SportsJam with Doug Doyle: Athletes First Partners Executive and Former Stanford Gymnast Jené Elzie

Aug 11, 2020

Jené Elzie has also worked for the NBA, The Tennis Channel, NBC Universal and many other outlets.
Credit Jené Elzie

Jené Elzie is the Chief Growth Officer for Athletes First Partners and has more than two decades of experience as a global sports and entertainment executive. Elzie, a former All-American gymnast at Stanford University, is charged with developing and implementing growth strategies across international and other non-traditional revenue streams for the agency.

Prior to A1 Partners, Jené served as Vice President of International Marketing for the NBA, where she oversaw the league's marketing endeavors oustide of the U.S.

Elzie's background includes working at the NBA, The Tennis Channel, NBC Unviersal and elsewhere. 

In her current role with Athletes First Partners, which is the sister company of Athletes First, Jené works closely with the NBPA.  

Elzie told SportsJam host Doug Doyle that  she's not suprised with the success of the NBA's bubble experiment in re-starting the season during the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's a really impressive operation there.  I think when the whole idea of the bubble started I was kind of fascinated because just the idea of being inside of bubble for multiple months, I was trying to figure out how that would come to life.  But have spent a lot of time in the NBA with the operations team there I figured if it was going to succeed the best chance was with the NBA. I think that a lot of this is going to be looked at very closely by other leagues.  We're already seeing that.happen in terms of how we enter into this fall.  The bubble is really a place where from a brand perspective and from our perspective we're looking at first and foremost, the athletes got to stay healthy.  They've got to compete.  They got to do what they need to do to take care of themselves.  So we're looking at opportunities at little further down the road once we see how the bubble plays out."

Athletes First Partners, launched in 2018 by Dentsu, is one of the largest advertising agency networks in the world.
Credit A1partners.com

Elzie has spent most of her time as a sports and entertainment executive in the international space, so the coronavirus pandemic, has totally disrupted her normal extensive travel routine.

"This is the first time since 2004 where I will, and maybe it's a good thing, I will not hit a 100-thousand miles a year.  I was typically on the pace of traveling about  20 to 24 weeks out of year for many years, so I acutally loving the respite.  It's different for me.  I haven't gotten on an airplane since February."

The three-time captain of the Stanford University gymnastics team admits being a top athlete has helped her relationships in working with others who have achieved success in sports.

"An athlete speaks a language that is kind of very unique.  We've all been in the trenches, we've all been through something. and it's very much a shared experience.  I think the gymnastics experience is unique. All of the experiences are slightly different but that whole idea of competitiveness, the discipline, the focus, that's always there.  So when I meet another athlete and I'm talking to them I always get a sense that I kind of understand what they're going through on some level."

Elzie, who went to El Cerrito High School in California,  was truly a student-athlete at Stanford University.  She got a Bachelor's degree in Economics and a Master's degree in Organizational Behavior.

Jené Elzie competing on the balance beam during her brilliant career at Stanford University
Credit Jené Elzie

Despite all her success at Stanford, Elzie says she did face racism in her sport.

"I grew up very sheltered by my parents.  I have two incredible parents who really supported me through my entire career.  I don't think they ever missed a gymnastics meet in the twelve years that I competed.  I experience racism on a very subversive level.  It wasn't the outright in your face, but there were definitely times where my mother, both of my parents grew up in segregated Alabama in the 5o's and 60's, and so she was much more keen to understand what was happening and kind of explained it to me.  So I knew there were times whether it was a quesitonable judging decision or athletes that didn't make me feel included in the group, I could tell what was happening, but my entire focus was just how do I get to be the best gymnast that I can be.  So a lot of that was just taking my tunnel vision and just moving ahead.  I look back at it now and I look at where we are now in terms of gymnastics and I see girls like Simone (Biles) and Gabby (Douglas) and I'm so grateful that other black gymnasts and gymnasts of color can have a different expeirence than I did growing up."

At 5'6" Jené was always taller than most of her teammates and competitors in gymnastics.  

"I was always much stronger physically as well, so I actually think it was a benefit because I'm not quite sure the judges knew what  to do with me in terms of when I was out there competing.  I made it work to my advantage." 

To find out more about Elzie's family, click above to hear the entire SportsJam conversation.