With the Fifa Women’s World Cup in France attracting more eyes than ever before to the women’s game in 2019, it is fitting that this year’s Sport Industry NextGen Unlocked event in London focused on how to provide a platform to take women’s sport to the next level.
Taking place in Shoreditch’s Village Underground, the event welcomed the latest class of 30 sport business leaders under the age of 30 to be inducted on to the Sport Industry Group-operated programme, and introduced a number of industry experts to give their answers to the simple question: what’s next in sport?
Two high-profile players from the womens’ game – Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert, who played in this year’s Women’s World Cup in France with Scotland, and Claire Rafferty, who retired from her football career at the end of the 2018-19 season, having featured for England at the previous two World Cups – were on hand to offer their own answers, and give a rallying call to this year’s NextGen intake, urging them to “be the change” in the industry.
“Everybody wants to be an industry leader, because there is a gap in the market for women’s sport,” said Cuthbert. “I think it’s a great opportunity.” The World Cup, she said, would hopefully provide “a platform for the women’s game to be recognised and treated seriously”, particularly now that brands such as Visa are starting to get involved with women’s football and sensing the huge marketing potential.
“I think brands are starting to get ‘FOMO’, fear of missing out on a lot of opportunities, with the Women’s World Cup,” said Cuthbert.
Rafferty reflected on the ten-year age gap between herself and Cuthbert and the developments that have already taken place in such a short space of time, noting that “the difference between Erin and I is that her dream was visible. I didn’t see any female professional footballers when I was growing up, but Erin always knew it was a possibility”.
And though an increase in representation has occurred “on every single level”, said Rafferty, she urged the NextGen Leaders to keep pursuing better visibility for women’s sports.
“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.”
2019 is the fourth intake of Sport Industry NextGen Leaders, with the programme having begun back in 2015. It is also the most evenly split in gender terms – a record 43 per cent of this year’s Leaders are women. Sport Industry Group says that the overall split of applicants was more even than in any previous year, representative of a changing landscape in the sector.
Former world champion boxer Carl Frampton also used his opportunity on stage at NextGen Unlocked to call for improved diversity in the sport industry, criticising his own sport’s increasing reliance on the pay-per-view model, which he says is shutting out boxing’s traditional working class audience.
“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,” Frampton told event host Radha Balani and Yahoo UK’s head of sport Raj Mannick, himself a former Sport Industry NextGen Leader in 2016.
“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.”
The Sport Industry NextGen programme is intended to offer coaching and development pathways to leading professionals aged 30 and under in the sport world. NextGen Leaders receive access to a year-long Leadership Package which includes money-can’t-buy training, personal development and networking opportunities, as well as coaching from a range of experts from across the sport industry and beyond.
Coaches for the 2019 include the likes of former New Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell, Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive David Grevemberg and Jennie Price, former chief executive of Sport England.
The Leaders themselves, meanwhile, represent a wide-range of organisations that span the breadth of the sport industry, from tech start-ups to international rights-holders, including AEG Europe, BT Sport, EA Sports, ESL, Facebook, F1, Hawk-Eye Innovations, Saracens Rugby Club, Sport England, Wasserman and more.
Sport Industry Group is now looking forward to the 2020 edition of the NextGen programme and will begin welcoming applications on July 16.
“Interest in Sport Industry NextGen has grown exponentially year-on-year and we continue to be blown away by the quality of the applications,” says Alex Coulson, managing director of Sport Industry Group.
“As we enter the fifth year of the programme, our alumni network is already developing into a real ‘who’s who’ of the sport industry in the UK. We created the programme to support both the young Leaders themselves and the wider industry by investing in the talent that will determine its course and impact over the coming years.” Z
To apply to be part of the Sport Industry NextGen programme in 2020, visit sportindustry.biz/nextgen.