After starting his working life as an accounting graduate working in the construction trade, MSc Sports Management student Conor Walsh found UCFB to begin his career in the sports industry. Here, Conor tells us about his time living in the US, what he enjoys about UCFB and his excitement at upcoming trips to Qatar and Iceland as part of his Masters programme…

Good to meet you Conor. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a student at UCFB?  

Thanks for having me. Yes, so my path here perhaps has not been the most straight forward. Having graduated with a BA in Law and Accounting from the University of Limerick, I departed for San Francisco where I resided for the last year and a half which was a magnificent experience. There I worked in the construction trade as a project manager whilst also working in events and football coaching.

Growing up I harboured aspirations like many others to become a professional footballer. Once I realised the dream was over my emphasis soon shifted on to working in the football industry. It was only however during the World Cup last summer that I decided to take a leap of faith and truly go about achieving so.

Considering my prior background, I believed I needed to attain an education which would facilitate me in gaining the necessary expertise to work in the football industry. Given the unique curriculum, location and expert tuition on hand, UCFB stood out for me clearly above the rest and therefore I was naturally only delighted to have had my application accepted for the Masters programme.

You worked at the 2018 Football Business Awards in November. How was the event? And what was your role there?  

The awards were a fantastic experience. I was part of the interview team helping to prepare questions put to the various winners on the night. I also was given the responsibility to debrief them before the interview which allowed me to lock horns with the likes of Tony Adams, Garth Crooks, Ed Chamberlain and Hayley McQueen among others.

It was great to gain insights from many of the key stakeholders in the footballing industry and practice some networking skills! Meeting Tony Adams who was in attendance to receive his award for the excellent work he has done at Sporting Chance in particular was a highlight as he is so well spoken. I have been in touch with the awards committee since and I now believe UCFB and the Football Business Awards will collaborate on some projects going forward in the future.

Tell us about your upcoming UCFB trip to Qatar. What will you be doing there and who are you going with?

At the end of January, both lecturers heading up the International Football Business programme, Jason Stephens and Gustavo Spanholi, are leading 24 of us students to Doha for a week! During our time there we will visit several of the World Cup stadiums, meet members of the Supreme Legacy committee, visit the world renowned Aspire Academy, take in a Qatar Stars League match and meet PSG’s head of finance. It will certainly be the trip of a lifetime and we all cannot wait.

Given all the coverage Qatar has been getting of late, it will be good to gain an objective insight from the key stakeholders involved and witness some of the projects in action.

And then Iceland in March…

Yes, so I will be visiting Iceland in March to conduct research on my dissertation. The dissertation will look at how essential it is for clubs and organisations to implement good, sustainable corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices within their local communities. Whilst in Reykjavik I will meet with the KSI (Iceland’s FA) and representatives from Stjarnan, Breiðablik, KR Reykjavik and Fylkir to learn more about the wonderful work they carry out in their communities.

It will be particularly fascinating to learn more about the theory behind the “football domes”, it’s stellar coaching courses and high participation levels throughout the country. They are certainly a nation who are fighting against the status quo. The end goal of my research is to substantiate evidence as to how best transmit best practices like these throughout the UK, Ireland and beyond.

How do you feel these trips will benefit your studies? And how do you think they will impact your work experience and future career prospects? It sounds like they are both great opportunities for networking.

Some say it is just an excuse to travel! But seriously, I think it is just a matter of reaching out. Here in the UK and Ireland we are a bit narrow-minded in our approach and outlook. We must not forget football is the world’s game and therefore resist confining our depth of knowledge to just that of the domestic game. I have found through my short experience to date that when I do in fact contact these various people and organisations worldwide that they are only delighted to answer any of my questions and impart any knowledge.

As evidenced by England’s memorable World Cup campaign, manager Gareth Southgate was quite open regarding adopting NFL strategies within the national team setup. Given its global attraction, the industry is continuously growing in conjunction with the onset of new technologies and innovations. Never more so have organisations been clamouring for that cutting edge and that all crucial decision making factor. The opportunities are endless so therefore I think it is essential to connect and network with as many people as possible.

The MLS recently announced its plans to expand beyond 28 teams, with December’s Cup final recording major viewership growth. As an MSc Sports Management student, how do you think soccer in the US is developing and what do you attribute this growth in popularity to?

I think it is wonderful to see its growth and development. From my experience in the US I think they place a little too much emphasis on the theoretical side of the game and therefore it appears somewhat a bit too “structured”. There have also been some disparities between the US Soccer Federation and many MLS clubs as to the correct development of young players. However, given the US are pioneers in elite athlete development, advanced sporting technology and with the immense playing population at their disposal I think it is a question of when not if they will be a world footballing power. Exciting prospects such as Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Timothy Weah and Giovanni Reyna are set to dominate the world stage for years to come.

Having witnessed the rise of Los Angeles FC and Atlanta United among others, the main thing both projects have in common is that both have deeply embedded themselves in their respective communities and subsequently attained a unique fan base. It is exciting to see the league’s expansion, and with the likes of Ian Ayre lending his expertise to Nashville and David Beckham’s InterMiami continuing to evolve, the league is set to enjoy an unprecedented decade of growth.