Sporting memories, biggest influences and changing the industry: Getting to know the New Era class of 2022

Last month, SportsPro unveiled the inaugural class of 12 businesswomen that will take part in its New Era programme, a new initiative dedicated to driving greater gender equality and representation in the sports industry.

Comprising of individuals working across a diverse range of companies in the sports industry, spanning rights holders and broadcasters to brands and service providers, the New Era class of 2022 was whittled down from more than 250 applications during a thorough review process.

The class of 2022 are now embarking on a 12-month professional enhancement programme which will see them gain access to dedicated coaching time and introductions to the 13 members of the New Era steering group, which is made up of sports industry professionals working at organisations such as the Olympic Channel, Six Nations Rugby and Fifa.

After unveiling the class of 2022, SportsPro caught up with the successful applicants to learn more about their journey in the sports business to date, as well as to ask about their first sporting memories, biggest career influences and what changes they would make to the industry.

Laura McDonnell

EU Sponsorship Manager, Amazon

Even though I’d loved sport all my life, it didn’t initially occur to me that I could build a career in it. I started out in consumer PR and learned a lot, but without feeling much passion for the projects I worked on until one of my clients became a partner of London 2012. That’s when it clicked that I could combine my love of sport with my career in marketing.

I gained some great experience at a cycling-focused PR agency before  broadening into more sports and wider marketing disciplines at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment. That’s really where I learned everything I know about sponsorship and the sports industry. Now I’ve taken all that knowledge brand-side at Amazon, joining right at the start of our sport sponsorship journey.

I had my biggest achievement in my last year at M&C Saatchi S&E, leading Dreams’ Team GB and ParalympicsGB campaigns for Tokyo and Beijing. It was the perfect combination of some really collaborative and trusting clients, together with a very committed agency team and brilliant creative work from our studio.

First sporting memory: My family are huge cycling fans so Eurosport’s road cycling TV coverage is in the background of a lot of my earliest memories. But my strongest memory of getting really immersed in sport was watching Euro 96 – including buying Three Lions as a CD single, which I still have.

Biggest influence on my career to date: I’d say the biggest has been Helen Yiend. Hels interviewed me for my role at M&C Saatchi S&E and led the O2 team, which was my first big account there. An absolute superwoman who blazed the trail for all of us who followed her into the sport team, she has been and continues to be an inspiration and a huge personal support to me.

One change I would make to the sports industry: I’d fill it with more female voices and make that not seem so remarkable. And that’s what we’re hoping to do on this programme!

Shikha Tandon

Director, Partnerships, Svexa

My current role is director, partnerships at Svexa (Silicon Valley Exercise Analytics), an exercise intelligence company that enables sports to optimise training, recovery, and performance by providing exercise and health insights. In addition, I’m a consultant at Ladderworks, a publishing startup, on strategic business initiatives related to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the mission to empower over a million children to become social entrepreneurs.

I also serve on the advisory board for a non-profit organisation, Bridges of Sports, that leverages sport as a tool for social development and provides athletic training programmes for children from tribal and underserved communities in India. Plus, I’m a mentor at the Women in Sports Tech (WiST) and South Asians in Sport (SAIS) organisations.

In 2004, I was the only swimmer to represent India at the Olympics in Athens. For my achievements in sport, I received the Arjuna Award from the President of India and have won 37 international medals for my country.

First sporting memory: As a kid, I was afraid of water and swimming was not my favourite activity. I learned to swim at the age of eight and won my first national medal (bronze) a year after. After the medal ceremony I started crying, because I didn’t like the red colour of the ribbon on the bronze medal, and wanted the yellow colour that was on the gold medal.

Biggest influence on my career to date: I’ve been fortunate to work with and be supported by some incredible people that have believed in me and given me a chance to pursue my interests. Through my entire career, my family has been my biggest cheerleader.

One change I would make to the sports industry: I’d like to see more former athletes, especially women, come into work in the industry. Given the global nature of sports, having participation and perspective from those that have experienced the journey first-hand will only enhance its growth.

Allie Dinsmore

Vice President, Strategy and New Business Development, Professional Fighters League

I have 11 years of partnership experience in the media and technology sectors. I am currently a vice president at the Professional Fighters League (PFL), where I lead new business development and strategic partnerships, including monetising the league’s IP across verticals and managing its new FAST channel.

Prior to the PFL, I worked on Verizon’s content strategy and acquisitions team where I managed relationships with several of Verizon’s largest content partners, including WarnerMedia, Discovery, and others. I transitioned to Verizon’s corporate strategy group to support the launch of new businesses built on Mobile Edge Computing, negotiating and maintaining relationships with some of the world’s largest technology companies.

