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Emily Jackson isn’t the first person to be seduced by the bright lights of New York City. But there’s a fair chance that she’s one of very few lawyers with a double major in hip hop and contemporary dance from the Broadway Dance Centre in the Big Apple’s theatre district.

In 2013, Jackson won a spot in the Centre’s International Program and while she didn’t quite make it there, the city had dug its hooks in.

“I remember coming back from New York to my hometown of Auckland and almost immediately signing up for the New York bar, with the dream of living and working in America,” she says.

“By the time I realised how hard the bar exam was, I’d already committed myself. Thankfully I passed and still have one eye on working there one day.”

Today, however, Jackson is helping create a stage that will outstrip anything that Broadway can muster.

The Sydney-based 36-year-old is Head of Legal for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia­–New Zealand 2023, a tournament that is expected to be watched by over two billion people worldwide between 20 July and 20 August.

Jackson has been in the role for the past two years, and with less than 45 days until kick-off, she’s rapidly approaching final rehearsals for the opening ceremony at Eden Park in Auckland.

“We’ve closed off a lot of our large contracts – RFPs, government funding agreements, hosting documentation, all the chunky pieces of negotiation are out of the way,” she says.

“Now we’re very much in an issues management phase dealing with unplanned matters such as contractual breaches, ensuring the stadiums are prepared for bump-in, suppliers not performing how we want them to, brands trying to ambush us online.

“It means you have to be quite reactive and deal with it in the moment. It also means that a lot of the smaller supply agreements end up taking up a lot of your time.”

Jackson has been involved with entertainment and sports law for most of her career. She has had stints at New Zealand entertainment law firm, McLaughlin Law; as in-house legal counsel with Cricket Australia; and immediately before the role with FIFA, as Senior Manager of Commercial Legal for Expo 2020 in Dubai.

“I’ve always been interested in the entertainment industry, both from my background as a dancer as well as my general love of creative pursuits,” she says.

“However, that industry is pretty limited in Australia and New Zealand, so the sports industry is a great way to apply that same legal skill set but in a space with greater opportunities for advancement.”

“The [entertainment] industry is pretty limited in Australia and New Zealand, so the sports industry is a great way to apply that same legal skill set but in a space with greater opportunities for advancement.”

Most major events with an international scope are delivered in country by a local organising committee (LOC). Ordinarily, anything from a World Cup to an international physics conference would have the national association set up its own LOC vehicle to deliver the event on behalf of the international body.

However, for the first time in its history, FIFA has formed its own direct subsidiary to deliver all the operational aspects of the 2023 Women’s World Cup. FIFA’s head office has, however, still maintained control over all the global issues, including broadcast rights, sponsorship and regulation of on-field issues including concussion and player protocols.

“By setting up a locally based subsidiary (LFS) in Australia with a branch in New Zealand, FIFA could take an even more active role on the ground in delivering the tournament,” says Jackson.

“The subsidiary model also allows us to build a skill set internally and create more legacy knowledge for their future tournaments. They felt there was a gap in the LOC model, that some of the skill set was lost in the handover. It’s the model that FIFA now intends to take forward for all future world cups.”

Regardless of the model, success for large events invariably depends on the reality of the implementation. For Jackson, that has meant dealing with two national governments, five state governments, two member associations and all the local football associations.

“It’s a crowded stakeholder field, and balancing all those interests has been a challenge,” says Jackson, “but it’s meant that I’ve taken a very relationship-focused approach.”

Jackson has also skewed towards a strategic approach rather than being mired in strictly black-letter legal issues.

“I’ve been very aware of the need to take a step back and not always go straight to the terms of the contract,” she says. “It’s about figuring out what we are actually hoping to get out of the negotiation and then navigating that stakeholder relationship.”

Moving from the LOC to the LFS model has also meant Jackson sits at the fulcrum of two crucial relationships: the member associations that have traditionally been responsible for the tournament and, FIFA, as sponsors of the subsidiary.

“We’re really lucky to have great local partners but carving out a new way of operating has been tricky at times,” says Jackson.

“While FIFA are the best in the world at what they do, there’s a local lens that we’ve had to bring to bear on some things. FIFA obviously have certain requirements and standards that need to be met, which are sometimes a different standard to what we would usually consider at a local level. We’ve spent a lot of effort ensuring that everyone has a good understanding of what FIFA’s needs are, and that we’ve communicated those needs to local stakeholders and suppliers.”

Jackson describes the requirements for hybrid grass surfaces that some of the world cup stadiums will employ.

At the new Perth stadium, for example, the 9500 square metres of 40mm thick hybrid turf will weigh 760,000kg in total and, thanks to new “pitch stitching” technology, can be ready to use as soon as it is laid.

It means that Jackson has had to think about where those machines come from, how they’re brought in, at what cost and timeframe.

“While all these complexities aren’t that different to any other in-house skill set, in that you understand the product or the dynamics and then contract them,” says Jackson.

“There is this different lens of both urgency, because you’ve got a hard deadline – there’s no delaying a world cup game! – as well as the intricate logistics and contingencies for getting all the machinery here because of the potential flow on effects.”

“Giving women their own vertical isn’t just about responding to the huge increase in interest for women’s sport.”

FIFA has also set up a separate vertical within the global organisation to ensure that women’s tournaments can carve out their own sole commercial proposition.

In previous world cups, the women’s tournament has been sold as part of the overall package, with a predominant focus on the men’s world cup. However, Jackson says that this has had the effect of diluting the power of the women’s brand.

“Giving women their own vertical isn’t just about responding to the huge increase in interest for women’s sport,” she says.

“It means that FIFA can now sell the rights to future women’s world cups on their own terms. And that means you can value it on its own terms. I think it will become a global benchmarking exercise in investing in women’s sport.”

Jackson believes that women’s sport is at a stage where some codes still haven’t understood the fact they have to redress an historical underinvestment, in order to get it to a commercial position where it can compete with the men’s game.

“All codes that have had the capability to do that, to invest in a woman’s game, have seen real financial benefits,” she says.

“And that is the goal of the Women’s World Cup – to raise the visibility of women’s sport and ensure continued investment in its success. I just can’t wait to see it all kick off … and once it’s done, have a nice long holiday on a beach somewhere.”