Monday 1 November 2021

52 Cycling Voices (in the time of coronavirus) - 32: Emma Wade

Emma is someone who I have seen around at events over the last five years. She's the one who lurks in the background when the likes of Lizzie Deignan, Elinor Barker, Rebecca Charlton, and other athletes attend a race or make their media appearances. 

In fact Emma is a very important person in the grand scheme of things. She keeps the machine going, doing all the tinkering that makes things come together. Emma is to these athletes what George Martin was to the Beatles, or Simon Cowell to One Direction (for younger readers among you!). 

She has the great job of being a sports agent. I have always been fascinated by the folks who do these behind-the-scenes roles that are of pivotal importance.

Yet Emma doesn't come across at all as one of those types you read about in football biographies that managers perceive as self-serving leeches. Her work is not dissimilar to a football agent's but she's a much nicer person to deal with. In fact Emma took time out to tell me about her role, how she got into it and a little bit about her cycling too.

Emma Wade, aged 40-ish

From: Amersham

Lives: Princes Risborough

Occupation: Agent

I’m not sure I knew what an agent was when I was a child, and if I did, I thought they sounded very shady!!

But I did always want to work in sport or in law and I think being an agent has combined both the interest in working with sports people and the behind scenes of sport, as well as my interest in contracts and negotiation. I wanted to either do that or even win the Olympics, myself (with absolutely no ability at all)! 

I’ve always worked in sport, starting from when I was at school and sold scorecards at Lord’s Cricket Ground as a summer job.

After University I worked was as a sports researcher, looking in to the value of sports rights (broadcast and sponsorship), which was a great background for when I got my next job in a talent management agency, and working as an agent’s assistant in 2003. Things basically went on from there, and I’ve worked with athletes ever since. Then at the end of 2016 I starting my own agency, Bespoke M. 

My job is to manage everything for a client, apart from their on-bike / team commitments. I do not get involved with coaching etc, but I support clients with logistics; overseeing their sponsorship and PR activity; managing media and commercial partnerships; maintaining relationships with key brands, agencies, event organisers, television production companies, publishers, governing bodies, and developing clients' corporate speaking opportunities. 

My first clients for Bespoke M were Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead), Elinor Barker and Rebecca Charlton – all of whom I still work with now. I also am delighted to now represent others such as Katie Archibald, Lizzy Banks, Amanda Spratt, Tiffany Cromwell and more! They are all in cycling or cycling presenting and hosting such as Rebecca and also Orla Chennaoui.

With Elinor Barker

There's no such thing as a typical day for me! When I can and it’s allowed, I travel to a lot of races to see organisers, brands and clients but don’t attend all of them by any means and certainly wasn't able to do much during the pandemic.

The pandemic affected my work as every event, including the Olympics were cancelled and the future looked bleak. But thankfully two things happened which were invaluable. Firstly, there was a boom in cycling as people started dusting off bikes and getting out there to keep active, or for transport at this strange time. 

It’s been fantastic to see. So cycling brands and agencies have kept me and my clients busy. Secondly, the UCI [Union Cyclist Internationale – cycling’s World governing body] miraculously managed to put a racing season on and we had road racing for a few months as well as the European Track cycling and some cyclocross racing. That has kept me busy and has also meant that everyone was able to plan positively.

My days involve talking to clients, then maybe responding to and organising media requests, responding to sponsorship briefs, or approaching brands and agencies about working with particular clients. I also speak to team directors, sports directors and riders about their plans. I negotiate rider contracts or separate personal sponsorship deals and then make sure the corresponding contract is fair and correct, and delivered correctly.

What I enjoy most is working with my clients. Seeing the hard work and sacrifice they put in is incredibly motivating.

It is hugely satisfying to see clients do well and hopefully be a tiny part of that success through the support I can offer. Lizzie winning her silver medal at London 2012 was a definite highlight for example. In fact, London 2012 overall was a highlight as I was working with a number of Team GB athletes, and the whole experience was amazing; the crowds and support and the success we had was incredible.

On a day-to-day basis the best moments are when you see a successful partnership come to fruition whether that be a rider flourishing in the right team, or a campaign come together between a client and a brand; that’s really rewarding.

With Lizzie Deignan at London 2012 Olympics

The frustrating aspect is the unfairness of working in a sport that is still not balanced between men and women. The women’s sport is younger than the men’s, which has a long and glorious history. 

So, women’s professional cycling has a way to go to equal it in terms of coverage, races, and financially. But I’m working to try and help turn this around by working with the women’s peloton and fantastic organisations such as The Cyclists’ Alliance, to make things fairer.

When working with my clients undoubtedly their health, racing and training always comes first, and everything else has to work around that. If they’re not able to do their day job then I’m not doing my job very well!

