march 12 2018

Women Empowering Women in the Business of Sport

THE sports landscape in Australia is changing. The nation’s favourite pastime is experiencing a seismic cultural shift and, finally, our elite sportswomen are being offered the spotlight.

As the profile of women’s sport increases, so do the demands on its athletes. And these demands stretch well beyond the battleground.

The Minerva Network has been established to support elite sportswomen navigate commercial challenges, both on and off the field. The Network is pairing each of its athletes with an experienced business woman who will help them leverage their rising influence.

Some of the biggest names in Australian sport, including cricketers Rachael Haynes and Alyssa Healy, Olympic Rugby 7s gold medalists Alicia Quirk, Emma Tonegato and Charlotte Caslick, and the Matildas’ rising superstar Ellie Carpenter are already on Minerva’s books.

Jada Whyman, Ellie Brush and Teresa Polias (football), Dominique du Toit (Rugby 7s), Kezie Apps (rugby league), and Elana Withnall (athletics) are also members of the foundation class.

Minerva chair and co-founder, Christine McLoughlin, Director of the Venues NSW Board and a Director of the Suncorp Group and nib Holdings, says the Network will help its athletes thrive to achieve their full potential on and off the field.  “We hope to break the grass ceiling having cracked the glass ceiling.”

“These athletes are celebrities in every sense,” McLoughlin says. “They're sporting celebrities and that has a value.

“We have athletes as young as Ellie Carpenter (Matildas) – already a prominent Australian footballer but navigating the business side of sport as a 17-year-old – to those who have been involved in professional sport for longer periods such as Rachael Haynes (Ashes Cricket captain) and Alicia Quirk(Rugby 7’s Gold Medalist)

“They are all exceptional on the field, but they're not yet getting a lot of support around how to navigate commercial sponsorships, sign up agents, commercialise their off-field presence so they can actually make some money, and think about their career path beyond sport.

“So we are tapping into a diverse network of incredible women in Australian business to match the best mentor for each athlete.

“Through the networking opportunity we bring at Minerva, along with the pairing of mentors, the athletes are becoming better equipped to deal with the business of sport.

“At Minerva, we also recognise that we will get the best outcomes for the athletes if we collaborate with all of the various governance bodies who touch elite sport.”

It was an informal mentor role that led to early discussions about what would soon take shape as the Minerva Network. McLoughlin had been approached by a number of female athletes, including both Haynes and Quirk, who were each looking for different support as their sporting careers flourished.

This pattern sparked a passionate conversation between McLoughlin and ex-AFL commissioner Sam Mostyn, the 2018 AFLW Cup Ambassador, and an idea was born. High-profile businesswomen Romilly Madew, Kate Aitken, Raelene Castle and Sue Cato enthusiastically joined McLoughlin and Mostyn as Minerva Network co-founders.

McLoughlin, Castle, Madew, Aitken and Sally Loane are all mentors. Minerva mentors are women at the top of their game, who can teach, guide and inspire athletes to harness their existing skills and broaden their professional repertoire.

Haynes, who captained Australia during its successful 2017/18 Ashes campaign, says Minerva’s holistic approach to player development has already been invaluable.

“I've been fortunate enough to play through the professionalisation of the female game,” she says. “The start of this Australian summer was the first season I was able to call myself a professional athlete and that's made a huge difference in my life.

“But I want to go in with my eyes wide open and understand what it is that you have to do to be successful at this level. Being a good athlete is just one part of it.

“When I first approached Christine, I was in line to take the Australian captaincy with Meg Lanning injured, and I was looking for someone outside cricket with experience in leadership.

“We just clicked. We’ve definitely covered leadership, and it’s something we still talk about now, but I’ve learnt so much more than that. It’s made me more confident and well-rounded.”

As her mentor, Christine says: “Seeing Rachael confidently lead the team that retained the Ashes reinforced to me what a useful role Minerva can play for these incredible young women.”

Minerva mentors are all volunteers and have a passion for sport. Supplementary support so far, such as the branding and website design by Enigma, has been pro-bono, with organisations showing they, too, are keen to back passionate women.

“Minerva is all about collaborating,” says McLoughlin. “These athletes are smart women. They don’t need mentors to figure out the business of sport, but our experience can help them fast-track their understanding so they can apply it to their sporting careers.

“They’ve waited long enough to get this recognition. We want to help them clear a few more hurdles.” 

Christine McLoughlin is hosting a powerful group of business and sporting leaders and elite athletes at the Minerva Network website launch coinciding with a sold-out Ed Sheeran concert at ANZ Stadium, Sydney’s largest venue, on Thursday 15 March.  Sport and entertainment at its best!