A window into the working worlds of people from across the sports industry now that nothing is as it was.
Marloes Sturkenboom is Head of Acquisitions and Content Rights at ESPN (formerly Fox Sports), part of The Walt Disney Company Benelux, where she has a dual role coordinating the negotiation of broadcast rights for platforms in the Netherlands and Sub-Saharan Africa and overseeing the domestic and global media sales of the international media rights to the Eredivisie, the Netherlands’ top football league. She lives in the Dutch city of Utrecht with her partner, Danny.
How are you feeling now on a scale of 1-10?
8.5. I feel blessed that all of my loved ones are in good health. Another personal highlight is that I am currently six months pregnant! As it probably was for the most of us in this business, it has been quite the year from a professional point of perspective. During the first Covid-19 outbreak, the Eredivisie was one of the first leagues in Europe to be cancelled. But we returned in August with the very successful ‘Eredivisie Comeback’, which was a series of pre-season friendlies. This provided our production and operational colleagues the opportunity to work on all new Covid protocols for the start of the actual season.
We have also introduced a new unique kick-off time slot which allows us to serve the fans even better: Saturday 4:30pm. Before, all Eredivisie matches on Saturday were played later during the evening. This has been well received by clubs as well as our audience.
What makes me tick at the moment is the prep-work that I am doing with a lovely team of people on a big tender process for rights acquisitions to enhance our Dutch business. These tender processes are always exciting times!
I do have a hard time missing my colleagues. I haven’t seen many of them for months – having a coffee, talking about how their vacation was or how the kids are doing at school, is something that would normally be part of my daily routine. Currently all conversation are so super-effective. I only speak to someone on the phone, whenever there’s issues to solve. The fact that one doesn’t coincidently bump into someone else in the elevator or at the coffee machine deducts 1.5 points. Therefore: 8.5.
Who was the last person you spoke to before me?
I just got off the phone with IMG’s Michael Mellor [SVP, Head of Football] and Jake Harkins [Business Development Director, Football] during a monthly catch up. IMG is our long-term international reselling partner for the Eredivisie rights. We talked about the latest COVID-restrictions imposed by the Dutch government and how this potentially could effect the progress of the competition. Apart from a small number of postponements at the start, so far we have been able to play all of our fixtures.
How have things changed since Covid? How has your employer adapted?
I have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic in March. The pandemic has been a technological equaliser; there was no choice but to adapt to the situation. I hope the best practices will live on. Meaning a more agile way of working. With the greater use of video conferences, I don’t think business travel is ever going to be exactly the same. However, not being able to see my colleagues every day makes me realise how valuable that was. Besides, I find the in-person interaction a critical part of my work. Also – for me as an extravert – I truly miss being at the office with my co-workers or at conventions meeting our business colleagues.
Not being able to see my colleagues every day makes me realise how valuable that was. I find the in-person interaction a critical part of my work.
The Walt Disney Company Benelux has focused on our wellbeing from the start. I am amazed how quickly the organisation adapted to the ongoing challenges and supports the staff in all possible ways. Recently, we rebranded our FOX Sports channels into ESPN in the Netherlands. Normally, this calls for the project team being at the same place at the same time. It has been an outstanding performance from our marketing and digital team, managing the creative process and overseeing the complete transformation of our digital platform under the current circumstances.
Where do you work? What’s the environment like?
Most of the time I sit at the dinner table with my laptop. I do have the ambition to vary my work spot from time to time, just to work in a different setting and with other impulses. We were lucky that we were able to transform our closet room into a home office. We can work quietly if we need the space or have confidential meetings.
Who do you share your ‘home office’ with?
I live together with my partner, Danny Melger. You might know him, as he works in the television business as well. Danny is a television director on projects like the UEFA Champions League. That means he’s is normally out of the house most nights of the week. During the first lockdown all sporting events were cancelled, which resulted in us having dinner together at our dining table like proper grown-ups more often than ever before. We are both very passionate about our jobs. It’s a big plus we have a greater understanding of the business and can support each other also on a professional level.
How have you changed as a manager? As a person?
I believe mainly this period has required us all to be supportive of one another, as we all face uncertainty. Beyond that we need to stay connected with purpose and as a community. Whether it is within our company, or with external relations – but also with family, friends, neighbours and so on.
As a person I think I have become more conscious of the impact of living our lives on a global scale. We must focus on a more sustainable future. As much as I love travelling – our lives shifted to the care and support available locally. I am more aware of the impact, and what is happening in my close surroundings. There are various initiatives like ‘support your local’. With all the – small – retailers now being closed, I am dedicated to invest wherever I can in the local economy. Also, I consciously take more time to reflect on business decisions but also on my personal life and future role as a mother with a passion for a career in sports.
I believe mainly this period has required us all to be supportive of one another, as we all face uncertainty. Beyond that we need to stay connected with purpose and as a community.
Early mornings or late nights?
I am definitely a morning person! But I am also up for a great dinner party at night.
How do you focus?
There are two things that help me focus: setting goals (and stay on task), and taking breaks – preferably outdoors. Some days I have Zoom call fatigue or nothing seems to be going as planned. Then it is extra nice to fall back on my to-do list. In that way I feel that I am still in control of the workload. The breaks to me are crucial, to have some fresh air and reset my mind.
How do you cope with stress?
Normally I would go for a good run. I have been into marathon running before – Amsterdam 2013, and New York City 2014. However, since I am pregnant this has changed into a stroll in the park. The most essential and powerful way for me to keep stress check is yoga. It boosts my ability to concentrate and be calm. This also resonates at the workplace. My practice brings me the necessary mindfulness and reflection I need to keep developing myself. Overall, it improves resilience, something we can all use in times like these.
How do you unwind?
Having a – social-distanced – drink with my friends or taking long baths.
Who do you consider your mentor to be?
I feel lucky to be surrounded by a great group of people who I consider as my ‘board of advisors’. I am not sure whether they know they exist as a collective group. Part of this group are my partner, my parents, my cousin and a few business friends. I can count on each and every one of them individually when I need advice, both in my career as in my personal life. It helps me navigate through challenges as I learn from their diverse perspectives and experiences. The conversations are always helpful and so insightful. Next to my ‘personal board’, I truly admire Anita Elberse. I had the honour to participate in her class the ‘Business of Entertainment Media Sports’ in 2019. She is an inspiration for many, being the youngest female full professor at the Harvard Business School. Her energy is contagious. And, even though she works with world class stars, she still stays very humble and grounded.
What one thing will you take with you into the ‘new normal’?
Working in the media industry, there has never been a 9-5 mentality. However, I think we all experienced the benefits of being flexible at work. I hope to keep this flexibility managing my career in combination with motherhood.
Who are you speaking to next?
I will speak to our local Diversity and Inclusion team, in which I actively take part. The Walt Disney Company has a priority to foster an environment where everyone feels heard, supported and, most importantly, where these issues can be discussed openly. We are working on a number of initiatives to encourage education, promote honest conversation and ensure that resources are available for those looking for additional support. I feel highly committed to be part of this important dialogue, moreover because I have a multi-ethnic family and especially for the future of my unborn daughter.