After that, how I work with each client varies as everyone works differently. Some riders will send a Whatsapp message while at the velodrome, or on the finish line of a race, and others might need their space 24 hours before a competition for example. You get to know what works best for each person and manage everything around it. Handily I work with road, track and cyclocross riders so they all have slightly different competition schedules, which helps in managing the time I schedule with them. 

The quietest time of year (she says hopefully) is usually Christmas as that’s the one time that clients tend to disappear and spend time with their own families, as well as training. The last thing they want to do is speak to me or do a sponsor appearance!

The busiest time is the rest of the year! Media is busy around competition time, then sponsor commitments and appearances are often higher outside of competition time. Contract negotiations and discussions can happen pretty much all year round now.

Despite my busy schedule I aim to keep active when away from work – whether that be cycling, running, yoga, swimming. I do something most days, and set a time for that which I will try and stick to no matter what. Generally, I manage it even if I have to be flexible on timings. Finding the time is key for me, because the job can be seven days a week, 24 hours a day since you are looking after people’s lives which aren’t 9-5.

Emma gets in a bike ride

I allow myself to do a midday yoga class, knowing I can be chatting to a client at 9pm that night. I also have a very active Springer Spaniel who reminds me regularly when it’s time to go for walkies, and my other half loves cycling thankfully so he’s always up for trips to bike races!

I got my first bike at a young age and it’s always been a part of my life for fun and for leisure – I’ve never raced or had the desire to. I remember getting a pink racing bike with dropped handlebars for my 7 or 8th birthday. I loved it and have never looked back! I like a bit of mountain biking as well as road cycling. I cycle locally, and am lucky to have the Chiltern Hills and the Oxfordshire countryside on my doorstep. There’s also Swinley Forest, which I ride around on my mountain bike. With my Pendleton bike I use that to visit friends or go shopping locally.

I also love Zwift and just graduated from my first Zwift Academy which was a lot of fun, and really challenged me in a good way. Between cycling for leisure, and for transport I ride most days.

If I could choose one person to go on a bike ride with, I would say my Mum. She used to be a ballerina and loved her cycling, but suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for many years and has lost the ability to do anything physically; she died in January this year. So, I would have given anything to have done a bike ride with her. [Emma's mother died in January 2021.]

The changes I have seen in women's cycling since I first started working with Lizzie in 2009 have been huge. I feel like we’ve come a long way, even if we have so far to go. There is so much more professionalism creeping in now.

There is more coverage (we can actually watch races live now!), media pick up, sponsors, better quality of racing (as more riders can be professional now, without needing other jobs at the same time), and basic salaries and maternity clauses now exist in the top tier.

This definitely needs to filter down to all riders though, and it’s still pretty unheard of for most female professional cyclists to have an agent to be honest. I think the recent Cyclists’ Alliance survey showed 77% of riders didn’t get any help with their contracts last year. But we’re trying to change that.

I don’t know of any other female agents in professional cycling, though I think there may be one other listed by the UCI (internationally). In sport overall I know a few others but there are not many of us.

I’ve always been one of those people who sees what I can do or want to do rather than thinking ‘I can’t do that because…[I’m a woman]’. I was one of the first female members of the Marylebone Cricket Club, and I’m proud to be a part of the change at Lord’s. I suppose it’s similar in cycling. I didn’t really think about how male dominated being an agent or cycling was until I got into it and saw it. I just assumed I could do the job as I learnt my trade. 

Emma is currently the only female UCI-approved agent

When I went to take the agent’s exam at the UCI, in a room full of 20 I was the only woman. So I’m proud to be a woman and whatever that may bring to what I do day-to-day, but I’m also an agent.

My background is working with Olympians who don’t get paid professionally, but make their money from sponsorship. I genuinely felt like I was helping these top professionals to do what they do, rather than the historic bad reputation that agents have! So, I guess I’m a woman doing the job of an agent but I also think my gender is irrelevant to how good I am at my job.   

I have definitely come across sexism in my career sadly, but show me a woman who hasn’t and sadly there will always be people who still need to be educated in gender equality.  Having said that, I didn't see my gender as a barrier to me doing this kind of work. Being an agent is an incredibly competitive environment to work in and that goes for both sexes! 

For anyone wanting to become an agent, I would warn them that it’s very competitive and very niche. It’s also frustratingly non regulated. Anyone can decide to become / call themselves an agent (although thankfully you do have to be registered by the UCI to negotiate professional cycling contracts at least). I would advise people to gather as much experience as possible within the industry first. I worked in sports administration, communication, on the agency side, in events and more, before I became an agent and all of those experiences were invaluable.  Don’t give up if you can’t immediately become an agent, and look at opportunities around being an agent.

Instagram: @bespoke_m  

Twitter: @bespoke_M 

Other Cycling Voices

Rebecca Charlton

Claire Floret

Bithja Jones

Maria Canins

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