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The Women Behind the World Cup

Posted on Dec 12, 2023 by FEED Staff

This round table sees five trailblazing women from the sports broadcast space share their experience of delivering one of the biggest events in women’s sport

Mary Kay Donovan – Independent broadcast media professional
Erin Lasté – Graphics operator, AE Live
Caroline Ramsay – Major events, senior program manager, Global PPMO
Helen Campbell – Freelance multicamera director
Sarah Butler – CEO & founder, Sport Business Connected

The Fifa Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 (WWC) captured both the hearts and minds of football fans across the globe. With a record-high 32 teams playing 64 games, the records continued to tumble in areas as diverse as ticket sales, broadcast figures and digital media data. Almost two million fans attended the tournament, exceeding expectations according to Fifa chief women’s football officer, Sarai Bareman.

“This momentum is unstoppable,” she declares. “The numbers and data and everything about this World Cup have eclipsed 2019. We have witnessed record-breaking crowds, significant global broadcast audiences and staggering digital metrics, highlighting the global impact of this event.”

Despite women making up approximately 40% of all participants in sports, only 4% of media coverage has been dedicated to women’s sports. But now, given the increasing attendance, viewership, investment and engagement right across women’s sports, it’s hard to argue against its growth potential. 

Women’s sports present an investment that, like women athletes, may out-perform expectations and take centre field.

Hiring women to work in sport presents an equally valuable (and untapped) investment to the industry, something that has been obvious for some time. However, relatively few companies have taken the sufficient steps to address this under-representation, particularly at more senior levels.

Much has been spoken about the legacy of the WWC and the impact of role models on the pitch. But, it is equally important to recognise the women working in broadcast-related roles, and the role models they are creating for the next generation of female workers. 

FEED: How you did you get started in the sports broadcast space?

SARAH BUTLER: I started my career working in professional sport, first in PR and marketing for a Super League rugby league club and then as the head of PR for Harlequins RFC. 

Having worked with a number of broadcasters over that time on match days, I gained good relations I still value. I would work with the broadcaster, not only to communicate player updates during the week ahead of the game but also on match day, making sure they had access to the changing rooms, and player and coach interviews. When ITV had the highlights show, I would act as pitch-side interviewer for post-match player and coach interviews. Though this was a bit nerve-wracking, it helped for speaking and moderating roles.

While I was working at Perform Group, my good friend Thea Finch mentioned over lunch that she was short of good floor managers. I offered my services and the next week I was down at The Stoop. 

A few years later, my friend and colleague Chris Catling introduced me to the team at European Players Champions Rugby, and Vincent Prébandier, who asked me to join his team of match day managers for the European Rugby Championships.

CAROLINE RAMSAY: I joined the BBC in London on a training grade in a small, unglamorous department in finance. My goal was being in the sports department, which I achieved just before turning 21. 

However, it didn’t take long to work out that everyone there was having a great time working on World Cups, Grand Slam tennis, golf majors, Olympic Games – they were going nowhere! So, in order to climb the sports broadcasting career ladder, I had to get out into the real world. 

Through Visnews and Channel 4, I then found myself as manager of sport at Thames TV, an ITV franchise back in the day. This was my big break. I experienced host broadcasting with a Rugby World Cup and the Olympics. I was hooked and set off on a journey that has included some of the biggest sporting events on the planet.

ERIN LASTÉ: I fell into broadcasting after completing my sport and business degree, searching for sport-related opportunities that would allow me to work in something I love and have grown up surrounded by. I came across an advert for a position in live graphics for sports television and was immediately intrigued by the variety of sports I’d get to work on and the global nature of the jobs and clients. Despite not knowing anything about broadcasting, I got stuck into an intense few months of training, and have since worked on high-profile tournaments, expanding my knowledge with each one. 

HELEN CAMPBELL: In the summer break of my first year at Brunel, I was asked last minute if I wanted to be a runner at Wimbledon for the NBC Sports network. I had no broadcast experience, no idea what my role would be, but had spent every summer for as long as I could remember watching Wimbledon at home and knew it was one of the crown jewels of sport. I said yes without hesitation. 

The next day, I arrived at the broadcast centre in SW19, and the next two weeks of my life were the most inspirational. I knew from then this was the industry I wanted to work in and aspired to be part of. In what capacity or role at that time I had no idea! 

After my third year working as a runner at Wimbledon and completing my degree, a colleague asked me what I was going to do, suggesting I try getting a job at Sky Sports. So, I did exactly that! I worked hard transitioning from runner to production assistant, junior editorial producer, co-producer, assistant director and finally director. In 2012, I left to freelance in the sports broadcast industry with the dream of directing major global sporting events.

MARY KAY DONOVAN: Luck! Timing! I was interviewing for an entry-level place with the host broadcaster for the 1996 Olympics and was soon in their planning for a hire. But, temporarily working from the same office space in Atlanta, GA was EBU Sports International (ESI), the host broadcaster for the Fifa World Cup 1994. Just that day, they posted a production assistant position for the head of production. It was a four-month contract; two in Atlanta, with an operations move to the International Broadcast Center (IBC) in Dallas, TX for the tournament.

Read the full article in the Winter 2023 issue of FEED.

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