|Steve Penny - President/CEO, USA Gymnastics|
|Profile of the week|
Since Steve joined USA Gymnastics in 1999, buy he has overseen the strategic planning and marketing of the organization’s national and international events, look the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, anesthetist and the World Gymnastics Championships. As president and CEO, he also oversees the organization’s finances, membership division, sports programs, public/media relations and marketing. Penny works closely with the Board of Directors and its chairman for the strategic direction of the organization.
Penny’s professional experience includes vice president of Bob Walsh Enterprises, a private sports marketing company in Seattle, and managing director of USA Cycling. He also worked for Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) on its premier international multi-sport event, the Goodwill Games, and for the Seattle Mariners in community affairs and public relations.
A graduate of the University of Washington, Penny enjoys all sports, including skiing and golf. He is married and has three daughters.
By Daniel Anwar
How have your previous experiences in marketing, broadcasting and at USA Cycling helped you in your current role at USA Gymnastics?
As I look at my career I really do feel that every step along the way has contributed to where I am today and helps me understand the challenges we face here at USA Gymnastics. I think the most important thing I’ve learnt along the way is that sport is something that really tugs at people’s hearts, so you have to make sure that you’re serving the best interests of the organisations that you’re running.
I think the specific experiences that I have had outside of gymnastics are the things that help build an organisation like USA Gymnastics and you don’t often find those from people within the sport. That expertise has helped the organisation because it allows gymnastics to reach outside of its normal walls.
In what ways has USA Gymnastics progressed during your time there?
One of the biggest things is our athlete programme - our athletes have done very well and we’ve been able to create a very stable environment for our athlete support programmes, our coaches and our team staff.
That has allowed them to be as successful as they’ve ever been - our women’s programme being the most successful in the world over the last twelve years. Our women’s coaches and athletes have really created a dynasty of success, which is something that I’m very proud of.
The other thing that we’ve done very well is we’re very financially stable. We have a diverse revenue stream, we’ve grown our budget significantly over the years and we’ve been able to invest into the foundation.
I also think we’ve increased our visibility. We’ve done a good job of staying out front with what USA Gymnastics is all about, keeping our athletes out front and producing win-win environments for our sponsors and stakeholders. I think everyone that has been involved with USA Gymnastics since I’ve been here feels that they’ve benefitted from that partnership and that’s very rewarding.
You mentioned the success of the US Women’s Gymnastics team, they had a fantastic London 2012 and Gabby Douglas emerged as one of the Games’ individual stars. How important is it to have those ambassadors for the sport?
It’s huge, when you look at the last twelve years and three Olympic Games we’ve had team success and individual success. We’ve won team medals at all of those Games and the individual all-around in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
The beauty of those is it spreads the wealth; we have dozens of great ambassadors. We have so many athletes that have World Championship and Olympic medals around their neck that it creates so many more connection points between your sport and the outside world, as well as within your sport and the community that you serve.
It’s like having a full house in a game of poker! It makes your hand so strong when you have such great personalities, good people and confidence in your programme. It’s just huge and it has come because our coaches and our athletes are working together to keep that success sustained. No one wants to take a step backwards.
As well as the top level of the sport, you are also responsible for grassroots gymnastics in the US. You have over 900,000 frequent participants, how do you ensure there are adequate facilities for all of these people?
We have some amazing business people that run clubs around the country and 2000 of those clubs are directly connected to USA Gymnastics through our Member Clubs programme.
They look to USA Gymnastics to be successful on the international field of play, which helps to promote the sport at the highest level and really keep the role models out front. We’ve seen a surge in our club enrolment since the Olympic Games. Many of our clubs are reporting increases of 20-30%, some are even telling us they’ve got waiting lists because they can’t handle all of the people that are coming into the sport and all of the kids that want to be in classes.
The second thing that we do is try to increase the education that we provide for the professional members of USA Gymnastics so that they are able to really work well with the athletes. The clubs look to us to provide resources to help educate their staff. If we can provide a consistent education platform, which we have in USA Gymnastics University, then clubs can expect their coaches to have the skills to coach those athletes
The other thing that we really focus on is making sure that those clubs adhere to a standard of safe conduct around the athletes. We serve as a guardian of the community, making sure that everyone’s minding their P’s and Q’s and doing things the right way. We have a very close connection with our community and we take that relationship very seriously. I think our number one goal is to provide leadership and resources for that community.
Were you ready for the surge in popularity after the Olympics or did it catch you by surprise?
Winning the team gold is a moment that you look forward to, but you never assume it’s going to happen because anything can happen on the field of play. Most of the time we see an uptick from the Olympic Games, but this time around it’s been significant. I don’t think anybody was truly prepared. We thought our post-Olympic tour would keep the story going for a few months after the Games, which helped, but clubs just saw such a huge wave of interest.
One of the beauties of the London Games for us was that not only did we have the team success, but as you pointed out, we then had Gabby be successful and each of our athletes really had her own story over those 16 days.
Not only did we have great moments at the beginning but the last scene in the Gymnastics arena was the American flag after Aly Raisman won gold on floor. It’s just a beautiful thing when you feel you came out of the gate strong and then you finish strong. We sustained that story for the entire period of the Games and I think that had a huge impact on how young people look to our athletes as role models.
There are a lot of kids that now see Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Weiber, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross or McKayla Maroney as role models for each of their individual reasons. I think when you combine the team success with the individual stories that emerge and the individual successes, that really helps to get kids and their parents excited about gymnastics.