Liam McLean has put his BA (Hons) International Football Business degree to good use, working as Director of Operations at Chicago FC United throughout the first two years of his programme. Now returning to the UK and working for Premier League side Brentford FC, he shares how the different experiences have broadened his knowledge of the global sports industry and why the opportunities UCFB offer are unparalleled…

Tell us about your role as Director of Operations at Chicago FC United and how you landed it.

As the Director of Operations at USL League Two side Chicago FC United I was able to develop an insight into the running of football clubs from an administrative perspective. Throughout my role I had the responsibility to coordinate as the point person for all league affairs from player registration, league standard requirements, player transfers and more. Internally with the club I had the responsibility to manage player housing, venue bookings, insurance policies, team/player travel, team communication, player management and operated as the connection between staff and players.

I first got into the club as the Operations Coordinator in 2018 following my first year at UCFB. I took up the opportunity to move to Chicago for the role as the local USL League Two club KW United FC, that I previously worked for, folded due to sanctions in the Canadian Soccer Association. Following my first year with Chicago FC United, I was promoted to Director of Operations and have worked in the role for the last two seasons.

Having worked at the club for over three years, what were some of your favourite moments?

Some notable accomplishments with the club include being the 2018 Central Conference champions and 2019 Great Lakes Division champions. Some other notable experiences were competing against MLS second and third teams, qualifying for the US Open Cup and competing in the 2019 US National Amateur Finals. Also, working under management that have experience running MLS clubs has allowed me to grow and mature into the professional football workforce. The best highlight of my time with the club has been seeing players from each group maturing to the professional level and seeing how their time with the club has aided in their development and transition into professional football.

How has your BA (Hons) International Football Business degree helped you in this role and in understanding the overseas football industry?

My degree has given me knowledge that I have been able to directly translate into my role with Chicago FC United and helped my understanding of the football industry overseas. The degree has provided me with great insight into FIFA regulation that translates across the entirety of the global football industry. In addition, the analysis of Concacaf through coursework has allowed me to gain perspective on the pathway of the North American football market and the development of the emerging leagues throughout Concacaf. Some notable course content that has directly related to my role overseas are ITCs and how they are processed and received through FIFA from both ends of federations/associations and how player rights are owned by specific federations/associations through the player registration.

Why do you think football, or soccer, is growing so rapidly in popularity in the US?

I believe that football is growing rapidly in North America due to the evolving development structure throughout Canada and the US, as well as the growing investment into the football brands in North America. Football has always been very popular in North America; however, the domestic game did not have credibility to consumers until recently when the MLS reinvested into their development structure. Domestic clubs are now pumping out top quality domestic talent on an annual basis that include Alphonso Davies (2020 FIFA FIFPro World XI) who was developed through Vancouver Whitecaps, Gio Reyna (2021 European Golden Boy nominee) who was developed through New York City FC and players such as Jonathan David and Christian Pulisic that have developed through the US and Canadian national team programs. Players such as these are now household names to your average Canadian/American and so have given credibility for consumerism in the North American football brands.

In addition, new ownership has drastically developed the infrastructure of the North American football landscape and given incentives for clubs to sell on players due to the inflated transfer fees and parachute payments to clubs. Also, Concacaf has become much more competitive in international competition and club competition through the Champions League, and consumers are now interested in watching their nation compete globally.

You were also a Global Ambassador at the Melbourne and Sydney Global Sports Summit. Tell us about this event and your role within it.

I was able to get involved with UCFB as a Global Ambassador for the inaugural Melbourne and Sydney Global Sports Summit. I would highly recommend this event and all other Global Sports Summits offered by UCFB as it allowed me to gain a great insight into the global sport industry from a completely different perspective. The guest speakers at the event faced different obstacles in their roles with their respective organisation compared to that of UK or North America. This all comes down to how brands are built globally and how to attract consumerism and revenue in these overlapping global industries across each sector of the world. The event had great networking opportunities with professionals in the global sports industry as well as students across the Wembley and Etihad campuses. Some of the relationships I made on the trip will last a lifetime and hopefully will give me the opportunity to work in the future with some of my peers from the trip.

As a Global Ambassador, my role included the setup of the event on a day to day basis, the greeting of guest speakers and the successful run of events with a team of students. Other Global Ambassadors were offered tailored roles to their degrees that allowed them to gain some global experience in their respective fields.

You have also worked as a coach for Toronto FC Juniors and are beginning a role with Brentford FC as Match Day Ambassador. Tell us about these roles and what they involved.

Over the past year and a half during the pandemic I have been grateful to experience new working opportunities in different aspects of the football industry. I was able to begin coaching and gain experience working in grassroots player development as a club coach with Alliance FC in Ontario, Canada. After months of experience with Alliance FC, I was able to begin coaching with Toronto FC Juniors programme. These experiences have given me a different insight into player development and the challenges and standards from a different aspect of the football industry. These roles were great opportunities to work under top coaches in Ontario and broaden my knowledge of the industry.

I am now beginning a new role as a Match Day Ambassador for Brentford during the 2021-22 Premier League season. This is my first work experience working with a professional club’s first team and to do so for a Premier League side in their new stadium is a dream come true! This opportunity was made possible due to attending UCFB and the network of opportunities they provide to students to gain industry experience at all levels.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to study at UCFB?

My advice to any student looking to study at UCFB is to be outgoing and utilise all the resources they provide, as it is designed to help students succeed in their career pathways. From professors with industry experience, exclusive partner job opportunities, global summits, additional offered classes and reputable guest speakers, there is always an opportunity to stay busy and develop critical insight into the professional football industry. The course content is extremely engaging and the peers around campus will all be working in the same industry, so students will have a vast network by the time they graduate.

Some notable experiences I have had thanks to UCFB include the opportunity to gain education in the historic Wembley Stadium listen to dozens of guest speakers that are at the pinnacle of the professional industry; be a Global Ambassador for the Melbourne and Sydney Global Sports Summit; work at the NFL UK International Series; work for Brentford FC in the Premier League; develop lifetime relationships and build a global network. UCFB is unparalleled to anything I’ve seen globally and I would highly recommend it to anyone with the ambition of working in the global sports industry at any level.