French sports broadcast director Sigrid Lelièvre was born and raised in Normandy. She went on to study Audio-Visual media in northern France and then worked as a consultant in digital post-production. Today, she works as director at events such as the 2021 French Open and UEFA EURO 2020. We chatted with Sigrid about her life in broadcasting, and how the industry has changed throughout her experience.
On her start in sports broadcasting:
I moved to television because I felt that I wanted to have my feet on the ground and participate in events, not stay in a room, never seeing the daylight. I was offered the opportunity to work on France’s Ligue 2 in football, with a new system and that’s how I started. The experience allowed me to travel all through France, which I loved most. I was always trying to find a bike somewhere, meeting new people to work with, the camera operators and the crew, and creating valuable relationships with those people. It was an environment where we all were helping each other to progress and building on the relationships. And when they see you evolving, they’re always happy and supportive.
“It was an environment where we all were helping each other to progress and building on the relationships.”
And when they see you evolving, they’re always happy and supportive.
Progressing to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and HBS
After I did Ligue 2 for a couple of years, I was then involved in the infotainment coverage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, working on the content that is broadcast on the giant screens. That was my first encounter with HBS (Host Broadcast Services), one of the main host broadcasters in the world, and they invited me to join the Broadcast Academy for one week’s training. That training opened more doors for me, and I continued working on small configuration TV coverage of handball and football.
On learning from the best, taking stock during Covid-19 and reaching a Grand Slam
During the training at HBS, I had the opportunity to meet Laurent Lachand (the sports director), who is one of the top French directors, and it was interesting to hear about his vision. He is not someone who just tells people ‘do this, do that;, he explains the way he sees things and learns from that. It was a really eye-opening experience and an opportunity to develop relationships. Coming out of the training, I had the chance to direct two games before the pandemic hit. Once COVID hit, it was like everything suddenly stopped.
Like it was for everyone else, it was a time of introspection and thinking about what to do next. In September 2020 I was contacted by HBS and they offered me the chance to direct LNH Division 1 (Handball League) in France, which was a very interesting opportunity. Since I started directing there, it has really helped me build up my confidence to work on other events.
More recently, I was involved with the Women’s Football First Division in France, where they hired me to direct a few first-division matches this year. It was fantastic, a great experience. I have been fortunate enough that many of my opportunities continue to open more doors for me. This week I was at Roland Garros, working at the French Open, and next, will be the EURO 2020 tournament.
Women in sports broadcasts and HBS’s role in encouraging more
Most of the time, I’m the only one (director), but you have more operators and camera operators who are women. At Roland Garros, I was working on courts 14, 7 and 6, so I had a four-to-five-camera set-up. I was working there as a director, but we had women camera operators– HBS is really involved in getting more women on board and giving them a chance in the business. Of course you need to be good in order to do the job, but don’t be afraid. They’re deeply invested in giving women a chance and helping put more seats at the table.
“They’re deeply invested in giving women a chance and helping put more seats at the table.”
On broadcast diversifying after many years as a male-dominated workplace
Well, I would need more data, but at Roland Garros, at the top courts, there’s a team of six directors and one of them is a woman. That’s pretty big. Based on just my opinion, the digital revolution has ignited change, with more women working. Before that, it was really complicated and the job was physically tougher, I would say, because you had lots of heavy equipment. To be honest, it was not really a welcoming environment for women to go anywhere and pull that equipment. Often, directors were ex-camera operators and working on the field, and that pathway was preventing women getting in the profession.
The power of directives
Obviously, society as a whole is changing, and there is more and more focus, thanks to European directives encouraging companies to have CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and to look at the numbers and see the difference.
The hardest thing in life is to acknowledge and work on biases. Once you’re conscious about that I think it’s easier to push forward– that’s the purpose of CSR, to help companies and people as whole to identify gaps and the things that can be fixed.
Directing live sport as it moves with the times
I can only speak about today’s world, which is rapidly changing, but from what I’ve seen, responsibility that changes too. Technology and skills change, and therefore so do the responsibilities of people. As this all changes, it creates more room for women, because we’re more involved in the production phase and the management style is changing.
Being a director is a position of power, but it’s not like you give an order to someone and they have to do it; it’s not a one-way system. I like the expression ‘you are a servant as a leader’. You are not just pushing people, you’re responsible for the results of course, but your role is to give a vision to everyone. To make sure that everyone has the right information and can move in the right direction. It’s not about me knowing someone’s job better than them, but helping them go in the right direction. That’s how I see things; helping them to navigate.
“It’s not about me knowing someone’s job better than them, but helping them go in the right direction. That’s how I see things; helping them to navigate.”
On what drives her forward
I would say different things. The main one is I really love people and creating stories that people can tell in the future. I really like when the job is done well. What it comes down to is we have two people that we’re focused on: the end user and the person who hires you. The end user, who is watching the game, you want them to enjoy a great moment, not just because of the result of their team. The person who hires you, you just want to be satisfied and impressed with your work. That’s really my motivation. I don’t have a specific target, for me it’s a journey, and if someone is inviting you on that path, you go with them. If you spend time with them, it’s going to enrich you, so for me it’s getting opportunities to meet and work with people in different places around the world and exchanging ideas.
What she’s doing for UEFA EURO 2020
Similar to what I was doing at the FIFA 2019 Women’s World Cup, for EURO 2020 I’ll be doing big screen installations. I’m in Amsterdam right now, part of a team called the Fan TV team and our job is to work on the content that’s broadcast on the giant screens in the stadium.
How she prepares for high-pressure environments
I like to be organised, so I always have my Bristol boards, where I write down everything and once everything is written down I feel much better. And I do yoga, which really helps, because afterwards you feel aligned.
“I always try to remember why I do things and what’s my motivation and yoga helps me to be aligned with it: whatever decision I need to make has to align with my goals.”
- Keep it Simple.
It’s something I started hearing a lot a few months ago. I was lucky to be in a team of five young directors and someone was coaching us and he said this and I think it’s true for everything in life. Don’t make it complicated. If it gets complicated and you feel overwhelmed, go back to the simple version, the simple plan. This really helps you to get a clear view and most of the time the simplest things are the most efficient.
2. Observe with a non-judgmental attitude
The attitude is hindering you more than helping you. It’s a waste of energy. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Nothing is perfect. If we’re perfect, nothing would be interesting. Whenever we do something we need to be confident in our capability to deal with a lot of things without overthinking them. If you’re at work and something is not going well, instead of going into ‘oh that’s bad’, just relax and don’t be judgmental. Ok, there is a problem, so what can I do to fix this. That’s what people expect of you; to find a solution, to not exacerbate the problem.
3. Kaizen: improve continuously.
I’m doing an MBA at the Sorbonne Business School and we studied Kaizen, a Japanese word that is used to describe companies seeking continuous improvement; small adjustments over time are stronger than major changes or revolutions, and that’s something I unconsciously applied before, but this gave me a new perspective on it and today when I finish a match I write down the small things I could do to improve and I try to implement them the next time. It’s a form of motivation, because next time you want to do better. Perfection does not exist and there’s not one way of doing things, so you choose a way to do something and if it works, keep it, and if it doesn’t, then maybe it can be improved. And this is a motivation for life, because you want to do things better over time.