The next generation of Sport Industry leaders can be a catalyst for change in women’s sport, according to two international footballers who spoke at the Sport Industry NextGen Unlocked event in London.
FIFA Women’s World Cup hopefuls Erin Cuthbert and Claire Rafferty challenged the 30 new Leaders – and their predecessors from the previous three years of the prestigious professional development programme – to play their part in taking the commercial and media profile of women’s football to the next level.
The event at Village Underground in Shoreditch posed the question “What’s Next” in sport?
In response, 20-year-old Chelsea and Scotland star Cuthbert pointed to the opportunity of the forthcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup in France to serve as “a platform [for the women’s game] to be recognised and treated seriously.”
She said: “I think brands are starting to get FOMO, fear of missing out on a lot of opportunities, with the Women’s World Cup.
“Everybody wants to be an industry leader, because there is a gap in the market. I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Cuthbert was joined in a panel discussion by fellow FA Women’s Super League player Claire Rafferty, who has played in two previous FIFA Women’s World Cups with the England Lionnesses.
The West Ham star reflected on the trajectory of the game over the 10+ years of her top-level playing career.
She said: “The difference between Erin and I is that her dream was visible. I didn’t see female professional footballers when I was growing up, but Erin always knew it was a possibility.
“On a day-to-day basis, you see it on television, social media, an increase in presenters, representation on every single level. But we don’t want to just settle for that, we want it to be the norm. The more we see it, the more normal it will become.”
The 30-year-old added: “The Visa [UEFA Women’s] sponsorship was a pioneering step in the right direction."
Cuthbert and Rafferty were among several young leaders who took to the Unlocked stage on an evening pitched as “the NextGen takes over.”
In that spirit, host Radha Balani shared interviewing honours with Yahoo UK’s Head of Sport Raj Mannick, himself a Sport Industry NextGen Leader in 2016.
Mannick quizzed former two-weight world champion boxer Carl Frampton on his future plans and thoughts on the future direction of boxing.
Asked what the next generation of sport industry leaders could do for his sport, the Northern Ireland star called for media companies to stop pricing out “working-class” fans.
Frampton said: “We’ve got so many stars and UK boxing is thriving at the minute with the likes of Anthony Joshua filling out Wembley and masses coming to watch it, but I would like to see boxing back on channels that are easily accessible for those that don’t have a lot of money.
“It’s a working class sport and some can’t afford to pay £20 to sit in their living room to watch a fight. It’s going the way of the pay-per-view market, where the working class can’t see it. I want it to be seen by more people.”
The Ulsterman also offered his advice on resilience and achieving career success, concluding that the key to success in any role is primarily “to be all in.”
The evening also featured passionate “soapbox” speeches from three former Sport Industry NextGen Leaders.
Clare Barrell, International Relations Advisor at UK Sport, called on the UK to take the global lead on governance and integrity in sport.
Patrick McMeekin, Partner at SeatServe, pleaded with the industry to empower those working at all levels of the professional pyramid.
Meanwhile, Chevaune Halewood, Senior Manager: Key City Project at adidas UK, explained how “share of voice” is no longer a relevant metric for many brands, asking rightsholders to collaborate with them in helping to shape the future of sports marketing.
Earlier in the evening, Sport Industry Group Managing Director Alex Coulson introduced the event with an emphasis on the diversity of the new intake, of whom a record 42% are female.
The group met for the first time earlier in the day, where they participated in a Leadership Development afternoon with programme Coaches including Alistair Campbell, Rene Carayol, Chris Grant, Jennie Price, Leon Mann and Ruth Turner; and Lois Langton and Steve Swanson of official programme partners Howard Kennedy and Loughborough University London.