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EU Alumna, Nastya Ryaboshapka, On adidas and How The Sports Industry Is Changing For Women

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From a young age, Nastya has been passionate about sports and her MBA helped her break into the industry. She is now Partnership Marketing and Sports Marketing Manager for the European market at adidas and, throughout her career, has had the opportunity to work with many up-and-coming professional athletes.

Nastya is originally from Taganrog, a small city in Russia, but she has also lived in Barcelona, Nuremberg and Amsterdam, where she is currently based. She speaks Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese, but is also trying to pick up Dutch and started learning Korean during the pandemic thanks to a secret love for Korean culture. Her interests also extend to ballet, photography and playing the drums!

EU Business School Alumni

Could you tell us about your professional journey?

While I was studying at EU, Barcelona, I took a break to work at the Olympic Games in Sochi. Then, right after I finished my studies, I started working as an intern at a football agency. It was a small agency, but they work closely with star players from Barcelona. I was working on communications, PR and sponsorships there for about six months and it was an amazing job, the team was great! I got a taste of everything, and even as a trainee I went to photoshoots, football games and press conferences. It provided me with an understanding of the industry and athlete development in general, so it was a fantastic opportunity.

Through the agency, I got an opportunity to work for football communications and marketing in adidas, Germany. I later got a full-time job there in sports marketing in the lifestyle category. There, I worked across all sports and took care of seeding lifestyle products. Then, I switched to brand communication, a result of a big restructuring. Since I already had experience with the Olympic Games, I had an opportunity to work on the Tokyo Olympic Games. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the Games were cancelled, which was huge disappointment for me.

I later decided to move, and my current position became available in Amsterdam. Now, I am working in the European market, and I take care of relationships with clubs and federations, mostly in football. Our biggest focus is B2B so we are thinking of benefits we can provide for the clubs’ fans or employees. Everything I am working on is digital. We’re creating digital games and quizzes and seeing how we can engage with younger audiences to increase awareness of what is happening across the clubs, whilst also entertaining fans.

Did working for the Olympics spark your interest in sports?

I’ve always been a sports fan because of my dad, but I think the Olympics made me realize how passionate I get in these kinds of environments. I love watching athletes’ development, not only in their professional career but also in their private lives.

What achievements are you most proud of?

There aren’t many Russians that stay abroad after graduating and fight for their chosen career path. Home is always calling you; it is your comfort zone so when you come across challenges, you wonder if you should give up and go back for an easier life. But you have to stay strong and follow your dreams.

In my professional life, I always push for young talents who don’t have contracts or a platform yet. At adidas, we are able to celebrate these young athletes and give them visibility, so I always push to work with them and they often go on to do great things.

Do you have a favorite memory from your career?

My favorite moments are when I am on set. They are probably the most stressful because you have been preparing for a campaign for the last six months and then you only have one or two days on set. Everything has to go right (there’s always something that goes wrong!) but it is the most exciting part of the campaign because you are there watching the creative team that you chose and you are working directly with the talent. They are really inspiring moments.

One of my favorite times was when we were in Mexico shooting the My Body, My Swim campaign. We were pushing for inclusivity and promoting our exclusive sizes for women. We had five different talents and they were all very unique. Spending time with them and seeing how it was all shot was really interesting. We also had interviews with them and they were talking about how to inspire women in sport. It was great!

Another time, I had a photoshoot with a local youth football academy from Germany. I don’t think TikTok existed at that point, but we took lots of TikTok-style videos with them. They had so much energy and really made my day. That’s when I realized how much I love working with young talents. They have no limits or filters.

I also felt very inspired on a photoshoot in Berlin for an adidas Varsity jacket campaign. I flew in an 11-year-old breakdancer from England and it was her first campaign for a big brand. We were also shooting a big talent, Mette Towley, one of Pharrell Williams’ dancers. As soon as they started dancing together on the stage, everyone had goosebumps. It was such a rare and unique experience. I had pushed for the young talent to be there, and it completely changed the narrative. It made me very proud!

Is the industry is changing for sportswomen?

Yes, I think there has been a huge improvement over the last couple of years. In the US, they’re really pushing for it and sportswomen are speaking up. We need these influential talents who will stand up for women.

How can we bring more visibility to women in sports?

I think it should start at a very early age. We should not only be educating children, but also parents, on the importance of growth and what women are capable of. We should celebrate women in sport and their achievements.

There is a certain stage in life when girls feel they don’t have enough power or self-confidence. So, from a global marketing perspective, we should change the whole narrative. Girls shouldn’t be insecure or afraid of their body changing. We can share athletes’ stories on and off the pitch and give them more visibility through documentaries and public appearances.

Which sports do you think should be promoted more?

I would say surfing. In Brazil and Australia, it’s huge, but in smaller countries it’s not as popular. This is mainly due to the weather, but we could introduce more surf camps or programs which allow people to go to the coast to try the sport.

Surfing is an exciting sport to watch, so it has a lot of potential commercially and professionally. Some of the things surfers can do are crazy, but people don’t know about it if they don’t watch it.

Who is your favorite sportsperson? Why?

It’s going to sound very cheesy, but one of my favorite sportspeople has always been David Beckham. He is great at his job, and I think it is very impressive when someone achieves so much but stays humble.

In women’s sport, there are now a lot of new talents in UFC. Valentina Shevchenko was born in Kyrgyzstan but moved to Peru, and now she’s a four-time champion. She speaks Russian, Spanish and English fluently and is currently based in the US. I think she really sets an example to young kids in her country and shows them that anything is possible.

Name three sports personalities you think everyone should be following:

Megan Rapinoe, who plays for the US football federation. I think she’s changing the stereotypes in football and she’s just a very strong personality to look up to.

I would also say Valentina Shevchenko because she is very diverse. Leaving her country and taking on the US like she did is very inspiring.

The third, would be gymnast Simone Biles because she went through a lot mentally and she wasn’t afraid to show the world that it’s normal. She taught us that “it’s okay not to be okay”, and as she’s very young I think she’s a strong role model for the younger generations.

What skills or values did you learn at EU that have served you in your career?

In the sports management program, we went on several industrial visits to stadiums and companies who work with athletes. It was great to see it from a different perspective and understand how things were run, not just sitting in a classroom and listening to the theory. EU helped me gain a lot of knowledge about the industry in general.

I also met two of my best friends at EU!

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What advice would you give business students who would like to work in the sports industry?

You should understand that there are different fields within the industry; you can work in PR and communications, product marketing, sports marketing, relationships with the athletes, design, etc. There are so many different sides to it, so before you even start your studies you should write down three fields that you are interested in, so you can identify what you want to develop and focus on that. But always be agile; if something is not working out in your first field of choice, you should have a plan B.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting an internship?

Be as open minded as possible and learn as much as you can. We all have our goals and know what we want to achieve, but sometimes when you start your career, it doesn’t go perfectly. I recently worked with an intern in adidas. She graduated in sports marketing and wanted to work in tennis with the athletes directly (just like me five years ago). So I told her not to put labels on what she wanted to do. You are still learning, and you never know where you might find another interest.

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