England Netball CEO Joanna Adams has challenged sport industry headhunters to “open up their shortlists to women” as they look to fill a number of high-profile boardroom positions.
Asked about her interest in vacant roles including CEO jobs at EFL, the FA and the Premier League, Adams said: “I’ve really enjoyed the journey with netball.
“But if they’re actually prepared to open up these shortlists to women, then who knows… Maybe we will see a woman in one of these positions.”
Adams, a former Commercial Director of the Football Conference and Notts County FC, was speaking at the BT Centre in London, where she shared the Sport Industry Breakfast Club stage with Nick Read, Managing Director of the Vitality Programme at England Netball’s lead partner Vitality.
The pair reflected on the impact and objectives of their landmark partnership extension – the biggest-ever UK women’s sport sponsorship – which was signed ahead of the Roses’ Commonwealth Games win on the Gold Coast last year.
“I still get emotional talking about ‘that’ moment,” said Adams, referring to the gold medal win. “We talk about it being our biggest advertising campaign.
“Eighteen months ago, no one in this audience would’ve been able to name a Vitality Superleague team.
“To have a man [from the audience] here ask me about London Pulse is a sign of how far we’ve come. It’s really exciting.”
The conversation took place at a time when women’s sport sponsorship is high on the industry agenda, following landmark commitments by brands including Visa, adidas and Nike around this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Read said the women’s opportunity was key to his brand’s investment in netball. He explained: “As a brand, we are actually only four years old.
“From the start, we felt passionately that women in sport should be a fundamental part of our strategy.
“Netball allows us to personify that. No other sport has such high female participation.
“The ownership opportunity is also an important factor. It’s why rugby didn’t work for us – it was too hard to get cut-through.
“Netball allows us to get our brand - and our "bush" pink - out there in an authentic way. Also, we can really see in netball how our pound is making a difference.”
Adams added: “When I saw the pink branding of Vitality, I immediately thought: ‘they’re for us.’ It’s the same with Nike; partner fit is an important part of our strategy and our journey.
“All of our success as England Netball stems from putting the customer at the heart of our strategy.
“We had so much criticism from other women’s sports for how we repackaged and repositioned our product in line with what our core, female consumer was telling us about the version of female athleticism they aspired to.
“But our participation pathway has exploded as a result.”
On the wider health of women’s sport sponsorship, Adams said: “I think we’re in a great place. “We need to celebrate where we’ve got to, considering where we were a few years ago.
“It’s a whole new market we’ve created and, as women’s team sports, it’s now our responsibility to work together to sustain that momentum.
“There’s too much negativity around. If big brands are coming in to women’s sport for a quick CSR boost, I’m not sure it really matters – because, in the end, it helps attract others.
“I’d like to see new types of brands interested. Where are the beauty brands, for example?”
Describing his own brand’s investment in netball as “categorically not a CSR play,” Read explained how the sport fits with Vitality’s broader sponsorship programme, which includes seven Premier League Clubs (“for awareness”) and headline partnership of parkrun.
He said: “The only piece of the strategy we haven’t yet cracked is how to use our sponsorships to drive our sales.
“There’s a huge opportunity with parkrun, for example, but we haven’t yet cracked the data challenge.”
Looking to the summer’s Netball World Cup in Liverpool, Read promised “a lot of pink!" He added: "When we activate, we activate in a big way. Fan engagement and the legacy of participation are the big parts for us.”
Adams looked further ahead to the prospect of a bidding war for England Netball broadcast rights, which come up for renewal next year.
She explained: “We've come a long way on broadcast. And I think linear TV is still a big part of the future for us.
"Thirteen years ago, England Netball invested £200-300,000 in getting Sky to show netball. Now we have an arrangement where they cover production and we own the commercial rights. The next iteration of that is to have someone paying us.
"I'm talking to three or four broadcasters now.
“None of this has happened by accident. We’ve been very precious about the product and the way netball is presented.
“It all comes back to the best decision we ever made, back in 2011, which was to put our customer at the heart of everything through our “your game, your way” strategy.
"Everything that has happened since can be traced back to that."
The Sport Industry Breakfast Club is the industry’s number one networking event series with four content-led networking breakfasts over the course of the year. Each event welcomes up to 200 guests from across the industry for an interview with a panel of leading figures from the world of sport and business.
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