The PBSL’s Sports Industry Interviews series sees us chat with experts from across the industry. They’ll be sharing their experiences of working in sport, advice on navigating the industry and what they think the future holds for their sector.
First up is Sharon Fuller. Sharon is Global Head of Central Content Creation for Red Bull and a former BBC Sport Executive.
How did your career in sport get started?
I was lucky enough to get an opportunity after replying to an advert in the local newspaper to get a weekend (unpaid) internship at a local radio station researching sports news reports from teletext whilst I was still at school. I’m not sure that’s entirely legal these days!
What do you see as your career highlights whilst working in the sports industry?
One of the things I am most proud of, especially seeing the legacy of that project this year, is Couch to 5k. I brought this project to the BBC and lead the partnership with Public Health England. Seeing the impact this app has on people is really something. I still use it myself.
Having worked at BBC Sport, I was incredibly privileged to be able to work on the absolute pinnacle of sports events in the World – The FIFA World Cup and The Olympics. For me, the dream had always been Formula One. I still remember the feeling I had walking out into the pit lane for the first time. I thought – how did somebody like me, a working-class gal from rural Norfolk, end up here? Now here at Red Bull, I pinch myself every day.
What do you think are some of the upcoming challenges people working in the sports industry will have to face?
Right now, uncertainty is the biggest challenge. Making long term business decisions which are necessary whilst allowing flexibility to be reactive to what’s happening is no mean feat. Finding new revenue streams where people have relied on events and ticketing as a model are a significant challenge whilst sponsors review and work on focussing on their core markets. It’s never been more important to have representation at board level and clear governance ready to support some of those new approaches.
Keeping grassroots sports alive – where the benefits for people can’t balance the financials for me is a real area of concern.
The duration of the uncertainty has such a significant impact on people’s work and personal lives – so I think that balance of keeping people motivated, feeling in control and able to deal with the impact on their personal World is a huge challenge
How is your organisation preparing for these challenges?
In my role, I’m grateful for the Global overview I have which allows me to be flexible between priority markets and to work with our local teams on their specific challenges so that the Global position of our company remains strong in the content we produce – and visibility of our product.
Even for a UK business there is so much you can learn from the rest of the World – I find talking to people in other businesses across the World is a great spark for new ideas and collaboration.
When it comes to staff welfare, what would you like to see implemented across the industry?
I think flexible working – not only location but also hours, should become more regular practice. I also think that the physical and mental health of our teams should be supported properly through proper structured programmes and this should become the norm.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to reach a senior level within the industry?
You have to be prepared to learn to manage stakeholders and get buy in for an idea before you present it. It takes time but always do the legwork, and you will always get great feedback that stops you standing on a landmine down the road, and people will respect you for it. Respect helps you be seen as a potential future leader.
One piece of advice I was given early on was – always ask, ‘how about if we did it this way?’ when you reach a roadblock. There is always a pragmatic way around a roadblock, you just haven’t thought of it yet.
How do you think you would have benefitted from having access to a service like the PBSL when you first started working in the sports industry and as your career progressed?
I think it would have really helped me to understand how to become a ‘Leader’ in my own style and also to know that I was not the only one facing similar challenges, especially when it comes to what’s needed to manage and influence organisational change.
Who has been the most influential person in developing your career in sport and why?
Barbara Slater, Director of Sport at the BBC. To have a female leader to look up to and then to have the chance work for her was great. I learned so much from her, especially about Leadership.
If you could change one thing in your career what would it be?
I would find my own voice earlier. I spent a long time trying to fit a mould and it took me too long to realise that not fitting the mould was my strength.
What’s your best sporting memory/event you’ve attended.
Red Bull Rampage is the most incredible event I have ever attended. Before I worked at Red Bull I was a fan, but to see it in person in the mountains of Utah and see what those amazing athletes are able to do, with so much at stake – a breath taking moment for me.
You can see what I’m talking about here! https://www.redbull.com/int-en/live/final-2
What’s on your sporting bucket list?
Norwich City winning the Premier League…? Maybe that’s just a bit too much of a dream