I began my career at NBC in the Page Program and the 2012 London Olympics. I received my MBA from Columbia Business School and my undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia.

First sporting memory: I grew up in Texas, so I spent every Friday night from the age of six at my local high school’s football games. I was lucky to grow up in a community that supported its athletes from a young age.

Biggest influence on my career to date: My mother, who has achieved great professional success while staying completely true to herself.

One change I would make to the sports industry: The assumption that female sports or divisions are less worthy of investment than men’s. At the PFL’s 2022 World Championship on 25th November, the champion of our Women’s Lightweight division will earn the same prize money – US$1 million – as our male champions. This should be the standard, not the exception.

Helen Praz

Senior Manager, Content Operations and Commercial Strategy, Football Marketing Asia

My career to date has primarily been on the media side of the sports business – despite having ended up in this field out of ‘luck’!

I started my journey through the National Basketball Association (NBA) internship programme where I was placed in the media distribution team. From there I worked as a media account manager for CAA Eleven on Uefa Euro 2016 in France. I stayed on for a full rights cycle which included being part of the launch of the inaugural Uefa Nations League final, which has probably been one of the toughest yet most exciting events to be a part of in my career to date.

After another stint in basketball, I am now based in Singapore working for Football Marketing Asia in a media strategy role. Although my current role focuses primarily on the commercial side of the media business, I am looking forward to getting back in the stadium and having an opportunity to experience the live game again.

First sporting memory: Professionally, it was my first on-site experience, entering Wembley for the England v Scotland World Cup qualifier through the player tunnel after the walk out and seeing a full stadium from the pitch angle for the very first time in my life. The crowd, the lights, the atmosphere – it gave me goosebumps.

Biggest influence on my career to date: Although I have made great relationships during my career, my partner, also working in the industry himself, has been my main sounding board through the last six years. Supporting me through moments of doubt, as well as moments of success.

One change I would make to the sports industry: Like a lot of other industries, who you know often makes a difference in terms of access to opportunities. Being a smaller industry, I believe this is elevated to an extreme in sports business which may prevent great individuals from being recognised and selected for a role. I would hope for a better level playing field for job candidates to ensure the right ones get their foot through the door.

Ashlea Block

Head of Community, PlayHQ

Sport has always been central to both my professional and personal life. In my personal life, be it as a player, spectator or volunteer, sport has provided me with lifelong memories and fantastic experiences that inspired a passion to turn this into a career. 

I studied sports management at university and after graduating held roles at various national sports organisations, including eight years with Tennis Australia, where I held several roles dedicated to helping community clubs increase participation and offer great digital experiences. I am now the head of community for PlayHQ, a registration, payments and competition management platform.

At Tennis Australia, I successfully led the delivery of Book a Court, which allows tennis clubs to advertise court hire online. It resulted in millions of dollars in new revenue for local clubs, an additional 292,000 non-tennis members picking up a racquet each year, and the launch of

First sporting memory: Playing any sport I could in the backyard with my parents, mainly Aussie rules, basketball and cricket. I would make them stay outside and play with me for hours.

Biggest influence on my career to date: It’s too difficult to narrow it down to one or even a few. I would say those who have gone above and beyond to provide me with new opportunities and challenges.

One change I would make to the sports industry: I would like to change the significant administrative burden we place on volunteers, particularly in community sport. If we can do this, we will see an increase in volunteer numbers and volunteers will have the capacity to invest more time in growing participation and providing exceptional experiences.

Ojonoka Agudah

Head, Legal and Women’s Sports, Integral

I am a commercial and intellectual property lawyer in sports marketing and currently head of legal and women’s sports at Integral, a leading full-service sports management company in Nigeria.

With a passion for IP, I have built valuable experience through the years in legal and commercial affairs in sports. I have managed and advised on a broad range of commercial issues, from media rights, sponsorship, licensing, hospitality and image rights to player transfers and brand protection for sports properties. I have also been involved in managing hospitality programmes for global sports events including the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup in France, for which Integral served as the exclusive sales agent in Nigeria for the tournament’s official hospitality programme.

In my cross-functional role, I have also managed professional female athletes and I am committed to the growth of women’s sports.

First sporting memory: I can’t remember the exact match, but at a really young age, probably five or six years old, watching Ronaldo De Lima play for the Brazil national team. I remember being glued to the TV and getting goosebumps watching him glide across the pitch. That was the moment I fell in love with soccer!

Biggest influence on my career to date: My father, Alhassan Agudah. While he isn’t in the legal or sports field, he has not only always encouraged my career ambitions but influenced me in a way that has been valuable.

One change I would make to the sports industry: For diversity and inclusion to be intentional and not treated as an afterthought. For people to be able to enter the sports industry knowing that they belong in the space regardless of their background, race, gender etc.