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Jessie Engelhart: International Sports Lawyer

Jessie Engelhart: International Sports Lawyer

Sports lawyer Jessie Engelhart has worked with some of the biggest organisations in football. In recent seasons, she's helped guide Strategy and Innovation at FC Barcelona and UEFA. Now, she's focusing on independent projects, having co-founded Sensato Sports Law (a boutique law firm specialising in sports-related disputes and advice), and developed a range of resources for budding football professionals - you can check out her website here. Her newly launched Sports Career Guide is a self-paced, online course designed for those aspiring to launch a career in sports. Whatever your chosen path, Jessie Engelhart's practical course pack addresses all the major questions you might have about starting out in sports. I caught up with her to discuss her route into the industry, the resources she's just launched, and her best tips for those seeking a career in football.


How did you start out working in sports law?

"Right after I finished university, I went to law school. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do, and I'd never considered a career in sports, really. At law school, I didn't really find my niche, because none of it really aligned with what I wanted to do. So I started doing some internships, and that's when I first came across the discipline of sports law, which I had never even heard of before. During those internships, I started to realise this was an option, and I started to do a lot of research into it. I started really immersing myself in it and did a Master's degree in Sports Management and Law. I combined them on purpose because I thought if I'm going to be a lawyer I need to understand the industry more — I felt it was important for me to be a specialist in this industry. So I did that, loved it, and eventually got offered an internship at FC Barcelona, in the Innovation department."


What does Strategy and Innovation in football involve?

"At the Innovation Hub, they collaborate with each of the different departments within the club, identify their business needs and try to find innovative solutions to their needs. So, with the sponsorship department, we'd think about how to boost their revenue streams from sponsors — can we find some innovative deals or solutions? We'd partner up with startups and do a lot of research. They also have the Educational Hub… they believe in sharing all the knowledge they have as a club with other clubs and stakeholders to try and elevate the game of football as a whole. Sharing that is called open innovation."

"I then got offered the same job at UEFA, so I went there, to Switzerland. It was a very difficult decision because I loved my job, my life, everything here [Barcelona], but I also knew that at some point it would be good for me to get some more knowledge at a different stakeholder. In sport, everything moves so fast, so it was important for me to understand how everything works not only from a club level, but also at a higher federational level."


Which Innovation project are you most proud of having worked on?

"That would have to be the European Football Lab. We had this community with all the top clubs, and we'd bring together all the experts on say, the nutrition field, or the medical field, to discuss how to improve things and ask how they do things at their clubs. I was the project manager. I found it so interesting, because I learned so much, from all these different disciplines, nutrition, medicine, sports science, organising those meetings between all the top-level doctors and travelling between these different clubs. The open innovation concept for me was kind of mind-blowing because before that I thought clubs would want to keep all their secrets and best practices to themselves, so seeing a Juventus nutritionist speaking to a Barcelona one, and explaining and trying to help each other, that was something that I really liked."


How did you transition from Sports Innovation to Sports Law?

"When the pandemic hit, it was really interesting to see how such a big organisation like UEFA was dealing with these challenges. Innovation became super important, for example, all the digital fans in the stadium came from innovative solutions. Then, they started restructuring, and I was presented with the choice to either stay and be the Head of [Innovation] or leave, and I felt that it was a good moment because I didn't want to stay in Innovation for the rest of my life. I wanted to do my own thing, and I think working with all those startups sparked this entrepreneurial spirit. So that's when I moved back to Barcelona and started my own sports law firm here, Sensato Sports Law, with two of my former Master's classmates. We're a boutique law firm, specialising in all sports-related disputes and advisory matters."


What pushed you to set up your own specialist sports law firm?

"I always knew that I wanted to have my own project and my own business, and me and my partner felt there was a gap in the market for a kind of younger, more innovative sports law firm. The legal profession, in general, is not so diverse, it's quite traditional, quite risk-averse, they have billable hours, they charge a lot, and they'll respond to you within working hours only. At Sensato, we communicate with clients 24/7, we communicate in different languages, and on Whatsapp, we work from home, we have a very diverse team, and we're just not your typical law firm. We wanted to do things differently and have a very client-centric approach, and not be the traditional lawyer. We're trying to innovate the game a little, and so far, so far good."


Is this more holistic approach becoming more common in the industry?

"I think so, yes. I don't want to say that we're pioneers because I don't think that's the case, but even just the fact that we're young lawyers and we started our own firm, that opens law students' eyes to the possibility of starting their own law firm at a young age. I feel like younger firms are popping up and trying to revolutionise the legal landscape, which I think is definitely necessary.


You've just launched your Sports Career Guide, a practical course pack for people interested in working in football. Where did the idea come from?

"People started to reach out to me organically, asking me how I got into sport, how to start, what the different career options and paths are. I remember back in the day, I was the one reaching out to people and saying I wanted to get into sports law… so I really wanted to respond, because I'd been in their shoes myself. There's so much demand for jobs and limited opportunities, so from the outside, to get in and get that first experience is really difficult. I wanted to share the things I've learned about different career paths, the different options out there, how to build a network, how to get that internship…  I felt like there was a gap for the more practical side of it. I know people who had spent a lot of money on these degrees but don't have the necessary soft skills to get into the industry. That's why I wanted to create this guide, and that's why the price point is very economical (just $59) because I wanted to share my knowledge with others. It's a self-paced online course in video format, so the moment you purchase it, you get access to the videos. It's like having an online mentor who has navigated the industry and can share insights."


Has Sensato Law's approach helped you tailor learning in that way?

"Definitely. The client-centric approach is so important — identifying needs and tailoring your approach to those needs. I wanted to come up with a scalable solution that doesn't require me to jump on calls every day. And the information is out there, they can access the materials over and over again, they don't have to record conversations. 

"There's also bonus material. I do live webinars with industry experts, called the Sports Industry Insight series. It's free, anyone can join, and it gives insight into the daily life of people from different industries. I've bundled those webinars together as bonus material for anyone doing the course. This course can't cover everything and I'm not an expert on all these fields, but I do have the network to connect with those people."


Who is the course intended for?

"It's for students that really want to get into sport but need an introduction to the sports industry. It's for people who don't know what to study, or people that are already studying sports management, or people who need to learn more about the practical side of things. It's also for people who are working in different industries and perhaps want to pivot into the sports industry, because they need that practical guidance too."


What key advice would you give to someone looking to get into the sports industry?

"I structure the course into 5 modules. The first one is Finding your niche and I do think that's so important. Eventually, specialists will rule the world, so I really believe in specialising in something so that you can stand out. Then, Gaining your knowledge is super important, you need to know what you're doing, you need to know what you're talking about, immerse yourself in the niche you've selected. Then, I explore Getting that first work experience, whether you're volunteering, working as an intern, you need to get some experience. Growing your network, which in sports is one of the main necessities, is about having conversations with people and knowing how to network. I wish that's something they'd taught me at school, how to network and make connections with people. The last one is Building a personal brand. In order to stand out from the crowd, it's so important that you differentiate yourself from others, and that doesn't have to just be with your knowledge, it could be your enthusiasm, it could be leveraging your differences. I try to turn weaknesses into strengths and build a personal brand out of that. So that would be my 5 step guide. I'm excited to launch it!


Interview conducted by Fred Garratt-Stanley, a freelance writer and long-suffering Norwich City fan with experience reporting on football for a number of titles. He also has a background in music and culture journalism, with bylines in NME, The Quietus, Resident Advisor and more. Currently, he's working as a content writer for a variety of online health and fitness publications