Sarah Butler, founder of Sport Business Connected, on how hiring women to work in sport presents a valuable (and untapped) investment to the industry


Emma John in The Guardian wrote an article on Christmas Day 2023 titled Tipping point: 2023 was the year money finally talked in women’s sport, highlighting that the past 12 months of 2023 had marked the pivotal point where female sport began to realise its boundless commercial possibilities.

We saw viewing figures soar and record-breaking broadcast rights deals. More hours were given to covering women’s sport, and more column inches dedicated to the female stars making history in the stadiums. With more data come more stories, and more stories inspire the stars of tomorrow.

The news headlines have, understandably, shouted about the women in front of the camera, and the numbers that are changing the age-old theory that “no one wants to watch women’s sport”. But rarely do the headlines highlight the increasing number of women working behind the camera.

I wrote an article last year, after working at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, highlighting that hiring women to work in sport presents a valuable (and untapped) investment to the industry.

Relatively few companies have taken sufficient steps to address this under-representation, particularly at more senior levels.

Much has been spoken about the legacy of the Women’s World Cup, and the impact of role models on the pitch. But, it is equally important to recognise the women working behind the camera, and the role models they are creating for the next generation of female workers.

In January 2023, I started my journey as a freelance PR consultant, and it has been one hell of a ride. The move allowed me to balance working as a PR consultant for some wonderful clients, with working as a floor manager and match day manager at weekends.

The Women’s World Cup was one of the highlights of my career. I worked for IMG and BBC as a floor manager, supporting the presenters in the studio and on pitch side. But the lasting memories I have are of the women working behind the camera, whom I met and worked with during the tournament.

There were so many, but I wanted to highlight Helen Campbell (BBC’s freelance multicamera director), who was the reassuring voice in my ear throughout the matches, running the show with great precision from a remote location.

I had a similar experience while working for DAZN in Saudi Arabia over Christmas.

A two-day exhibition match saw four of the greatest tennis players entertain two sold out stadiums in Riyadh. Again, I was in the capable hands of another amazing female director, this time Frankie Chen.

Like Helen, her ability to direct a sporting event, supported by a number of other women in the production unit, as if she were a conductor managing an orchestra, smoothly and calmly, still amazes me.

More than anything, though, was being part of what felt like history – two strong female athletes playing would have been a new experience to some in the audience. The old saying of “you can’t be what you can’t see” came to mind, and never felt so true.

To see the way the crowd (including men, women and children) embraced the Arab, Ons, was emotional.

This year, at The Superbowl, was Silver Spoon executive director, Laura Herzing, surrounded by a number of other women supporting her in a number of different roles. To see so many women behind that production was inspiring.

I have worked in rugby in different roles for a number of years, as a match day manager, floor manager and head of PR, along with playing premiership for Wasps.

Last December I was managing the EPCR Exeter V Glasgow game when I commented to Glasgow’s analyst that it was great to see so many women in key roles in the backroom team, so many more than when I was her age starting off in my career as the head of PR for Harlequins men’s side.

She responded with, “Well it is due to trail blazers like you that we are able to have these roles.”

It is something that I try to say every time I get on stage when either speaking or moderating on the topic of women’s sport (as pictured above). I start by thanking the women who went before me, who opened those doors enough, so others (like Erin, Helen, Laura, the analyst and myself and so many others) could step through, and the men who have supported them in these sometimes daunting moments.

I have been blessed with the women in the broadcast industry who have supported me in my career, from Sara Orchard, who told me in the Harlequins press room at my first home game, that if I ever needed anything, to just call, to IMG’s Jo Ormston and DAZN’s Sarah Milburn, trusting me to manage their talent from behind the camera, to the many colleagues in the industry who have become lifelong friends, who have praised every bit of success and been there when I needed that reassuring glass of wine. Thank you.