Education: The FA’s Tom Gracey talks strategy for moving into a sports-based career

Interested in a career in Sports Broadcast but need some guidance? Tom Gracey, senior broadcast manager at The Football Association, has built an accomplished broadcast career having first worked in finance. Gracey shares his path and his advice to those considering a career in sports media and technology. This interview was conducted by GlobalSportsJobs.

The FA’s Tom Gracey

What is your career background Tom?
I would say I took a relatively atypical route into the sports industry. My background from university and subsequent work experience were in the finance industry, doing a number of placements in investment banking, with my first job working for an asset management firm.  It became apparent to me after about three years that this wasn’t necessarily the route I wanted to take for my long term career. That said, it was a great grounding from a commercial perspective, working on trading desk in a fast-paced environment straight out of university.

So I took a step back, over the time of the Beijing Olympics, to think about exactly what I wanted to do, and it was important for me that I took some time to make the right decision to ensure my choices were not rushed. The conclusion was that sport was the area that I want to focus my attention and my future. I started Googling and looking into opportunities, initially in sports sponsorship as it seemed an obvious place to start. However, an opportunity came up at Sport5 in their media team which I took and I was there for four years. Then I had a brief spell at Arqiva, where the idea was I would couple rights trading experience with the technical side of media distribution; how pictures get from cameras around the side of the pitch on to your televisions. However, I took the view that the reason I got into the sports industry was because I am passionate about the sport itself and this felt a little bit too far removed from what happens on the pitch, so an opportunity came up at The FA and I’ve been there ever since!

Quite the journey! So now at The FA, what does your role entail? 
I now head up the broadcast team at The FA with the primary remit of commercialising The FA’s primary assets and monetizing our broadcast rights nationally and internationally, while managing that distribution process. For example, managing our domestic deals with BBC and BT Sport and the international deals for which we work with our agency partners PITCH and IMG. My focus also extends to the England team, notwithstanding the centralised element to those with UEFA, youth football, and increasing the breadth and scope of coverage of women’s football.

Media rights distribution is the primary function but the role also encompasses looking after production partners, scheduling, and the operational delivery of those contracts.

What’s your advice to those looking to kickstart their career in sport? 
I think, when you say the sports industry, the first thing to do is to narrow down exactly where in the industry you are wanting to target. If you look at The FA as an organisation for example, we are an event owner, a governing body, a regulator, stadium and facility owners, and have cooperate services functions as well as the multiple functions within our commercial division. It shows there is a tremendous breadth to the scope of opportunities, even in our one organisation.

So, I would suggest the first thing you need to do is drill down a little bit deeper as to what you feel you’re most interested in and even more importantly what you feel your strengths and weaknesses are and what you would be best suited to. This requires a degree of self-reflection; to look at your skillsets and understand what you’re best at and perhaps less good at, to evaluate where those skillsets would be best suited and best applied to in the industry.

After that it’s about really understanding the purpose of the organisation that you are applying to and how you can add value and demonstrate your own value in achieving that purpose through the function that you’re looking to move into. Also, It’s also vital to be clear on your goals within the industry and the path you want to take. I am a firm believer that it’s much more difficult to get to your own destination if you don’t have a clear path for that journey. So the clearer the idea of where you want to get to, the more likely you are to get there.

What advice do you have for those looking specifically to enter sports broadcast? 
Get as much experience as you can, which I appreciate this can be a chicken and egg scenario. However, take responsibility and look to build experience that can demonstrate the value you can bring. By this I mean that there are many ways outside the standard structures of organisations to demonstrate your experience and understanding. For example, let’s take content creation; everyone has a smartphone where you can be your own broadcaster. Are there ways you can produce your own content and build and audience or community around a shared passion. Be creative in building up your experience!

What are the in-demand skills for broadcast at the moment? 
I think it’s difficult to find candidates with a combination of technical and commercial skillsets. The key is understanding what the end consumer wants. Technology can be the enabler, but storytelling is really important to harness sports ability to create unbelievable storylines. It’s a real skillset in delivering these to audiences in a digestible way across formats and devices. 

What’s your advice to those looking to impress future employers in sport?

As we all know, it’s a competitive space so the challenge is how differentiate yourself from that pack by demonstrating the specific skills and values you can bring to a specific role.

When it comes to interviews there are some key things employers look for; people that are hungry, ambitious, and who understand where the organisation is going and the purpose. Ultimately though, employers are looking for two requirements in candidates: can this person fulfil the technical requirements of the role in question; and are they going to be the right personality fit for the team and wider organisation. Get these things right for the jobs you apply and you will be very attractive proposition.

Sport is particularly people focused, so demonstrating interpersonal skills, whether it’s around negotiation or persuasion or working with partners and colleagues, can take you a long way.

And finally, a simple word of advice, make sure you have done your research. Gaps in knowledge shows a lack of commitment to your ambitions.

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