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Future Trends, Sport Business | Nov 17, 2020
A window into the working worlds of people from across the sports industry now that nothing is as it was.

Andrea Ekblad’s role is Partnerships, Acquisitions & Content Strategy at beIN Media Group.

She looks after optimising rights partnerships with the broadcaster’s top 20 rights holder partners globally, including the Premier League, IOC, LaLiga, and the NBA. This year she also produced The beINSPIRED Podcast with some of the best female athletes in the world. Andrea lives in St. Albans, UK, with her four-year-old daughter.

How are you feeling right now?

On Halloween night when lockdown was announced again here in the UK, I took it a bit hard and I was worried. But as the week went on and with school staying open, I haven’t actually felt any changes from the weeks and months before. I try to focus on the things I’m in control of. You’re asking this question just days after the positive outcome of the US election so I feel much lighter right now. I genuinely feel a shift in my mood, and I feel some sort of positive change like the tide is turning for the better. But also, to be honest, this time has been quite tough. Especially the first six months of the pandemic, with no family support for me here in the UK and no childcare. My family are back in Hungary. But looking back, having been able to go through work, smashing targets, hosting commercial workshops, producing a whole new series of podcasts, it also gave me the sense of having a super power: if I can do this now then I can do anything.

Who was the last person you spoke to before me?

It was one of about 15 beIN colleagues of mine just now on a Zoom call. We had Miami, Paris, Doha, Istanbul, Singapore and London on it.

Where you working from now?

I haven’t been to the office in central London since March and have been entirely working from home; from my flat in St Albans. During the first six months of lockdown when nursery closed for my daughter, the dining table in the living room turned into our co-working space: Pre-school exercises for my daughter that I stayed up late to curate the night before, especially in the first couple of months; and beIN partnerships headquarters for me. It’s got a little more advanced now and I’ve set up a mini office in the corner of the living room with a foldable desk, a monitor and a laptop.

“This time has been quite tough… but looking back, having been able to go through work, smashing targets, hosting commercial workshops, producing a whole new series of podcasts, it also gave me the sense of having a super power: if I can do this now then I can do anything.”

How do you feel about your work-from-home environment?

Actually when the pandemic hit I was already a champion of flexible working culture and the ethos of working from home. When my daughter was very little and I couldn’t go back to my previous role on a part-time basis, I took a mini detour from the sports industry and worked for a social media start-up. It only employed part-timers and we all worked flexibly. So I’m not entirely new to this system. In fact I brought some communication tools like Slack and a couple of others to beIN from that experience, which we are all now making really good use of. And work has been really great and understanding of everyone’s personal situation. I do miss seeing colleagues, business partners and friends in the industry. But I do see the positive impacts for the future of this era, and I think it’s completely transformational. Not only for career-driven mothers, but really for everyone.

 

How has the way you manage the business of your life changed?

Significantly. I’m a single mum, co-parenting, so some weeks are more intense than others. Before she started school in September, when I could I tried to organise the bigger workshops and conferences on the days that I didn’t have her. There were some quite comic moments as well: I was hosting an FA workshop, and just as the CEO, Mark Bullingham, logged in I was going to give some opening remarks and a bumblebee entered the living room, so I put myself on mute and took out the camera and protected my daughter from the attack – and then gracefully switched on the camera and the microphone and started the workshop as if nothing has happened! My daughter has been really great and I’m really fortunate: she actually was quite entertained for long periods of time by whatever I’d set up for her to do. On the weeks that I don’t have her, I would always have extended working days.

Andrea Ekblad with daughter, Skye, in her home office in St Albans.

 

How would you describe your work/life balance?

It’s an interesting term, and probably one we should change. It’s so inter-connected now. So many of us working in sport love our work; it’s our life, what we’re doing. But it’s important to set boundaries, which I’m yet to really crack – you know when you’re on your phone as soon as you wake up or you send off that email quickly before breakfast. But I have to say it’s been transformational to remove the everyday commute to central London; it’s removed several layers of stress. It gives you back hours of your day that you can spend now perhaps with your loved ones, but still be able to connect when you’re needed.

What does a typical day look like?

