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The LEGACY Issue: Women in Sport: Matchday live’s new generation

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Featured image: Ellie Wright

Every Wednesday, rain or shine, a dedicated team of students travel down to their studio in Fallowfield to begin a day of sports broadcasting. There’s an undeniable energy in the air as players and coaches bustle in and out of the studio in between games.

Two presenters discuss their script before sending it to the autocue while reporters pace the touchlines of the pitches at Platt Lane wrapped up in their official Matchday Live coats, ready to grab a player for a post-match interview at a moment’s notice. But here’s a thing: most of the team working on the sports livestream Matchday Live are women.

In October 2022, the Matchday Live project was launched as an opportunity for students to get experience in live sports broadcasting. Based at the Manchester Met sports hub in Platt Lane in Rusholme, the project offers students a double entry point into sports broadcasting — either down the technical route, operating cameras, balancing sound and vision mixing, or as sports journalists: interviewing players, making preview features, reporting on games or possibly commentating on live games. Either way, Matchday Live mirrors exactly the fast-paced thrill of live broadcasting.

Second-year Journalism student Verity Marchant is one of the Matchday Live team. She’s worked on a variety of sports this season as a presenter, camera operator and also as a football commentator. Although she feels there is a lot of pressure in sports TV for women to be perfect, Verity thinks Matchday Live is equipping her with the essential skills for working in the industry.

“You see it all the time, especially in men’s football, where if a woman makes a mistake, social media can get flooded with people using it as an example of why women shouldn’t be involved in men’s sport,” she says. “If a man makes the same mistake, most people just see the funny side of it. If they do start slating them, it’s only ever based on their ability, which is a fair opinion to have, rather than their gender. I see it a lot so I’m really aware of it, but I don’t feel like there is this pressure at Matchday Live.

“We’re all learning as we go. It helps to know that when I finish uni, I know what I’m doing and I will have that confidence going into the industry. I have just as much skill and experience as anyone else there.”

In the last decade, audiences have grown considerably for women’s sports, especially with the success of England’s Lionesses and the huge strides forward taken by women’s football. The average viewing time per person for women’s sports on TV in the UK rose by 131% in 2022, according to the Women’s Sport Trust.

Matchday Live is helping to promote this further by covering university sport: men’s and women’s rugby, football and basketball, with YouTube views reaching upwards of 2,000 on each livestream. A new all-female social media team has begun sharing Instagram reels from the basketball, hitting 7,000 views for one post.

Livestreams have become especially important for promoting women’s sports and creating opportunities for women to break into the industry. Ellie Gregory is a music and sound design student who has worked the sound desk at Matchday Live since the start of the academic year. She says the role has given her the experience needed to catch the eyes of potential employers.

This season Ellie engineered a Matchday Live first, when a ‘ref-mic’ was added just before an MMU Women’s rugby match, allowing viewers to hear the decisions made by the referee. Ellie was the woman behind this. Although she described it as challenging, she is proud of the work she has learned to do.

“It was great having that opportunity because before when we streamed rugby, we never got to hear the referee explaining his decisions to the players, so coming up with a way to do it has been exciting. And it’s great working in a team that embraces any chance to make their coverage better. The ref had heard about what we’re doing at Matchday Live and brought his own mic!”

A sentiment shared among students working on the show is how the experience and knowledge they have gained has helped them grow in confidence, especially the female crew members. In a report by Women in Sport, 60% of girls said they wanted to see equal media coverage of women’s and men’s sports. And when newspapers are filled with ex-footballers sounding off about female commentators reporting on the men’s game, it becomes even more important for women to gain experience in their chosen career fields, as they may not have had the opportunity before.

Recently, ex-footballer Joey Barton claimed that women only got jobs as football presenters because TV companies had “quotas to fill and boxes to tick”, but the talented team at Matchday Live shows he is way off the mark. Matchday Live is helping women wanting broadcasting experience of any type, and helping them further their careers by giving them a taste of what’s needed in TV sport.

Asked for her view on Joey Barton’s comments, Verity shrugs. “Part of me doesn’t care and part of me is really angry,” she says. “Personally, I’ve never doubted myself or my ability to make it in such a male-dominated industry, especially now I actually have the skills from Matchday Live. But when big names in sport can sit and say the kind of stuff they do about women, it’s annoying knowing that there’s people like that I’ll always be trying to prove wrong along the way.”

At Matchday Live this season, the majority of roles are staffed by women. Dorthe Berger, a second year Journalism student, is one of the faces of the programme. Along with colleagues such as Verity, Amelia Tatford and Reza Rezamand, Dorthe is a regular presenter, introducing the action and interviewing players and coaches.

“I think Matchday Live is definitely going to help me break through into the industry by giving me valuable experience and practice. I’ve actually never thought about sports journalism as a male-dominated industry, because I have always been interested in sports since I was little and that’s also when I started to see more female presenters on the screen and more female names connected to sports journalism.

“In the first year of Matchday Live there was a lack of girls, but I am very happy to have more this year. I will say there is more equal representation of both genders. I think all of the contributors have found what they prefer to do and help each other to achieve their best both on and off the screen.”

Along with presenting the live streams, Dorthe and Verity were part of the three-woman team of Journalism students – with fellow presenter Amelia Tatford – that launched Matchday Live’s first podcast, Matchday Live Extra. Dorthe says, “I joined the podcast team because I wanted to contribute to broadening the coverage of the university sports and get even more skills that I can use in the industry. We are taught how to make podcasts in the classroom and we all thought: ‘Well, this is the ideal opportunity.’”

Matchday Live closed its doors for the 2023-24 season shortlisted for an Educate North award for innovation, well-deserved recognition for the efforts of Technical Specialist Sam Heitzman, who built the studio at Platt Lane and Matchday Live editor Vince Hunt who runs the editorial side. With female students recognising the valuable experience the show offers them in actual sports coverage, the challenge is to get more women behind the cameras and microphones of Matchday Live to build a legacy on the mainstream sports programmes and TV screens of the future – a generation of women in sport who learned the ropes on the touchline at Platt Lane in Manchester.

If you want to be involved in Matchday Live next season, email Sam Heitzman on s.heitzman@mmu.ac.uk and state whether you want editorial or technical experience.

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Felicity Hitch

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