Pranav Soneji, Co-Owner / Partner, LiveWire Sport talks about his own experiences breaking into the sport industry, and tells us why he’s paying it forward by championing diversity in digital.
I blame my parents. They never gave me a choice. Ever since I could lift (and some Sundays, I actually couldn't) a sling bag, I read and delivered newspapers to houses of suburban north-west London while my classmates were still fast asleep.
Like so many first-generation Indian immigrants, my parents owned a little newsagents shop, toiling seven days a week, 12-hour days, for 18 years to give me, my brother and my sister the opportunities they never had growing up in Uganda and India. But cripes, they made us work hard.
For a sports-mad, overweight (entirely the shop's fault) 13-year-old, that meant consuming the backpages while shoving them through postboxes. Tabloids were my preference, mainly because broadsheets were a nightmare to refold between houses, and I was THE oracle about transfer news in class (it was the only kudos I had at school).
I slowly discovered how stories were told in different newspapers, opinion columnists like John Sadler ('Gives It To You Straight') and John Giles ('The Column The Players Read') and who was In The Know for transfer news. And I was hooked.
Although I didn't realise at the time, sports journalism was a notoriously hard industry to break into, let alone for a working class, state school-educated, second-generation Indian boy with zero media connections.
But someone had faith in me. Actually, not just one person but an ambitious project determined to broaden the diversity of journalists working in the British and Irish media.
Nearly 20 years ago to the day, I was a proud recipient of a grant from the George Viner Memorial Fund. Run by the National Union of Journalists, over 150 black and ethnic minority students have been able to pursue careers in journalism thanks to much-needed grants.
And now it's time for me to pay it forward. During those 20 years I have worked for BBC Sport and, in 2011, co-founded LiveWire Sport, a digital agency working with some of the biggest sports rights holders, broadcasters and brands in the world.
Our industry serves a broad, diverse audience across various digital and social platforms, yet the people working behind the scenes realise there is a representation problem, especially when it comes to decision makers.
I realise now I'm one of those decision makers. And I need to address changes in my own agency before encouraging the rest of the industry to do the same.
That's how the conversation began, and will continue with an event LiveWire Sport is hosting - Why Diversity in Digital Needs to Happen Now - in conjunction with long-term clients Channel 4, one of the leading advocates for change in the media industry.
Through Channel 4's Paras Production Training Scheme, two talented disabled producers joined LiveWire in September and have already made a tremendous impact in a short period of time.
And in 2020, in conjunction with some of our high-profile clients, we are delighted to announce we will be launching a mentoring scheme for under-represented groups in our industry. Look out for more details later.
Diversity in Digital isn’t a guilt-shaming exercise, far from it. Like all sensitive subjects, it begins with understanding, conversation and learning. And let’s be honest, our fragmented political environment needs strong representation from the sport and digital industries – with their unrivalled reach and influence – to be agents for change.
My 13-year-old self would never believe some of the things I’ve been fortunate to see and do during my career in the industry, and now it’s time to repay the faith.
However, I probably would’ve been too busy reading about Belgium’s Enzo Scifo’s ‘come and get me’ plea to Spurs to notice.
Why Diversity in Digital Needs to Happen Now takes place at Channel 4’s London HQ on Tuesday 12th November. Find out more and register your place here.