As the 2016/17 football season gets underway, it won’t quite be the same for Andrew Barrowman. He’s taken the decision to retire from the game, and is looking to make a name for himself off the pitch now. However, while most ex-professionals carve out coaching and managerial careers for themselves, Andrew is looking to be the one driving the overall strategy and growth of the football clubs his fellow ex-professionals are working for.
He reveals to Sports Marketing Scotland what made him choose to chase a career in the business side of sport, what his dream role would be in the future, and his thoughts on how we’re currently promoting football in Scotland.
Could you just take a moment to introduce yourself?
My name is Andrew Barrowman and I’ve been a professional footballer for the past 16 years. I played at various levels of the game, both in Scotland and England. Some of my previous clubs include; Birmingham City, Kilmarnock, Ross County, Inverness and Dunfermline. I’ve recently taken the decision to retire from the game.
Tell us how you started your football career?
I played as a schoolboy for Rangers from the age of 8 all the way up to 16. When the time came for me to leave school, I signed for Birmingham City, initially on a scholarship as part of their academy set-up. I then signed my first professional contract on my 17th birthday.
At what point in your playing career did you make the decision that you wanted to pursue a career in the business of football/sport after you retired?
I had been looking to do some sort of education outwith of football probably since the age of about 24, but I wasn’t really sure which area I wanted to study in. It wasn’t until I was 28 that I came across the FIFPro Online Sports Management degree. All through my career I was always fascinated by the operations of a football club away from the football side of things, so when the opportunity arose to get on the programme, it just felt right. Fortunately, I was able to gain entry to the system, as it’s a difficult process to qualify for.
Was coaching ever on the agenda?
Not really. However, I really enjoyed a spell coaching the Dunfermline under 20 side while playing at the club and I must admit I got a real sense of satisfaction from it. I would never say never, but my focus is on my degree for the immediate future.
Can you give us an insight into the qualification you’re currently taking?
It’s a Sport Management Bachelors degree specifically designed for ‘elite’ sports professionals. The course is administered by UCN University in Denmark. All the work is done online and we run a week behind the on-campus students. It’s a full time degree and the lectures for the week are posted on the e-campus every Monday morning. As well as the lectures, there are also a number of projects/assignments that you are graded on throughout the year.
How easy was it to combine playing and studying? Would you recommend it to other footballers?
It was very difficult initially. I had left school 12 years previously and had pretty much not lifted a pen in that time. Instead of watching boxsets or sitting in Starbucks, I had to spend my spare time sat in front of my laptop. It’s all about being self-disciplined, managing your time effectively and making some sacrifices. At the end of the day, to earn a degree isn’t really a big sacrifice to make for the result potentially at the end of it. I would 100% recommend players to think seriously about doing some form of education while still playing. It’s a short career and it really does pay to make the most of the spare time available to you.
What would you say are the barriers to more footballers moving into the business side of the game when they retire? In your opinion, why haven’t more made that move already?
There definitely is a persona about footballers not being the most intelligent of people, but that’s not necessarily the case. I think there are a lot of transferable skills from football to the business world, and if a player can be proactive and is prepared to put the time and effort into achieving the necessary education then I think they become the ideal candidate for jobs within the business sector of the industry.
Who does the onus fall on to provide opportunities for footballers to make the most of their retirement, their clubs, the league they play in, their national governing body or the players themselves?
Ultimately the onus is on the individual. If you want something then you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve it. However, I would say that there is a deficiency in the level of education funding available to Scottish players, especially when compared to our counterparts in England. Whether this is the responsibility of the SFA, PFA Scotland or other outside governing bodies, I am not entirely sure.
You’re currently doing a placement at the SFA as part of your course. How’s it been so far, and what do you hope to get out of it?
It’s been excellent so far. I’ve only recently started, however I feel like already learnt a lot. The staff I’ve encountered so far have been great with me, and I’m really looking forward to the next three months. The main objective of the placement is to learn to apply the knowledge that I’ve gained from my studies in a real life working environment. It’ll hopefully stand me in good stead when I do embark on a future career. It’s also a great opportunity for me to network and make new contacts within a completely different aspect of football.
Ian Maxwell at Partick Thistle and Warren Hawke at Morton are two examples of former footballers who have made the step up to the boardroom. What’s your idea of a dream role in the future? Is it in the boardroom, or more the marketing/commercial side?
I am very interested in the marketing/commercial area of football and I believe there are lots of ways we can improve how we promote our game, particularly here in Scotland. However, at some point in the future, my dream job would be Chief Executive of a football club. I suppose it’s a lot like being a footballer, you’ve got to learn the game and progress through the levels before you can be regarded as a ‘proper footballer’. Who knows what the future holds?
What’s your opinion on how we’re currently marketing and promoting our game?
I think there’s a lot of great work being done in Scotland right now, some examples being Aberdeen, Motherwell and Dunfermline. I do think though that there are also ways in which improvements can be made. I think there is a dangerous phrase used all too often in Scottish football, “we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way”, this applies to the way we market our product as well. Consumers in general are demanding more for their money nowadays. It’s no longer enough to give fans the price of tickets and expect them to flock to games in their droves. We have to engage more with fans and make them feel like they are a real part of the club. Although marketing does not need to cost a lot of money, it ultimately makes sense to give more priority to marketing when assigning resources. Ultimately, it’s one of the clubs main methods of generating revenue.
Is there one thing you’d like to change within Scottish football to help it improve as a whole?
Make it about more than just the product on the pitch. Let’s create an entertainment factor about football. If clubs can improve revenues then the product on the pitch will ultimately improve as a result.
Did you have a different attitude towards helping out with promoting the game when you were playing? Do footballers treat taking part in media and promotional activities as a burden?
Yes, I think it’s fair to say they do. Player look upon media duties as a burden, which of course, is wrong. As players you become selfish, you’re so focused on performing at your best and winning games of football that you forget how important it can be for a fan to gain insight into your life or the football club. At the end of the day, the players themselves would be the ones that would benefit from an improved product in the long run.
The way adidas have utilised Paul Pogba in their sponsorship of him, and the way his transfer to Manchester United was announced has been heralded as a significant shift in sports marketing. Pogba has certainly benefitted from completely embracing social and digital media, do you foresee players continuing to do this? Becoming brands in their own right via social media?
Yes, absolutely! I think that if utilised properly, and done so with a bit of thought, social media can be a great platform for players to enhance their reputation from a professional perspective. I think it’s fair to say that social media is here to stay, and it’s only going to continue to grow, so for a footballer not to take advantage of this would be a mistake. I know from my own personal experience that platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn can open doors for players, not only from a player perspective, but also with an eye on a future career perhaps.
What did you learn as a footballer than you’ll take into your career in the business of sport?
As a footballer you are very much results driven. Everyday you are focused on becoming a better player, winning the small sided games in training or gaining the three points on a match day. This is a trait that I will always maintain as I hopefully move into the business of football. Remembering that there is always a purpose and objective for everything I do, and I will always look to keep improving my knowledge and skillset.
What one piece of advice would you give anyone else looking to make a career for themselves in the sport or football business industry?
Don’t be afraid to get out there and learn. Try and gain experience in your desired workplace. The knowledge you can gain from it cannot be replicated. Also, make as many connections with people as possible. Use the network of contacts you have gathered, it’s surprising the amount of people that are willing to help.