Cathy Long is the founder of the digital platform, Aposto, which connects event organisers and casual workers to enhance the fan experience during sports events. This week, I had the pleasure to chat with Cathy about when her sports industry began, her involvement in strengthening further diversity in the industry and the importance that operational staff bring to the sector.
Q1) Cathy, it’s delightful to have you on my blog, can you kick this interview off by sharing how your illustrious sports career started?
I’ve always had an interest in football and I have a season ticket at Anfield. When the Hillsborough disaster occurred, I began to campaign for change in the sport and for better treatment of fans.
I joined the Football Supporters’ Association and I started to begin campaigning through my voluntary projects to strive for more support towards disadvantaged communities through football; this led to me having meetings at The FA and with the Leagues allowing me to get my message across. I also got involved in some freelancing work at various music and marketing organisations. Eventually, I ended up working for The Premier League as their Head of Supporter Engagement, where I directly managed the League’s relationships with clubs, fans and the other football bodies. I eventually moved into working for myself as a Consultant supporting various clients, including Spurs, Liverpool, Watford and many more prestigious football and sports clubs.
Now, I’m the founder of an organisation called Aposto too, a consultancy service for tech products and sports venues.
My sports career began because of my desire to make a difference in football from the Hillsborough disaster, but it was sustained through my passion for enhancing diversity in sport. I’ve been a Trustee for Kick It Out as I’m very passionate about combating social injustice, and I’ve also helped out The Shippey Campaign, an initiative supporting sports clubs to develop sensory rooms to enable autistic people to watch live sports in a more comfortable setting.
Q2) Your journey sounds so exciting and challenging. However, as a passionate Spurs fan, I’ve got to ask you more about your former position as the club’s Senior Consultant. What was the experience like contributing to one of footballs most successful stadiums in the industry?
It was amazing, once the stadium was completed, it looked as if a spaceship had just landed! It was a rewarding project to be involved in; however, it indeed presented its challenges, including a variety of technical issues which made it challenging for staff close to the venue’s opening. Another challenge was making the new stadium ensure fans felt at home, considering how everyone was used to White Hart Lane.
As a club, Spurs did their role really well. On the day of the opening, there was a high involvement of operational management understandably, with everyone arriving earlier to try and find their seats and how to get to them. It provided a fascinating insight into the operational challenges of a new ground.
People often ask about the football but my team and I hardly saw daylight, never mind the pitch!. This is the nature of the football industry, the majority of the time on matchdays mainly, you’ll find yourself active behind-the-scenes ensuring the operations remain smooth for the fans and guests.
Q3) Throughout your sports industry journey, you’ve worked with such a diverse clientele from organisations in sport, music and education. How beneficial has this diverse portfolio benefitted your career enhancement?
It’s been essential; I think a range of experiences working with a diverse group of people is critical; if this isn’t followed, mistakes can be made. I think of diversity as a demographic, its broad and includes listening to everybody irrespective of their background or career position. For example, matchday stewards have critical information about the operations of the stadium; ticket officers are vital to administering fans upon their arrival, and marketers are imperative to representing the image of a club. Whatever your level of the hierarchy, everybody deserves to be listened to.
Overall, having a diverse range of experiences has hugely benefitted my career as I’ve got to see the bigger picture of the importance everyone has at an organisation.
Q4) While working with The Premier League, I understand you had an instrumental role to play by driving significant change through equality and diversity. Since your work from that point, how much has diversity and equality grown in the top tier of English Football and what more do you believe could be done to enhance sport for development?
It has changed a lot; it was predominantly a white male environment when I first broke through. But it’s not as white as people think from the outside. So for example there are quite a few Asian staff at the upper echelons but they’re working behind the scenes at football clubs. It’s a shame that some of these people aren’t more visible, as it would serve to encourage others to apply for jobs if they could see how diverse it is now. .
If people don’t think your organisation is diverse, it’s hard to make it diverse, it sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and I think there needs to be a better understanding of that. But it’s changed a lot and we had to work hard to achieve that
The Premier League has been good with its reaction to the Black Lives Matter Movement, Premier League players have been listened to and feel in a strong position. Although, there must be further fundamental changes to develop the sport, such as more proactive measures around staff diversity and issues addressed about the lack of BAME coaches.
Q5) Your current role as the Founder of Aposto looks fascinating. Could you elaborate more about what value you guys bring to the sports industry and what does a typical day look like for you?
It’s a platform focusing on building connections between event organisers and casual staff. The purpose of the platform is to provide briefing and training for casual workers ahead of events—for example, stewards working at football matches.
Currently, during COVID, I’ve found myself sitting by my laptop most of the time, talking to software investors and continuously learning about the market while also speaking with some football clubs via Zoom calls.
However, due to COVID, it presents the perfect time for the service. There’s a gap in the market as from my experience, operational staff like stewards have themselves identified that not enough information is provided for them to prepare appropriately for matchdays.
The product will improve the fan experience by a smoother operation being delivered by the industry’s event staff, we’re looking to make a strong positive impact.
Q6) While you’ve achieved so much in sport, what more lies for the future of Cathy Long’s Sports Industry legacy?
If we can get Aposto delivering smoother matchdays, that would be great. Essentially, our job is to remain unnoticed as this demonstrates that no bad things are happening at the moment! If nobody hears about issues taking place from an operational perspective on matchdays, we’re doing something right. If Aposto can contribute to making crowds more diverse as well, this would be fantastic.
Q7) The biggest question of all, what is your killer piece of advice for any sports enthusiast wanting to break into a more competitive industry than ever of sport?
Two things, do it and get on with it. Get yourself out there, demonstrate you can communicate and voice your opinion about sport, talk to people at clubs and professionals in the industry. Plus, be specific, don’t just contact clubs and say you’re ‘passionate’, focus on what can you bring that is different?
What a fantastic interview with Cathy. She’s had an instrumental role in revolutionising sports’ image to where it is today through sport for development. She also provided an authenticity check about the nature of working in the sports industry and shows how important it is to stand up for what you’re passionate about, regardless of how big the challenge may be.