Sophie is a trailblazer for women in sport who has had an illustrious journey to and in her position at Swansea City A.F.C. She was once a volunteer who had a dream to enter the football industry and is now paving the way for the new generation of female sporting leaders. This interview sees Sophie touch on how the adventure began, the essential qualities needed for an effective marketer alongside what her role at Swansea looks like.
Q1) Sophie, it’s an honour to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. Let’s fire this off by hearing how your sports career began?
Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure to talk to you! It all started when I was 16 years old and was in Sixth Form when I studied A Levels in French, Geography, History and the Welsh Baccalaureate but I couldn’t envisage myself working in any of those industries. I would have studied media should the option have been available, but it wasn’t an option in my Sixth Form.
I was a huge football fan and had been a Swansea City fan for as long as I remember and came across a section in one of the matchday programmes listing the club’s media staff. It really got me thinking that that would be the perfect industry for me to work in. I knew the player liaison officer at the club and asked about the possibility of a week’s work experience. I went in for a few press conferences and matches and spent a week during the summer break working within the media department and instantly knew it was where I wanted to work. I stayed in touch following the week’s work experience and wrote articles from home for the club website and matchday programmes.
A year after the initial work experience, a voluntary role arose as the sole media officer for Swansea City Ladies, and I jumped at the opportunity. It was a great experience where I learned a huge amount about the industry working alongside my undergraduate degree in Media and Communications at Swansea University. I ended up working with the Ladies team for three years, and the role even saw me travel as far as New York and Romania.
During the final year of my undergraduate degree, one of the course modules was an internship module. So I contacted the club to ask whether I could undertake the placement within the media department, which then led to paid part-time work alongside my Master’s degree and a full-time role upon graduating. It was an honour to be working for the club I’d supported all my life at such a young age.
Q2) You’ve had several roles at Swansea City, predominantly media and marketing orientated. When you started as an intern and now finding yourself as the social media manager and commercial writer, what were the fundamental values that influenced your sports career development?
As cliché as it sounds, hard work has been key in my sports career development. It’s a demanding industry to get in to, and at times it can be just as difficult working in it. The hours are unsociable, and the work involved can be overwhelming, but the good times definitely outweigh the bad. It’s not a 9-5 industry, and the work never stops, I’m constantly thinking of new ideas or monitoring content.
Another value is persistence, I’ve had many setbacks even in my short career so far, but I was patient and knew that my time would come with hard work and persistence.
I also think just enjoying what you do is absolutely vital in the industry. If you are passionate about your role, it never feels like work. Working weekends isn’t ideal for some, but my attitude is that if I weren’t working in football, I would be at the football anyway.
Q3) There’s no such thing as a ‘typical day’ working in sport. However, could we hear about what you do in your current role?
I currently manage all of the club’s social media accounts. I provide the live social media updates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and any behind-the-scenes matchday content on matchdays. I also write content for the club’s website and matchday programme. Following matches, I will either interview players on the match or attend the press conference.
I also take care of all media accreditation, where external media apply to attend matches at the Liberty Stadium. I receive requests through the DataCo system. I am then responsible for sorting the accreditation and media passes for any journalists, broadcasters, photographers, or analysts attending the matches.
Sponsors have become an increasingly important part of football, meaning that each club sponsor has an allocation of signed shirts or balls as part of their contract agreement. This sees me spending an afternoon a week pestering the first-team players at the training ground to sign the mound of merchandise.
Q4) Marketing is unquestionably the one industry area within sport than has gone through an enormous change, particularly in this digitalised era. How do you and Swansea City stay ahead of the digital curve to keep your marketing strategy innovative?
Both the marketing and media industries are continually evolving, which means football fans’ appetites for content changes with it. It’s essential to listen to what fans want to see and what they are primarily interested in and what works for us as a club. The pandemic posed curveballs as we had to adapt to the changing circumstances and obviously the lack of fans in stadiums. This saw both the kit launch and season ticket campaigns changing to be centred around fans still being close to the club despite the physical distance. I actually wrote the poem for the kit launch, and it was vital for me to convey the true feelings of everyone associated with the club.
It’s also essential to see what other clubs across the world are doing. I’m very interested in what American Football and Basketball teams are doing across the pond. They are definitely ahead of the curve, and there’s a lot we can learn from them.
Q5) It’s fair to say football clubs are no longer clubs, they’ve pivoted into global entertainment businesses. How have you found Swansea to adapt to this industry change?
For many years there was just one individual who took care of all of the club’s media coverage, but as the industry and demand grew exponentially, the media department grew. At one point 10 people were working in the media industry during the club’s stint in the Premier League. The demand meant that you no longer had to cater for an audience primarily based in Swansea but also had to provide content for Spanish speaking supporters or supporters based in parts of the world including South Korea and Ghana. We signed Ki Sung Yeung who had a massive profile in South Korea which brought millions of new supporters to the club, and there was a similar situation when Andre Ayew and Jordan Ayew got vast numbers of supporters from Ghana. We also have strong links with our global fan bases such as the Brazil Swans and the Stateside Jacks.
Q6) With any successful career journey comes to a suite of challenges. Could you share some adversities you’ve faced on your football industry come up? Plus, how have these benefitted you?
It can be a fragile industry to work in, particularly in the lower leagues following relegation. Before managing to get a full-time role at the club, my part-time work was sporadic as the financial situation is constantly changing. This is bound to happen at any club following relegation from the Premier League due to television money disparities, but once everything is settled, stability resumes.
It’s evident that there is a lack of females working in the football media industry, and at the start of my career, I sometimes felt out of place. Having said that, I feel it has now benefitted me as I have a fire in my belly to pave the way for more females to work in the industry.
Q7) Sophie, reflecting on this discussion and your sports career, what is your killer piece of advice to break into the industry?
The one piece of advice I’d give is to get as much experience under your belt as possible. Just volunteer, shadow professionals and get as much work experience as you can, and it will pay off eventually, trust me! I volunteered for five years, and it was difficult at times, but there is no doubt I would not be where I am today without having undertaken that voluntary work. Grassroots clubs are always looking for an extra pair of hands to help improve coverage, and that can often be the perfect place to start. When I worked with the Swans Ladies, I was responsible for all media coverage, whether that be match reports, interviews, features, social media, etc. It really gave me a taste of a wide range of the work involved in the football media industry.
Wow, what a journey Sophie has been on. It’s commendable that she stuck to her passion for five years to get her big break in the football industry and has been involved in some fantastic initiatives that have brought Swansea City A.F.C. to where they are today. Therefore, if you’re somebody who’s volunteering in sport and wondering whether your foot will ever get into the door, remember that it will come with hard work and perseverance!