Stormzy and adidas have announced the expansion of their Merky FC partnership by broadening the scope of their attempt to increase diversity within the football industry.
In 2022, the initiative launched by the musician provided 15 people with roles within the industry but this year’s cohort will more than triple that number with the announcement accompanied by a new report uncovering the barriers faced by young black people.
Fuelled by data showing that 56 per cent of people of young black heritage aspire to work in the industry yet only 6.7 per cent of senior roles are taken by this community, Sky Sports is among a number of brands providing placements in an attempt to drive change.
“Stormzy is clearly a leader in the field of representation,” Steve Marks, senior director of brand communications at adidas, tells Sky Sports. “And while there is no problem with representation on the pitch, there is a big problem off the pitch.
“Stormzy is the guy who can be the pioneer and catalyst behind this and we are making a long-term commitment. We are not dipping our toe in the ocean here. It is a bigger problem that we are not going to solve in one year. And we cannot change it alone.”
This year, there are 50 roles available, with brands such as EA Sports and ITV joining Sky Sports and Manchester United in offering opportunities. There are a range of creative industries for applicants to explore, highlighting the scope of the game’s influence.
“There is an architect who creates stadiums, that is really interesting. We want a diversity of roles too. We want change across the spectrum of the industry. This is an industry-wide problem, an industry-wide opportunity. Everyone deserves to be represented.”
Tobi Ogundipe is the founder of DIVERSE, working with Merky FC to select and support the recipients of these placements, and points out that everyone, not just the young people involved, will benefit from greater representation within the industry.
“I think employers benefit the most actually,” Ogundipe tells Sky Sports. “The best things are going to happen when you have teams with different perspectives and different experiences. To have that in the building is super valuable. That leads to the best results.
Make the assist
Sharing a Merky FC application with a friend could help boost representation by over 40 per cent in five years.
“One of the big problems we have in the industry are the lack of role models. You can see black success on the pitch but not in the boardrooms. To have people doing really well, from the same areas that Stormzy is from, is super inspiring for the next cohort.”
The results are already encouraging. “The idea was to give people a footing in the industry, not needing any experience or anything like that, and now we are seeing a lot of them get full-time opportunities off the back of that with full-time employment contracts.”
It is about showing young people what is possible. “They want to be Jude Bellingham or Bukayo Saka but they do not see other black leaders off the pitch. We want young people to think it is completely normal to see black people in senior roles,” adds Ogundipe.
“Historically, there is a feeling of not being wanted. If you do not feel wanted, if you feel the job description is not aimed at you, you are not going to even apply. This process is specifically for you. That is making a big difference. It is about shifting that perspective.”
For Ogundipe, this issue of allyship is at the core of the message with this announcement. “I think it is about using your position of privilege to help the next person who might not be as fortunate in terms of connections, background or experience,” he explains.
“The essence of this programme is to take organisations that are run mostly by non-black individuals and getting them to help people from historically under-privileged backgrounds who have been marginalised and creating opportunities for them.”
But another key element of the report is that change does not just come from the top. Seventy-two per cent of people of black or mixed black heritage are more likely to apply for an opportunity through Merky FC if the role is recommended to them by a friend.
“The majority did not hear about this through Stormzy or adidas but through their own friends,” says Marks. “That allyship is really key. The more people we can get into the system, the more we can build that community. We can get there quicker.
“We have to believe we can create the leaders of tomorrow. When you speak to Stormzy, he says that when he is 80 years old and he sees a CEO who got into that because of this programme, that will show why he came up with the concept in the first place.
“We need to see change. This problem does not get solved in five years. But 11 brands in the first year, 27 in the second, the growth is just going to accelerate. It is about brands like Sky, and new up-and-coming platforms, bringing the industry together to drive change.”
Candidates can visit merkyfc.com to find out more and register their interest in the placements until October 19 2023