Life goals: Sky Deutschland’s Stefanie Mirlach on transforming from a professional footballer to head of project management for sport
Football is much more than a hobby for Stefanie Mirlach, Sky Deutschland’s head of project management for sport. She is a former midfielder, playing for Bayern Munich and Turbine Potsdam in the Bundesliga, before retiring from the professional game in 2015. As a footballer she knew what success was about; as an Under-19 International she won the 2010 U-20 World Cup as part of the German team. Today, her success is all about covering strategic topics for the sports departments, managing very diverse projects and being responsible for the overall women’s sport strategy.
Last year was an exciting one for Mirlach; she was able to implement concrete steps to push women’s sport harder for the broadcaster. She explains: “2022 was the year where I could roll out our women’s sports strategy and I am very happy that we and the whole industry could do a lot to increase visibility of women’s sports. At Sky Germany this means implementing a new women’s magazine, a dedicated #skysportwomen Instagram channel, showing more live sports and integrating women’s sport more ‘naturally’ into our news coverage.
“When I played football I was somehow on the other side of live sport (even if not all our games were broadcast); now it feels very cool to be on the other side, giving athletes a platform to showcase their talent.”
Following her retirement from professional football, Mirlach worked in the consulting industry before moving into broadcast. Parallel to playing football in her teens, she studied economics at university, “but at that time football played clearly the first role in my life”, she notes.
“When I quit my football career I focused on moving into the ‘real’ working world, already having gained a Master’s degree, but I was quite unsure what I wanted to do,” Mirlach says.
“2022 was the year where I could roll out our women’s sports strategy and I am very happy that we and the whole industry could do a lot to increase visibility of women’s sports”
She started out after the close of her football career as a business consultant in a Munich-based consultancy, which helped her quickly learn how businesses and projects are run.
She says: “I did projects in various industries, in the aerospace, automotive and healthcare sectors, and had a really good time and strong learning curve, but somehow I missed the fact that there was no connect to my original passion: football and sports.
“I was always interested in the media industry; as I child I was really fascinated by the different media platforms, from classic newspapers to television. After my sports career as a professional football player I first went into the consulting industry, but realised that I wanted to do something more sports related, and therefore took the chance to work at Sky.”
She continues: “After the consultancy period I took the chance to start a new role as strategy manager in the business strategy department at Sky Germany. This was my first step into the media industry where I could get to know the different departments and challenges across various projects.
“After two years, I had the opportunity to move directly into the sports side of the business, which brought me closest to my passion: sports media and broadcasting.”
That opportunity came in the form of a new role that had been created, head of project management sports. Mirlach says: “Working in the sports department had always been my goal and the new role fully matches my skills and allows me to develop myself.
“I needed to go through a classic recruitment process to get the job, as well as persuade the sports executive vice president that I was capable of handling very different tasks and topics, compared to my previous job. As this role was newly created I needed to learn how to fit into the current organisation and build up trust.
“Moving into the sports department from the strategy business was a next step for me, bringing me closer to the operational sports broadcasting business and learning a lot of new things,” she notes.
On what is the most difficult aspect of her job today, Mirlach says: “I have almost no daily routine tasks, but always work on a lot of different topics and projects simultaneously. Therefore, it is sometimes challenging to prioritise accordingly.”
However, she adds: “I like working on various projects and learning so many different things across the whole sports department. In addition, I really love being able to develop new things together as a team.”
Mirlach comments on the coolest thing she has worked on so far at Sky Germany: “I’m always excited about business development projects, so it was really cool to start a digital video player business in one of my projects during my early days in the strategy department; nowadays our new kids’ format, Sky Next Generation, our kid-focused football coverage, brings a lot of fun!”
As to the most challenging aspects of working in live sport today, Mirlach says: “In my opinion there is a long legacy and very strong bonds and networks that have been established in the sports business over past decades, that women haven’t been a part of. So it’s only slowly changing that sports is becoming more diverse and open to new faces, because change often feels threatening for the ‘old’ world.
“But, as I started playing football at the age of six years old and then always found myself being the only girl among boys on the pitch, I was really used to handling this kind of male-dominated environment when I got into consultancy, as well as in the sports industry.
“Of course, I found it quite hard to start a normal job after the football career; I found that people regarded my football career more as a hobby than as a real job, which it most definitely was not.”
Mirlach concludes with her top tips for women looking to move into sports broadcasting: “My advice is also my motto: Just do it! I think today there are a lot of opportunities for women to become part of the sports business, so don’t be shy or intimidated by men’s long history in it, but believe in your passion and your skills.
“And sometimes – not only as a women – it is worth to also go some extra mile.”