Exclusive interview with Preeti Shetty about her ambitions to develop society through sport

Preeti Shetty is the Head of Upshot at the Football Foundation where she’s responsible for enhancing modern-day grassroots sport through bespoke data-driven insights. Preeti has a prestigious career in sport. Throughout this exclusive blog, she shares the importance of building networks early on, finding your niche, becoming the expert in what you are passionate about and the fundamentals behind a strong work ethic in an ever-so competitive industry.

Q1) How did your career into sport start? 

A: Funnily enough, this happened by mistake. While I was a media undergrad, I was enthusiastic about working in TV production. An opportunity came up at BBC Sport for a 4-week internship that I pursued. The internship focused on an outreach project called ‘Your Game’ which was based around recruiting NEET young people to participate in football, media, and music festivals. After this appointment, I was offered a full-time job with BBC Sport as their Partnerships Coordinator.

I suddenly became genuinely inspired by the impact sport can have on changing lives; this is when I found my niche in sport, which was sport for development. The industry is vast, so finding your niche early on will work in your favour. This will provide the chance to build your network of specialised professionals and industry-specific skills to enhance your portfolio.

Networking was a big part of my sports career journey; I built up a large enough network where I began consulting on a freelance basis for four years around sports for development initiatives. I worked closely with several international NGOs, and one of the challenges we experienced was having the evidence prove the impact sport has to change lives. At this point, I pursued a Masters in Sports Management which specialised in impact measurement and research methods.

During my masters, my dissertation focused on impact measurement, which provided me with a foot into the door of a tech start-up known as Upshot. This provided me with the opportunity to be innovative with the product to tailor it towards demonstrating sports social value to communities nationwide.

Initially, impact measurement was not something people were generally interested in. Still, as the world we live in is progressively orientating towards driving solutions via data and technology, it became an opportunity which grew to new heights. I now work for the Football Foundation where I’m the Head of Upshot, and I have full responsibility for the product and its impact on providing our clients, stakeholders and partners value.

Q2) While working in sport, what have been the most significant lessons you have learnt that have helped your career progress?

A: For me, getting stuck in has been crucial. Once you work somewhere, you make yourself indispensable. When new opportunities came up, I wanted to be the first involved. All of this comes down to wanting to learn and be the best version of yourself.

There’s nothing more important than building your network authentically and focusing on how you engage with your ecosystem because they are the ones who will open doors.

I am very ambitious. I put people first and thrive from understanding how I can be a better leader to inspire my team. I’m always asking for advice, and I’m surrounding myself with people that are better than me. I heard an interesting fact somewhere that you are the average of the five people you surround yourself with – this makes you think about what value you are providing to everyone around you. I’ve always had amazing mentors and bosses that have helped me stay hungry and work to the best of my abilities.

Despite society presenting challenges for people of colour and women, if you don’t show up, nothing will happen. Sport is an industry where people can get frustrated easily and quickly; however, always remember that if you don’t show up, no opportunity will either.

When I hire new graduates/sandwich year students, I’m not so interested in what work experience or qualifications the candidate has. I’m more focused on whether they have work-ethic, drive and how proactive they’ve been outside of education to enhance their opportunities after college or University.

Q3) while working in sport, has there been a specific cause that has been important for you to promote? And if so, what is it?

A: The key driver for me is to prove sports contribution to improving society. I’m not so interested in elite sport or sports participation, what drives me is being able to develop a community through sport. For example, promoting exercise is just as important as food and medicine in this current climate. However, the biggest challenge is understanding how we embed this into an engaging and inclusive message.

I always think about how can I continue to play a role to demonstrate how sport is a tool that creates life-changing experiences. Despite this being my job, it’s what I love, and even if I weren’t getting paid to do what I do, I still would be involved. I’m also extraordinarily passionate to see more women and women of colour in the sector as there’s still a gap to be filled.

Each of these causes is quite intertwined. However, the open-ended question lies with whether we can focus on all and have the same impact or do we need to focus on one and then the next in turn?

Q4) What is the difference between the types of environments you have worked in? Such as the differences in motivations at The Football Foundation compared to BBC Sport?

A: There wasn’t a massive difference for me personally, probably because they were all a sport for development type-environment. Therefore, you’re likely to come across similar-minded people to yourself despite it being different organisations.

However, if you focus on different parts of an organisation, such as the boardroom compared to the office, there are noticeable contrasts in characters. Also, there are differences in departments, such as comparing sport development to technology sectors or media or marketing. Some tend to have younger people, some more women, some creative and some analytic.

While working in sport, you will come across similar characters with yourself as you’ll be working in the industry for the same purposes. However, it is all about representation. We should be striving to have offices as representative of our communities.

Q5) while building your sports industry network, what has been the key driver/drivers that have made those relationships sustainable?

A: I don’t do it as much now as I spent so many years building up my network. However, when I was starting, I was attending as many conferences and events as I could to ensure I was present and learning as much as I could. The majority of my connections have come from events and meeting people mutually through different leadership programmes. I always recommend to my younger employees in my team to think the same way when developing a network.

However, there are different types of events. You have your large-scale ones like Soccerex, usually filled with highly experienced corporates and professionals. On the other hand, you have smaller events like workshops or seminars which are great to attend when starting.

Q6) During the Coronavirus, how has this impacted business for you at the Football Foundation, and how have you adapted throughout this crisis?

A: We’re lucky as we had a business continuity plan in place where we already had working from home schedules; therefore, this hasn’t massively impacted us from a day to day perspective.  

The biggest hurdle to jump over is managing our teams and people, ensuring they are coping okay psychologically as you can’t run a successful business without good mental health. However, this has been stable so far and reflects well on ourselves valuing our people at the heart of what we do.

The most bit of learning for us is ensuring we prioritise mental health at this point, the HR side of things has become ever so important.

Q7) What advice could you summarise for someone wanting to break into sport, coming in from an external background to the industry?

A: Focus on building up a network as this will be the door that opens opportunities. Remain passionate and hard-working as these two are defining factors which will provide you with that motivation to want to succeed. Lastly, be the expert in your niche to ensure you can deliver as much value as possible to whatever your heart desires.  

Interviewing Preeti has been an eye-opener to understanding how you can use the competitiveness of the sports market as a positive rather than a setback. She openly discussed her challenges being a woman of colour coming into the industry and thrives from this value, rather than shying away from it. This attitude has allowed Preeti to excel, becoming an advocate to bring brighter futures for all through sport for development. 

Does Preeti’s story inspire you? If so, leave a comment with your biggest learnings and let’s discuss!


Published by Ash

I'm a First-Class Graduate in Sports Business Management who has worked across Local Government, Sport and the Third Sector. Throughout my career, I've developed a thriving passion to promote sport being used as a tool to bring positivity to the world we live in. This ethos has inspired me to create a website which champions this value through comprehensive online content for you to gain value from. Join me on this journey of discovering what sport can do to enhance society.

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