I have my daughter with me on alternate weeks, so I have two types of typical days. I love our new morning routines; weekdays aren’t such a mad rush as they used to be, where every nanosecond was calculated before to make it all work. Instead we now have time to play with a memory game or a jigsaw puzzle while I have coffee and she has her Weetabix. The walk to school is also lovely. There’s a car-free, tree-covered path where we collect acorns and various other treasures on the way there. We can talk about school or have or more relaxed conversation than we would have done before when I would have been rushing to get into central London for a meeting. On my way back, I tend to make a phone call, and then back at my desk it’s back-to-back work calls or Zoom conferences and meetings until I leave to pick her up around 3.30. Then we rush back home before 4pm and she’ll do some arts projects or watch the ipad for an hour or so before I make dinner and start the bedtime routine. And then I can log back into work from 8pm onwards. And then the days I don’t have my daughter, I do extended working days; I can login really early and do the late evening calls. Those are the days I can do workouts as well; so I would go on a morning run three times a week. Sometimes even have the luxury of reading a book with a cup of coffee in the mornings as well!

How do you think you’ve changed as a person this year?

I’ve definitely changed: the appreciation of small things, like the sense of the local; being way less distracted by outside noise and the removal of stress with planning things like trips, meetings and travel months ahead and the childcare that goes with that; developing new routines with my daughter; a lot more wholesome hobbies like painting, going camping, exploring more of the British countryside. Somerset and Norfolk are absolutely stunning. All of this has been really wonderful and it actually has been one of the best summers. I’ve also experienced the joy of unrushed cooking; reading. I’ve also had more headspace to think about the areas of the business I’d like to get more into; about what drives me and what I’m most passionate about.

How do you think you’ve changed as a professional and as a manager?

There’s been a lot of silver lining in this pandemic: it’s brought the more human side out of everyone. I think if you are ok, you’ll be a better asset to the business, and the business will thrive, so it’s really important to make sure we’re all ok. This has been an opportunity to build an even stronger bond and loyalty between teammates, colleagues, business and its employees, business and its partners – albeit the rebate discussions. And we as an industry I think have learned to show that’s ok to be vulnerable at times. And I think leadership traits like empathy, vulnerability, innovation, collaboration and positivity are way more important and relevant than they were before.

“There’s been a lot of silver lining in this pandemic: it’s brought the more human side out of everyone. I think if you are ok, you’ll be a better asset to the business, and the business will thrive, so it’s really important to make sure we’re all ok. This has been an opportunity to build an even stronger bond and loyalty between teammates, colleagues, business and its employees, business and its partners.”

How do you focus?

On my way back from school drop off on this quiet path; it’s always a great place for collecting my thoughts and for some creative thinking. After a run I’m always buzzing too. It’s a great way to start a working day. But also as a mum you get to master multitasking. Being a mother has helped me through this pandemic.

How do you cope with stress?

Sports, nature, music. These days listening to podcasts on my run is another great way to get some headspace; I usually listen to Desert Island Discs or How I Built This.

How do you unwind?

Music, cooking, wine. I curated a number of Spotify playlists. I did it before but I really upped my game during lockdown! I’m into jazz-hip hop fusion. So I’d listen to that, pour myself a glass of wine, and cook something I’ve not made before. And then I might watch a TV series with a strong female lead.

If there’s one thing that you’d take with you from this period into the ‘new normal’, what would it be?

Flexible working and working from home. I think it’ll only benefit employers and employees, so it’s win-win. I feel like we’ve been given a chance by life to do a reboot on how we work and how we live, so we should really take it wisely and bring more balance to our lives. I don’t think we’ve really cracked flexible working yet; working from home the same amount as we do is not really flexible working. We still have to crack that code. I think offices will become collaboration hubs and they’ll be used for teams getting together occasionally. I really think this is a great opportunity for employers as well because they’ve now got an opportunity to tap into a wider and more diverse pool of talent – those that maybe had challenges around childcare or location. I think we’ll be able to apply for roles that you couldn’t previously do and it’s only going to make business better. There should be a positive impact for the environment too – with all the business travel; it just couldn’t go on any longer like that. I hope we can have a more sustainable future.

Who is the next person you’re speaking to after me?

My parents, who live in Hungary. I haven’t seen them this year and I miss them very much and I try to check in on them every day.

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