Title IX: 50 Years, and Beyond: Simmons Bank Partnerships Boost Women’s College Athletics
Simmons Bank, the largest bank based in Arkansas, has established relationships with 10 universities across the bank’s footprint to be a presenting sponsor of women’s athletics at each of the universities.
“With women’s athletics, we looked at sponsorships for universities across our footprint and realized we had an exciting opportunity,” said Simmons Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications Elizabeth Machen. “No company had previously partnered with these organizations to support all-female teams and their athletes. This sponsorship not only aligns Simmons’ brand with notable universities in our markets, it also allows us to support students’ athletic and business careers in a meaningful way.”
Acknowledging the skills they gain while playing sports serve them well in future careers, Simmons Bank is expanding beyond traditional elements to emphasize career and leadership opportunities for female student athletes.
Simmons is collaborating with each university to create distinct programs that range from financial education curriculum to mentoring, internship opportunities, and women-in-business development initiatives.
“We have our first group of female interns joining us this summer as a part of the partnership,” Machen said.
The bank’s partners include University of Central Arkansas, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, Arkansas State University, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University, Oklahoma State University, Vanderbilt University, University of Memphis and University of Missouri. Sponsorship assets include signage, in-game entitlements, special events with athletes and coaches, and game tickets.
“Simmons invests in brand partnerships that help us connect with customers on a personal level — we want to support causes they’re passionate about,” Machen said.
“Sports marketing matches our values of teamwork and high performance, plus it allows us to make a difference for athletes and our wider communities.”
Machen said training that focuses on leadership and business development will open a wider door for female students as they prepare for their next step, while giving Simmons Bank a front-row seat to identify talent.
“In banking, career possibilities are endless,” Machen said. “Opportunities span beyond traditional banking roles to include IT, cybersecurity, data warehousing, marketing, HR and on and on. Our customized programming reflects this breadth and helps young women tap into their unique skillsets.”
University of Arkansas at Little Rock Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator (SWA) Maggie Bailey played softball as a catcher for the University of Wisconsin during the 2009-2013 seasons.
“Our academic assistance and support were unparalleled and, because of the experience I had, it catapulted me into the career path I have chosen,” Bailey said. “However, I know that without all of the Title IX trail blazers, my collegiate experience could have been very different.”
This year is the 50th anniversary of Title IX federal legislation requiring gender equality in college athletics. Bailey said that over the past 50 years, there has been significant progress towards equality in financial and athletic opportunities across genders in college athletics.
“But we still have so far to go,” Bailey said. “It is important to note, equality is hard to achieve. College athletics is not all about women’s programs. Nor is it all about the men’s programs. There needs to be a balance. I feel if we were in a perfect world, we would have equal viewership to support equal exposure of athletes on TV and equal opportunities for all athletes across the board.”
Bailey said the partnership with Simmons Bank has really aided them in creating an atmosphere that promotes equal opportunities in ways that their university has never seen.
University of Arkansas Pine Bluff Department of Athletics SWA Betty Hayes-Anthony said UAPB appreciates the visible support for the Simmons Bank football stadium and the facility upgrades at the softball and baseball complex.
“These observable improvements are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional,” Hayes-Anthony said. “Because of the added amenities for students, more diverse students, especially female athletes, have selected UAPB for sports including soccer, volleyball as well as softball. College and university historical research show that students who feel good about their surroundings perform better in their sports, community and academically.”
Hayes-Anthony said they look forward to continuing their collaboration with the new groundbreaking opportunities for female student-athletes through the multi-university initiative sponsorship program from Simmons Bank.
“It is my professional belief that this upcoming program will emphasize customized programming and enhanced career options,” Hayes-Anthony said. “Further, I know that female student-athletes who learn on and off their respective courts of competition are self-confident, self-disciplined and use their life skills to maneuver and successfully adapt through those challenges and become productive career professionals.”
Arkansas State University Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director and SWA Amy Hall Holt said being a former coach and now an administrator helping student athletes is her passion.
“What Simmons Bank is doing with sponsoring internships is absolutely amazing,” Holt said. “It helps them with developing confidence in a workplace and can help with balancing a schedule and building relationships. What Simmons Bank is doing for women is wonderful — giving them a chance to explore a career and a chance for them to see all the possibilities available in banking.”
University of Central Arkansas Associate Athletic Director for Compliance/SWA Natalie Shock said women’s athletics has made a lot of progress over the past 50 years.
“The opportunity for young women to play sports has exploded over the last few years,” Shock said. “Women’s sports are getting a lot of national TV coverage, and people are watching. The general public is finding out that females can also be great athletes, and the product is worth the time and effort.”
However, as much as things have improved over the last 50 years, there are still things to be done.
“The professional leagues for women need to get bigger and better, with more money invested in the sport and especially in the salaries,” she said. “Women work just as hard as the men do to perfect their sport, and they need to be rewarded for it.”
The Simmons Bank women’s athletic program is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Shock said that is huge, and it puts a spotlight on women’s athletics and allows people to see the value women’s athletics can bring to an overall athletic program. And Simmons Bank being able to provide internships, financial education curriculum, leadership training and women in business initiatives is also very beneficial for female student-athletes.
“Allowing female student-athletes to be a part of programs while they are still in school allows them to make a smoother transition to the workforce,” Shock said. “All skills that athletes possess are very transferable to the workforce: time management, learning to work together as a team, integrity, work ethic, learning to handle criticism, learning how to handle failure and setbacks, learning what it takes to perfect a skill, learning how to show up every day and put the work in, working after hours if necessary, knowing the chain of command and how to work within that chain.”
Shock said there is tremendous value of the incubator programs offered by Simmons Bank.
“We are on the ground floor right now, but I am extremely excited about what Simmons Bank is doing for the female student-athlete,” Shock said. “The future is bright!”