"You can't wish for diversity, you have to plan for it," stated The Football Association CEO Martin Glenn when quizzed about Sport England and UK Sport’s new Code for Sports Governance at the Sport Industry Breakfast Club, supported by MP & Silva.
The former United Biscuits CEO was joined on stage by Kelly Simmons, The FA’s performance and participation director, who reflected on her 20 years at the organisation: “When I joined The FA there were very few women but now around 50% of the senior management team are women. It was a very small organisation in those days and it wasn’t particularly commercially savvy. Fast forward to today and we have Wembley Stadium generating money, St George’s Park, £300m+ turnover with over £100m invested back into the game. There have been huge changes.”
Glenn commented: “We’re very supportive of it [the Code for Sports Governance]. There’s energy for it, and we need to be seen as modern and in touch.
“There’s evidence that shows organisations that reflect the people they’re serving tend to make more balanced decisions. Meanwhile, from a participation level, we’re over-investing – in a good way – in the women’s game because the participation levels are not where they need to be at the moment.”
Kelly added: “It’s well documented that Heather Rabbatts is the only female on the board, but there’s a willingness to get there in the short term because it’s the right thing to do. We also need to build a pipeline of talent coming through, so it’s about supporting women to become leaders in the industry and bringing women through that pipeline in the future.”
Following the success of Team GB at the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games, Glenn and Simmons shared their disappointment at the lack of a women’s football team in the competition, despite The FA’s backing for a team.
Simmons commented: “It’s just a huge missed opportunity. When you’re trying to grow a women’s sport, build a fanbase, change the culture, you don’t get many global showcase opportunities. All I would say to the football federations is please look at the women’s sport through a women’s sport lens. It’s different. Sure, there’s benefits to having two teams, but for the women’s side it’s a senior competition up there with the FIFA World Cup. Please look at it through a women’s lens, because it’s such a good opportunity.”
Following the recent billion dollar international rights deal for the FA Cup, Glenn was keen to stress that the money would be reinvested into the game: “We’ve made a lot of progress on the economics of The FA over the last year. I was brought in partly to reallocate costs so we could spend more on football and less on the back-office. That’s been pretty successful. We’ve had a £30m change by refinancing Wembley and reallocating roles. It was a tough process but the results are starting to show. We’ve also extended domestic deals with BT and the BBC as well as international England rights with a big increase.
“We’re a not-for-profit organisation that makes around £320m at the moment, which will rise to £420m from 2018. Our costs won’t move within that, so there’s a big opportunity to invest.”
Asked by host and sports broadcaster James Pearce about the lack of a women’s team from Manchester United, Simmons added: “It’s strange because they have one of the best talent pathways for young girls in the country and they produce great young players, but then they’re feeding them into other clubs like Manchester City and Liverpool or Everton because there’s no where else for them to go. Other clubs that have been very successful are those who have embedded the women’s side into the club, so it gets the investment, expertise, resources and support right across the organisation. That’s what will make a huge difference to the game.”
Glenn added: “While it’s a club decision, we do have a responsibility. It’s for The FA to keep investing in women’s football, in order to make the business case for clubs like Manchester United more compelling. For most Women’s Super League teams right now, it is still an investment. So for the short-term we need to incubate that game so that down the line, as attendances and TV audiences continue to improve, it will be an obvious thing to do. This investment will become a commercial case.”
Glenn also reiterated that the England team will wear the poppy in tomorrow’s FIFA World Cup qualifier against Scotland.
Any sanction for doing so on Friday is likely to be limited to a fine but Glenn said: “We’ll contest it strongly because we believe – we’ve had QC opinion on this – our case is absolutely rock solid. So, good luck.
“In the event if there were something [a fine], I’m sure we could persuade them to divert the finances for the Royal British Legion. But I’m very confident it won’t come to that.”
“Unfortunately, with new personalities coming in there, they felt they wanted to make a bit of a stand, which is very disappointing. We think they’re interpreting the rules wrongly. This is a law-of-the-game issue, not a FIFA competition issue.
“In England over the last couple of weekends, clubs have been wearing poppies on shirts, which is also a breach of FIFA regulations – and nothing’s happened about that - so I’m very confident that our legal position is right, our moral position’s certainly right, and – you know what – there are bigger things in the game for FIFA to worry about.”
During the member’s Q&A at the end of the panel discussion, the pair was asked about decoupling the women’s game to market itself independently.
Simmons commented: “With the lastest women’s strategy we separated the rights and sold them separately but it was a bit of a hybrid approach because we already had existing partners. However with new partners such as SSE and Continental Tyres, they have come in solely for women’s football. It’s early days, but we’re working with our new commercial director Mark Bullingham on how best to structure ourselves to deliver on our ambitions to grow the game and bring in revenues.”
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.
The Sport Industry Breakfast Club is supported by MP & Silva, the leading international media rights company, and takes place quarterly at The BT Centre, St Paul's, London. Memberships are available for 2017 now. Click here for more information.