Goal-oriented team player oversees strategy in two very different games

Access a shared aim in twin roles as rugby league chair and business academic. John Morgan writes

August 18, 2011

Credit: Getty
Job done: Warrington Wolves' chairman likens focus on drawing new fans to Liverpool Hope's widening-participation work

Few people straddle the worlds of rugby league and higher education, showing as much interest in darting runs from dummy half as in weaving their way to a research grant.

But the only professor who doubles up as chairman of a professional rugby league club believes that the two worlds have much in common, including shared strengths in widening participation.

Steven Broomhead, professor of entrepreneurial education at Liverpool Hope University, is also non-executive chairman of Warrington Wolves, who have won the Carnegie Challenge Cup at Wembley for the past two years and are currently in second place in the Super League.

"I suppose we'd be a Russell Group-type club," he observes.

At Warrington, he focuses on the "business performance of the club and good corporate governance".

"I see that linking into the role of universities in the future," said Professor Broomhead, a former chief executive of the Northwest Regional Development Agency.

"There would obviously be a link between rugby league and the university around widening participation. At Warrington, we've worked hard to get more family spectators and older spectators, and now 30 per cent of (crowds) at home games are women."

To take the higher education-rugby league analogy further, the divide between rugby league and rugby union - laden with a history of social tensions - could be said to parallel the divide between post- and pre-1992 universities.

Professor Broomhead's university role involves strengthening institutional links with business and the third sector, particularly in Liverpool, and "helping to reposition the university's strategy for the challenges of 2012".

He is developing a "very strong programme" of short courses for businesses, focusing on "the applied aspect of knowledge".

In 2012, Liverpool Hope will raise its annual undergraduate tuition fees to £8,250. Offering mainly arts and humanities subjects and specialising in teacher training, the university says it will be particularly hard hit by government funding cuts.

In April, members of the University and College Union at the institution held a one-day strike over planned job losses.

"Many universities will have to go through the sort of restructuring process that has gone on here," Professor Broomhead said.

He hopes to develop further links between his unpaid Warrington role and the university, perhaps focusing on the history of rugby league or the science of sport.

Asked whether academic colleagues are surprised at his sporting role, he said: "People realise that universities increasingly have a role in terms of the businesses we support. I'm not treated as a strange individual for having this dual role. I see myself as an ambassador with business: rugby league is just one of them."


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