Courtesy: United Soccer League
International Women's Day: Sowers, Duffy Shape USL
Release: 03/08/2016
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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

For both the Richmond Kickers’ Shelley Sowers and Louisville City FC’s Amanda Duffy, the path to becoming a key executive for USL clubs had humble beginnings.

Sowers, the General Manager for the Kickers since 2009, began as a tickets sales intern with the club. Duffy, appointed President after serving as Louisville’s GM in its inaugural season, interned at the USL to begin her path in sports management.

As International Women’s Day is celebrated this Tuesday, both are outstanding examples of the leadership that can be found within the USL’s clubs.

A former professional player, Duffy was keen to pursue a career in sports as she earned her Master’s degree at her alma mater, East Carolina University. While she could easily have gone into coaching after serving as a student assistant coach for the Pirates, she instead took an internship with the USL in 2005.

“It was eye-opening, honestly,” Duffy said recently. “When I came during that time period I was working more on the youth side with the Super Y League and ODP … and I just got a broader understanding of the youth landscape from an administrative side, and just from a future direction of where soccer was going at that time in the United States.

“It was neat to be part of that. Because of the USL’s structure and all of the leagues that were there I got a better understanding of the amateur ranks and the professional leagues that USL was operating, and what that looked like from the administrative side. It was great to be able to go somewhere that was grassroots, and that had so many things going on that you had the ability to learn a lot of different things and have a lot of different perspectives to look at soccer from.”

Louisville City FC's Amanda Duffy

Duffy quickly ascended through the ranks at the USL, where she became the Senior Director of the USL Second Division and in turn got to work for the first time with Sowers as she became the Kickers’ General Manager. Following Duffy’s move to Louisville to become part of the expansion club’s front office, the relationship between the two proved a valuable resource for Duffy.

“As the Kickers have had a lot of success in the USL, she was a great resource to ask experiences, talk about ideas, and see what the Richmond Kickers do to have that experience over such a long period of time, to continue to grow and be innovative in what they do,” Duffy said. “I enjoy having Shelley there to reach out to, and she’s absolutely a great resource and colleague to have in the sport.”

For Sowers, who has helped the Kickers increase attendance by more than 50 percent over the past two seasons, and increased the Kickers’ season-ticket base by 30 percent this offseason, Duffy has been just as much of a resource, both in the league office and now as a fellow club executive.

“I have really admired what she has accomplished in Louisville, leading the club to amazing success in their first year and raising the standards for the league,” Sowers said. “She has worked very hard and earned every bit of her success – she is truly one of the best in the business.”

As the business of sport continues to grow, not only in soccer but across the landscape in the United States and Canada, so are the number of people looking for positions within clubs and league. For Sowers, who has been innovative to make sure the Kickers get the most out of their resources, the road to success for those looking to break into the industry is a simple one.

“The advice I would give any person, regardless of gender, looking to break into sports, is be prepared to put in long hours and take every opportunity to learn as much as possible, even if that means volunteering or taking an internship,” Sowers said. “Become the go-to guy or go-to-girl, pay attention to the details and do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Richmond Kickers' Santiago Lucio, Leigh Cowlisaw and Shelley Sowers

Duffy, meanwhile, has been heartened by the increase in the number of women that are now looking to break into the sports industry. With the continued growth of not only the USL but soccer as a whole in North America, the number of opportunities within clubs and leagues seems set to increase proportionately, with Duffy hopeful there will be more who follow her path.

“I hope young females who aspire to work in sports, not just in soccer but in sports in general, have the confidence that they can come into this space and be successful and achieve the goals they have personally and professionally, and also have an impact with what they’re doing,” Duffy said. “I hope to be a part of that movement as soccer specifically continues to grow.”

As both Sowers and Duffy aim to continue to grow their respective clubs, and the sport overall both locally and on a national scale with their fellow USL clubs, that which they’ve accomplished so far has them both ready for what’s next.

“I feel that my career path has followed a natural progression of starting at the very bottom and working my way up through a lot of hard work behind the scenes,” Sowers said. “No two days or two seasons have been the same. There are always new challenges but I am proud to work alongside some really great, dedicated people who have given me this opportunity to help shape the future of pro soccer in Richmond.”

“When I reflect on the process and my path to where I am today, it’s definitely something I look back on fondly and with a lot of excitement about my role currently, the impact that I can have here in Louisville and with the sport, and also opening up, hopefully, opportunities and doors for other young women to follow in those footsteps,” Duffy added. “It’s exciting to be a part of the sport that’s growing like it is, and also to be in the position of influence that I have currently.”
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