After learning that male internationals in the rugby world earn more in a single game than a female international player earns for an entire year’s work, Emmerson Wood made it his mission to create a sports management agency dedicated to providing fair representation for female athletes.
Sports management agencies are nothing new, in fact, they have been around for a while. What is new, however, is the idea of an agency that has been specifically created based around the needs of female rugby players.
As most people know, the men’s rugby landscape is vastly different to the women’s. Almost every male player has access to an agent. Whereas in the women’s game, they are few and far between. This is predominantly because the women’s game is not yet fully professional, it is stuck in a weird middle ground where money is still an uncomfortable topic for both players and clubs.
As a result of this, Emmerson explained it is difficult for female rugby players to generate income, and therefore they receive very little attention from the agencies who are responsible for looking after them.
View this post on Instagram
“Male players dominate the attention of the company because they are bringing in the profit. When you take them out of the equation, you are left with a group of female athletes who have exceptional potential, but unfortunately are not being given what they need to excel.”
He continued to explain:
“Whilst female athletes might get a brand deal every once in a while, actually, in reality, they are very, very small fish, in a big pond brimming with sharks.”
Hunter Sports Management (HSM) is looking to change the way athletes are represented. Whilst it cannot do anything to change the amount of money the RFU and clubs invest in the players contracts, The agency is looking to change the way female rugby players are branded to ensure they get access to the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
You don’t have to look far for an example of HSM’s work in the rugby world. Emmerson and his team were responsible for securing Shaunagh Brown’s impressive deal with Umbro. Thanks to his hard work behind the scenes, Shaunagh secured a large deal with the brand to become an Umbro athlete and a brand ambassador.
View this post on Instagram
Emmerson’s interest in the women’s game comes from his experiences as a referee and also being part of his wife’s journey playing in the Allianz Premier 15s.
He took me right back to the beginning of his journey with the sport:
“Throughout my childhood, my brother and I would play rugby and at that time my sister was never allowed to go near it, because it wasn’t a game for women and that’s something that lived with me for a long time.”
As he grew up, he realised things had changed, but more work is still needed in the women’s game.
“It shocked me how little support is available to women’s rugby players in general, but specifically at the elite end.”
We got into specifics, and Emmerson mentioned he was part of a conversation where some one asked his wife, former Quins player, Holly Myers, if she was a professional rugby player. Her response to the question resonated with him and essentially summed up the current state of play in women’s rugby:
“I wasn’t a professional athlete, but I did play at the elite level.”
This is the stark reality we are still faced with in the women’s game, players are expected to play at a professional level, without being treated like one. It still astounds me how people like Simi Pam can work for the NHS, doing long and demanding hours in a hospital environment, and then be expected to train three or four times per week alongside balancing everything else that life throws at her.
Casually checking in for pre-season with a 1️⃣5️⃣5️⃣kg triple.🏋️♀️
— Bristol Bears Women (@BristolBearsW) July 6, 2021
These athletes are insane, their work rate and determination is unmatched. Then again, it is not just me who thinks this, brands are catching onto it too.
“More and more we are seeing businesses looking for ambassadors who share similar values to their brand. In a sport like women’s rugby, the players are having to work twice as hard as their male counterparts because they have to supplement their career with other forms of financial income. The values that come along with that are huge.”
Brands are slowly opening themselves up to the benefits of including female athletes and rugby players in their marketing. They understand there is an opportunity here, because not only is the game rapidly on the rise, but there is a huge gap in the women’s sporting market for these athletes to be role models for the next generation.
Also, Emmerson made an interesting point about male rugby players:
“Often, when brands speak with male players, they are so far professionalised, and media trained, that actually they don’t necessarily have a great deal of individuality and personality, which can be found by the bucket-load in the women’s game.”
As someone who has both studied and worked in branding, I tend to agree with his thoughts.
*Excluding Joe Marler’s exceptional post-match interviews of COURSE*
Women’s rugby is demonstrating a lot of promise, it is attracting a wider audience and showing that it deserves a real space in the sporting landscape. Brands are aware of this, and constantly looking for a new face who will resonate with their target market and align with their brand values. We are seeing a move away from traditional household names, and a move towards up-and-coming female rugby players like Poppy Cleall, Shaunagh Brown and Jess Breach.
View this post on Instagram
Emmerson summed it up nicely by saying:
“It’s actually a really exciting time to be involved in women’s rugby and brands are starting to recognise that more and more. Whilst it is difficult for players to generate a great deal of income, there is a high amount of scope moving forward for this to improve.”
Emmerson and the team over at Hunter Sports Management have already signed three notable female rugby players, and after only kicking things off a few months ago, and I am sure this is only the start of many, many more players following suit.