“Women’s sport has a really exciting future ahead” – Empower Play, Panel Discussion

“Women’s sport has a really exciting future ahead of it” – Empower Play, panel discussion

Industry leaders share their insights, while Thunder partners provide further funding for team development and broader women’s and girls’ cricket initiatives across the county.

Last week on Thursday (May 25) the Empower Play initiative – backed by the Thunder, who are headlining the T20 doubleheader for the second straight year – gave £1 from each ticket to women’s and girls’ participation programs across the Lancashire Cricket Foundation.

A key activity on the day was the hosting of two insightful panel discussions with leading figures from the world of women’s sport, who highlighted the club’s commitment to advancing the development of girls’ and women’s cricket and ensuring equality in excellence.

Moderated by Lancashire Cricket CEO Daniel Gidney, with representatives from Manchester United, global sports marketing agency Two Circles and two club partners, CMS and, the first of two panels – which you can watch in full below – gave a fascinating insight into the current status of women’s sport in the UK.

“There has never been a better time for the commercial future of women’s sport. We had another record year. “Admissions and commercial revenue are increasing and that’s extremely exciting,” said Miwa Sykes, senior consultant at global sports marketing agency Two Circles.

“We’ve seen three major trends that are helping drive this growth. The first is about developing habits in women’s sports. We’ve gone through the phase of saying that women’s sport is really inspiring to prove the demand and the audience. The second part is really about not repeating what we do for men’s sport. We work a lot with viewership data and while there is a lot of overlap in viewership between men’s and women’s sports, there is also a huge new audience that we are tapping into.

“The final point is to drive commercial growth. We look at this in different ways and the main one is sponsorship unbundling. It comes back to the point that women’s sport has tremendous value as a product in its own right. “Women’s sport has a really exciting future ahead of it,” continued Miwa.

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Annie Hale, Manchester United’s HR Director, gave a fascinating insight into the club’s approach to building the right culture, structure and diversity within the organisation. “We only started our women’s team about five years ago and have finished second in the league this season and reached the FA Cup final. “We’re really proud of the team and there’s a lot of work that goes into getting it to where it is today,” said Hale.

Hale stressed the importance of providing the two teams with equality in terms of facilities and services: “We actually redesigned the operating models to now reflect the men’s team. The women are now based in Carrington – where the men train – they eat there, they have the same nutritionists and medical teams, we have set up an academy and we have put £1million extra funding into the team for the next year. We’re just so glad everyone’s in the same place.”

CMS – official partners of Lancashire Cricket since 2022 – announced last week that it had further increased its support for the Thunder. Geraldine Ryan, a partner at the international law firm, said: “When we had the first conversation, my colleague and I were like, ‘Why on earth wouldn’t we do that?’ We can’t talk about how in our own company it is important to recognize the contribution of women at all levels and in all roles, and then not do the same in sport.

“Women’s football has seen an upswing in recent years but there is still work to be done, particularly to attract more girls from all backgrounds to football. CMS is committed to diversity and inclusion, not just within the company but throughout society.”

Manchester-based sports travel experiences provider made history in 2021 when it became Thunder’s first standalone sponsor, proudly displaying its logo on the front of the team’s game jerseys. Amanda Brandariz, Head of, took part in the panel discussion and discussed why the organization is partnering with Lancashire Cricket.

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“We firmly believe that sport should be accessible to everyone. Our motto is “For fans, by fans” and we want everyone around the world to feel that they can be a fan and that sport doesn’t have to be male-centric. From a viewer perspective and also in terms of participation, we really need to try to change people’s perceptions. We hope that’s contribution will help bring more awareness and opportunity to women’s and girls’ sports,” Amanda said.

In the second panel, held at Emirates Old Trafford on May 25 as part of the Empower Play initiative, industry leaders spoke about their quest for equality in elite performance.

Again moderated by Daniel Gidney and featuring representatives from Sale Sharks, Thunder, the Lancashire Cricket Foundation and general practitioner specializing in sport and well-being, Dr. Sally Harris took a closer look at the issue of equality in women’s sport in the second of two panels.

“It’s not that established yet [as male sports] and the money that’s coming in isn’t nearly the same, but we have to recognize that it’s not just something you can turn on overnight. I’m proud that Lancashire is the only women’s team in this country that pays our part-time players to train,” Gidney began.

Vicky Irwin, a Sale Sharks Women player who also serves as the club’s brand and community manager, highlighted the financial dilemma faced by many female athletes. “I’d like to spend more time being an athlete, but it’s a struggle. Showing the way is vital because it is there. Going pro brings with it things I never dreamed of. So I think we need to find sponsors and if we can invest more in the sport then we are more valuable as an athlete and as a game.”

The quest for equal pay in men’s and women’s sport took center stage and Jen Barden, Cricket Development Manager at the Lancashire Cricket Foundation, gave a fascinating insight into the journey that women’s cricket has taken since entering the sport. “Ultimately we have to get to that point [equal pay]. But there is still a long way to go until then. Due to some existing obstacles, we are a long way there,” said Barden.

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“The game is also progressing so fast. Five or ten years ago, when there was still cricket and women’s sport, things are moving almost too fast now for everyone to keep up. I think that will happen sooner than anyone thought.”

Thunder bowler and presenter Phoebe Graham also took part in the panel and when asked about the similarities and differences in salaries and funding in men’s and women’s cricket she said: “I think men’s and women’s sport in the Essentially have to function as separate commercial entities.” Business models. But what has to be fundamental is that fundamental rights are there, like the girls at Lancs who pay to play, that’s so important.”

Doctor Sally Harris provided a medical view of the performance. She has worked with countless elite athletes and understands the importance of nutrition, strength and conditioning as non-negotiable factors. Harris ended the panel by discussing the specific challenges faced by women in elite sport compared to their male counterparts.

“I think there’s a lot of commonality in that all athletes are dedicated and dedicated and have a different makeup than the rest of us. But women athletes have a really hard time making a career in sport compared to men.”

“There are some other major differences between male and female athletes and perhaps the most important are menstruation and fertility. The Lionesses changed the color of their shorts. That seems so obvious doesn’t it? ‘We will change the color to avoid that.’ any embarrassment of menstrual loss’.”

If you would like to support the Empower Play campaign and fund women’s and girls’ cricket initiatives across the county through the Lancashire Cricket Foundation please click Here.

To find out more about women’s and girls’ cricket in Lancashire and how to find a club please click Here.

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