INTERVIEW VoL .2 The Football Association (FA)

The Football Association (FA) Manager - Licensing

Michael Lees

Pacific League Marketing (PLM) and The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management in the Isenberg School of Management have entered into a global partnership focused on delivering consulting and education services to Japanese sports stakeholders since 2020.

The McCormack Department of Sport Management is the second oldest sports management program in the world and has been ranked #1 in the world for five of the last six years. As a part of the partnership, McCormack interviewed notable alumni of the school who are involved in the front lines of sports business around the world, to gather insights regarding their careers and their business.


Tell us a little about you!  

I grew up in Kent, the garden of England, just south east of London. I’ve always loved to travel, whether that be with family, weekend getaways with friends or backpacking through Central America, for me being in a foreign environment is the perfect space to be able to gather my thoughts and reflect. I’ve lived and worked in the UK, USA and Spain, but I’m now based back in London and loving life here!


Can you tell me what your job is?  What do you do?  

My current role is Licensing Partnerships Manager at The Football Association (The FA). I essentially manage relationships with our existing licensees as well as looking for new licensing opportunities across physical and digital products. Given the success of the England teams over the last 4 years, the demand for the England brand (more specifically, the England crest) has been huge. Whether that be across retro football shirts, novelty souvenir products, or gaming related deals, we are continually approached by new companies who would like to do a licensing deal with us. A large part of my job is building relationships with our licensees to ensure they are able to get the most of out their agreement with us, but to also to build relationships with retailers and Fanatics (who manage our ecomm and physical Wembley store) in order to get our licensee’s products into physical and online retail. A lot of my time right now is spent preparing for renewals of existing licensing deals as we are approaching Dec ’22 when several of them are expiring, so we want to make sure we have a new deal agreed around 6 months ahead of that date. We also have to work closely with Nike and other large partners to ensure that the rights we are granting to other companies do not infringe on anything they are doing. For example, if we had a brand approach us asking to take a license for performance apparel we would obviously not pursue that deal as Nike are our core brand partner with all the exclusive rights in those areas. A couple of our big deals with brands that the audience will most likely know are EA Sports (FIFA), Konami (Pro Evo Soccer), Panini (trading cards, stickers, digital collectibles), and Elms (name and number printing for physical shirts).


Tell me about your career path so far.  How did you land this job? 

I started out working in the sports licensing industry with a company called Hy-Pro International. The business had a lot of big name licenses (such as The FA, FC Barcelona, Chelsea FC, EURO 2016, Rugby World Cup 2015, the list goes on) for which we sourced and distributed several merchandise categories. After a couple of years there, I was itching to go overseas again having spent my third year of university in Madrid, Spain, so I decided to apply for the prestigious Sports Management Masters program at UMass. That year in Amherst set me up perfectly to jump back into the industry with renewed energy, and it allowed me to meet another alum, Mike Lunardelli, who was setting up an international division within his merchandise org at Spartan. I spent just shy of four years at Spartan, initially working from their Boston office but subsequently moving back to the UK, and have only recently left the company. Despite Covid causing havoc for the last couple of years, Spartan was able to pivot to online events and develop a strong e-commerce presence, I’ll always look back on my time there with fond memories. I’ve recently started in my new position of Licensing Partnerships Manager at The FA, the governing body of English Football headquartered at Wembley Stadium. I worked with The FA closely at Hy-Pro a few years prior, and had tried to stay close to that industry where I could. I actually saw the hiring manager post the position on LinkedIn and reached out to chat through the sort of candidate she was looking for, a few rounds of interviews later and I landed my dream job.


Those who want to get into sports would find your career path inspiring, so any unique stories you could share would also be appreciated.

When I was working at Hy-Pro International, I was able to travel to some epic places and events. ISPO in Munich, UEFA’s offices in Switzerland, went to the first England game at EURO 2016 in Marseilles. At Spartan, one of the first projects I worked on within the merchandise department was our World Championship event in Lake Tahoe. We designed a huge retail activation that we built and tore down in a matter of days that delivered over $500,000 USD in sales across a single weekend. Leading that project is one of my proudest achievements to date. I think the lesson from all of these opportunities is to build trust with your team and line manager so that you can be trusted to lead projects and represent the business wherever they need you.


Why did you choose to work in sports? 

I always loved playing sports from a very young age and I’ve always loved attending live sporting events. In my opinion, nothing comes close to the atmosphere created at live events. The sportswear side of the industry was also something that really interested me due to how culturally relevant the likes of Nike, Adidas, Reebok, etc. were becoming throughout my childhood. When I was coming towards the end of my undergraduate degree I stumbled across a job opening at Hy-Pro International in sports licensing and it felt like the stars aligned for me.

I co-founded a local sports event in my home county of Kent, called Sports Fest. This is an annual event that we host to raise funds for charity that takes place across the 3 day public holiday at the end of August. We normally have around 100 people attending the event either as participants or spectators. This has been the perfect way to combine my passion and some great charitable causes that we raise funds for, we actually raised over £12,000 for the National Health Service during the first Covid lockdown in the UK which is something I’m extremely proud of. I also wanted to experience launching my own product and brand, so I started FORME Shaker with a friend of mine. This is a modern take on a product that hasn’t changed much since its inception, the protein shaker. If you are struggling to get into the specific area you want to be within sports then never rule out trying to do something yourself to gain experience.


What makes working in sports appealing? 

Firstly, It’s so culturally important. It can’t be considered in isolation from other industries. It impacts music, fashion, politics, and so many other areas of the modern world. Being involved in an industry that impacts these areas is really appealing to me. Secondly, sport is at the forefront of innovation, look at NFTs as an example, sports related NFTs are pretty much all people are talking about right now and although most will probably fail they are still driving the space forward. Thirdly, being close to the live action as I mentioned previously is tough to beat.


What is the hard part of working in sports?

During a non-Covid world, having been working in the events side of the industry for the last few years I would say it is the early starts and long hours when working at events. For my new role at The FA, I guess I’ll have to come back to you on that one as it is a little early to say 🙂


What advice or message would you give to others looking to work in sports?

Get involved in events to gain experience. Apply to volunteer at small or large sporting events wherever you’re from. I worked at The Open (golf) and the ICC Champions Trophy (cricket) one summer. It’s a great way to get a feel for the industry and to start meeting people. Which leads me on to the network. Sports, like any industry, tends to feel like a small world at times so make sure you start to connect with people early on and that you develop and maintain relationships where you can. Be a “yes” person, at least at the start. No task should ever be beneath you particularly when you do get your foot in the door, but even as you progress. Finally, to stay up to date with what’s going on in the global world of sports you should sign up for a few different sports industry newsletters.



interviewed by Takehiko Nakamura


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