By Rod Gilmour
Sally Munday, England Hockey’s chief executive, has revealed her intentions to see through the growth of hockey in the UK after turning down the opportunity to apply for the vacant role at the International Hockey Federation (FIH).
Munday told The Hockey Paper that the world governing body had spoken to her regarding the chief executive position in Lausanne after Jason McCracken left the FIH less than a year into the job.
She said: “There was a conversation had with me about whether I would be interested in the role and the answer was ‘no’. It is the question in the last month I have been asked the most but I did not apply for the job.”
Munday, one of eight female CEOs at UK Sport-funded governing bodies, then outlined a passionate stance of staying within the game by bringing hockey to a wider UK audience on the back of Olympic women’s gold and ahead of next year’s launch of the global Hockey Pro League.
She said: “I care deeply about this game. I’ve been a player, coach, team manager and administrator since I was 14. I care deeply about what it’s given me as a human being, the massive influence it’s had on me and on the person I am today.
“It’s [hockey] truly dual gender. We care about ethics and people. People joke about ‘The Hockey Family’. But we are serious about that due to the kind of people it attracts and those are genuinely decent people.”
Speaking at England Hockey’s headquarters in Bisham Abbey, she added: “I care about the sport’s future. I think I can have a good enough influence sat here and I don’t think I need to be the CEO of the FIH to have the influence to take the game forwards.”
Munday, who was also speaking before Thierry Weil, a former Fifa and Adidas executive, was announced as McCracken’s successor by the FIH on Tuesday, added: “It’s a critical role and the FIH has had a difficult few months with key staff leaving, there’s no hiding from that.”
Women’s World Cup in London aside, the focus for Munday is the Pro League – the home-and-away format which will involve GB men and women competing in two leagues of nine – and her vision to get eyeballs on the sport and new fans into the game, rather than rely on one-off Tests and meaningless trophy tournaments.
For the last nine years since she took up her position at England Hockey, the question most conveyed to Munday is how to get the sport on TV on a consistent basis.
From next year, the Pro League will give a six-month window from January to June on television. And Munday is naturally revelling in the prospect of a consistent set of matches locked down in the calendar, similar to, say, the Six Nations dates, the Lord’s Tests or Wimbledon, where sports fans know these weekends from yore.
“People will know when they can watch our sport at the same time every year,” said Munday. “We can grow our fan base every year due to the regularity of top level hockey being on TV. On the back of that we will see growth in the domestic game.”
With the FIH holding the rights to the Pro League, discussions are also taking place with a number of broadcasters with a decision expected next month on which UK broadcaster will screen the games.
The BT Sport commitment runs through to the end of 2018, which includes the men’s World Cup in December, but Munday expects a competitive fight as to who lands the Pro League rights, be it satellite or free-to-air.
“The Hockey Pro League has created massive interest across the world. The way it’s broadcast now is hugely appealing and what the Pro League gives is the regularity and the increase in appointments to view and a story of a beginning, middle and end which is what they want.”
Munday … On the domestic product
“We would love to have a domestic product that attracts a decent audience and people turning up and paying to watch. It benefits the clubs. Big numbers at the clubs means conversations with broadcasters. At the moment, they laugh in conversations about the domestic competition. We simply don’t get enough people watching. Some say whether the level of the domestic game is good enough. That’s not the answer. The level is good enough. What they want to show is a fan base enjoying the game.
“We know from the research what hockey consumers want. They want parking, easy access, a seat under cover, the whole family experience. They want what we are trying to provide at international level. The reality is that clubs struggle to attract big numbers. If we can help clubs develop the ability to provide the consumer with the experience over time then I can see us evolving our domestic game.”
On holding GB matches outside London
In the short term, says Munday, Great Britain’s matches in the Pro League will be held at Lee Valley. But Munday revealed that cities have also enquired as to hosting matches, with Nottingham, Manchester and Birmingham mooted.
“Take Birmingham. They are doing some very interesting development around the Commonwealth Games. We are saying not to think from a temporary point of view but what we could do permanently in Birmingham which would then be able to develop an audience week in week out. If we could generate eight of these venues across the country and be able to provide to the consumer with what they want, then we are in a very different place. But it will take time.”
On club environment watching top teams
“This is something we have to develop and for me there would be a danger in going back to club teams playing at the same time. The reality is that people want to play on their own terms. There needs to be flexibility. There is too much choice in society these days. They need hockey and the sport they play to fit in with the rest of their life. What we’re seeing is that the clubs that are providing the most flexibility and variety of offer, like walking hockey, summer hockey, are the clubs that are growing and thriving.”