, other ladies, whatever level you are in your career, when you're like, "Well, someone else has done this, I can do it too." I think that's when you realize the impact you could have on other people.

Kelly Scanlon:

So what is your approach to leading change? Because you're out there leading. I mean, we're not to the point that you just described yet. And so you're leading this, what's your approach to that?

Kathy Nelson:

I think I'm a very good listener. And again, I might not see eye to eye with everything you might bring to my attention, but I certainly lean in and listen. And I want a lot of people around the table guiding me when it's time to make a decision. When we decided to bid on World Cup and felt like we really could get this done, we still about once a quarter say, "Okay, is everyone still holding hands?" And we're getting ready to submit this next part of our bid. I think I lead by way of example, but also leading through way of a team. And I think that really helps me and my career.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned one of your daughters when you were talking earlier about Thrive KC, you have two daughters. And so what do you say to them? And what would you say to the next generation of women in general about leadership and making an impact?

Kathy Nelson:

Billie Jean King has a book and this is one of her favorite sayings that I live by every day. And she says, "Pressure is a privilege.' And I tell our two daughters that all of the time. That whatever you're dealing with from as far as a pressure of whether that's school or career, I feel the pressure of being a wife, the pressure of being a mom, the pressure of leading two organizations now. I certainly see that as a privilege. And I think as females, we have a lot of pressure on us. But I think for me to sleep at night, to take a step back to say, "Boy, I had the privilege today of going toe to toe with somebody that may not have been a comfortable conversation." And that pressure, you certainly feel it at the time. But what a privilege to be at the table to have those uncomfortable conversations.

Kelly Scanlon:

So well said, Kathy. Thank you so much for all you're doing for leading the way and for setting such a good example for being such a role model to the next generation of women. Best of luck with all that you're doing and for bringing such a positive public profile to Kansas City internationally.

Kathy Nelson:

Well is my honor. And Kelly, thank you so much.

Ashley Hanson:

This is Ashley Hanson, Chief Administrative Officer of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Kathy Nelson for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Especially during women's history month, it is my pleasure to spotlight a changemaker like Kathy and recognize her for her leadership. Kathy Nelson is a go-getter, she's led the efforts to bring major sporting events to our region. And in doing so, has raised the international profile of Kansas City. What may not make the news as often are Kathy's relentless efforts to raise the profile of women and girls. A woman who has accomplished many firsts herself, Kathy makes sure other women are given the opportunity to hone their leadership skills. And importantly, have a seat at the decision-making table. Country Club Bank actively supports women in achieving civic, philanthropic and economic positions of influence. The advancement of women into executive management positions across our organization enhances our own DNA as we open new doors of opportunity for the future. Thanks for tuning in this week. We are banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank member FDIC.

 

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