Meet the Match

A Kiwi CEO Elevating Women Sports Leaders

It’s scoring a game-winning shot at the buzzer. It’s stopping an opponent just shy of the goal. It’s the camaraderie of winning the title. It’s the heart-pounding magic that we have come to associate with sport.

Julie Paterson appreciates all the splendor and effort of high-performance sport. But, she also understands that it takes commitment and behind-the-scenes efforts for athletes and sports fans to experience these moments: “You have to have the right system, running efficiently, to make sports moments magical,” she says.

As the CEO of Netball Northern Zone in New Zealand, Julie has a wide range of responsibilities, from communicating with 17 independent netball centers in her zone, to securing sponsorships, game revenue and funding, to contracting professional athletes for the Northern Mystics, a major professional netball team managed by the organization. With a decade of experience as the CEO, Julie handles an annual operating budget of $2.5 million, with nine full-time staff reporting directly to her.

As a child, Julie played netball, New Zealand’s most popular women’s sport and a rival to rugby in terms of raw numbers of participants. But, she wasn’t as interested in playing sports herself as she was in making sure sports operated efficiently so that others could play. Julie works in this capacity at Netball Northern Zone, which reaches from South Auckland to the northern parts of the island inhabited by large numbers of the indigenous Maori people.

“In my experiences, sport has been a way to empower women, especially those from poor communities,” Julie says. “But it’s challenging. We’re always thinking creatively about how to make our sport more accessible to women who can’t afford to play it, giving women a pathway to succeed in life.”

One of Julie’s concerns, therefore, is the lack of funding given to netball in comparison to New Zealand’s other sports. The proportion of funding allocated to netball is less than half of that to rugby and less than other sports with far fewer participants. Julie wants to inspire private organizations to get involved in order to develop leadership programs and expand netball’s outreach for the social and economic empowerment of women in her country.

“Commercially we secure millions of dollars less than male sports,” Julie says. “We have a very strong commercial proposition in our elite netball game through live broadcast of the competition, as well as an opportunity to tap into our vast participation base, and yet we struggle to achieve anything near equitable support from businesses or other funders.”

Through the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), Julie hopes to gain first-hand knowledge and understanding of international sports administration. Furthermore, she plans to study the best approaches and practices around the commercialization and profit development of women’s sports in the United States. Ultimately, she seeks ways to make netball more accessible, especially for Maori and Pacific Island girls and girls from underserved areas in New Zealand.

With Julie’s experience as a CEO, coupled with her desire to increase funding for women’s sports and her passion to make sport more accessible, there is no better mentor than Deborah Slaner Larkin, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation. Deborah has been working to advance women’s rights and female leadership opportunities for more than 30 years and loves encouraging aspiring female leaders. In addition, the Women’s Sports Foundation’s historical fight for equality in regards to sponsorship, pay, and media attention should offer valuable lessons for Julie as she advances the game of netball in New Zealand. Lastly, the Foundation’s Sport 4 Life program, dedicated to creating sports opportunities for girls in underserved communities, may prove especially beneficial to Julie as she tries to reach lower socio-economic regions in the North of New Zealand. We are excited to see how these two CEO’s develop a strategic plan of attack to ensure the growth of netball and the subsequent development of the girls and women who play it.

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