This week’s guest on The Game Changers podcast is Jonathan Licht, the managing director of Sky Sports.
After starting his career at Eurosport, Licht joined Sky in 1998. He was appointed Sky Sports managing director last year, and is leading the company into its fourth decade of operation.
Sky Sports has been committed to high-quality women’s sports coverage for decades, first broadcasting women’s cricket in June 1996. Eight years later, it became the first broadcaster to show netball.
It is now the Women’s Super League’s primary broadcaster, and also shows women’s golf, basketball and boxing.
During his time at Sky, Licht has overseen a number of initiatives that have made a significant impact on the profile of women’s sport, particularly in cricket, netball, golf and football.
“I think to say we’ve come a long way, you need to be a little bit careful that you’re not dismissing a lot of very important and strong work,” he said.
“But I do think there has been a significant change at Sky Sports. Again, I’d be a little bit careful, but in my mind, I can probably see that real sort of fundamental difference over the last five to seven years.
“I talked about the verticals and channels and when we made that change, I think it became a lot clearer what we were and weren’t doing with certain sports.
“I think at that point, our desire and responsibility to better reflect our audiences, to better reflect the sporting landscape, was much more in demand.
“As I say, we do have very long-standing commitments for women’s sports. I think it would be difficult to argue that it was centre all through our 30 year history, but not to dismiss a lot of work that was done.”
Sky Sports also showcases the best female presenters in sports broadcasting, including Bela Shah, Hayley McQueen and Jessica Creighton.
Unfortunately, these presenters are often subject to unwarranted criticism and social media abuse, an issue which Licht addressed.
“It’s part of the story we want to tell that this is not acceptable. We are going to be part of something that’s more positive. We’re going to be part of something that’s going to make a change.
“Although let’s not make a big deal out of it, because just a basic standard, people shouldn’t have to deal with this nonsense. It’s not my reality, but I’m very aware that unfortunately it’s a lot of people’s realities, and it’s just not acceptable.”
Licht did admit that he hoped there was less backlash towards female presenters in sport than in the past.
“I have to believe that that is absolutely the case,” he said. “Clearly, there are gonna be voices, but the voices that we are trying to ignore, you know, that will always just be out there hating or whatever you’re doing.
“People don’t come on social media to tell us we’re doing a wonderful job. It would be nice if they did, but we’re kind of over that that’s not the case. So we’re just blocking that out.
“But, we just know with the calibre of people that we are employing, we are fortunate enough to show some of the most significant global sports rights there are, and how we present that is as good pound-for-pound as anyone in the world.
“It’s always been something that we’ve been very proud of, and how we’ve evolved the people that are presenting it and making them representative, there aren’t questions in my mind about the quality of the people that we are engaging.
“Everyone that is on Sky Sports is on because they’re excellent and they’re deserving of that opportunity.”
Licht praised the attitude towards women’s sport at Sky Sports, arguing the “right reasons” were behind the company’s approach towards increasing visibility and coverage.
“My bosses talk to us and say, ‘what do you want to be famous for as a team?’ Who wouldn’t want to be famous for bringing positive change to sport in this country?
“Who wouldn’t want to be famous for making sport more accessible, for encouraging more people to engage, to watch, to attend. It becomes a no brainer.
“I am pretty confident in the leadership team at Sky Sports, that people are coming about it for the right reasons, because they want to be part of something positive, because they see the opportunity, because it’s the right thing for us to be doing.
“And I can genuinely say it is something that we are talking about almost constantly – what more can we be doing? How can we be supportive?
“I know for some people that’s can be quite difficult to believe because they say, ‘okay, where’s the action’. There is action, but there can always be more action.
“We take it very seriously, personally and collectively, and we see it as a really big opportunity. We are not going to be taking backwards steps.”
Licht ended the interview by urging others in the industry to work with Sky Sports to promote women’s sport.
“I hope some people want to be a part of that,” he said. “Collaborate, partner, engage, come and see us, invite us in. Let’s act collectively as an industry and let’s encourage each other, and bring each other along.”